Aversion. . .

You’re walking along the sidewalk, minding your own business. A pointed arrow comes soaring through the air and pierces the meat of your thigh. What the happened?! Who shot that? Would your response to an unknown source shooting you be to pick up a bow and then shoot a second arrow into your other thigh?

In Buddhism, aversion is one of the three poisons. The three poisons are said to be the deep roots of human suffering. They’re the afflictions we have with the way our minds work, constantly thinking, planning, judging, and obsessing. The Buddha taught that we cannot always control the first arrow, but the second is our reaction to the first and the second is optional. This teaching is often summarized as ‘Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.’

Here are a few steps to beginning to learn how to sit with and understand our aversions

Pause. I’ve learned that sometimes the best thing we can do is not act. That’s the first step. Bite your tongue, take a deep breath, go for a walk, yell into a pillow if you need to. If you’re up for it, sit in meditation (although that feels impossible in the beginning). Put reacting on the shelf for later, even if only for a few seconds.

Practice mindfulness. I’ve found meditation to be the most helpful catalyst for practicing mindfulness. I practice meditation under different conditions: when calm, agitated, sad, fearful, and excited. When I practice meditation while calm, it’s easier, and it means I’m more seasoned to be able to sit when feelings are sharper and harder to sit with. After practicing for a while, your thoughts slow down a bit on their own in your daily life. Gaps appear more and you can watch your thoughts.

Notice the arrows. This is an extension of mindfulness. Watch what happens when the first arrows arrive. Your boss is being a ass, traffic is awful so you’re going to be late, your sibling didn’t call on your birthday. All of these are first arrows. They’re events in our lives that cause pain, suffering, and anxiety. Now, watch out for the second arrows. Do you add a storyline on top of those events? Do you start to obsess about the situation and blame yourself for the outcome? See how it feels. Notice what sensations are in your body. 

Congratulate yourself for noticing the second arrow. I will repeat that; congratulate yourself when you see a second arrow. Do not beat yourself up and say, “UGH, there I go again, beating myself up. I suck so much.” That’s a sneaky way of another arrow sneaking in. Instead, take a deep breath and redirect your thinking.

Create new thought patterns. Once you’ve noticed the second arrow, you can interject new ways of thinking. For example, “Hm, perhaps it’s not the biggest deal that she didn’t call me on my birthday. I know she loves me. I am loveable. I’ve forgotten to call people I love deeply on their birthdays before.”

Repeat. Over and over and over again.

When we become more mindful of the patterns playing out in our life, we start to notice the first and second arrows. The point is to move towards greater gentleness and more space. And from there, we can breathe a little easier and stop being so hard on ourselves.

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. Just slowing down enough to allow some space means that we have a chance to react differently.

Peace and Love, Jim

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