Two arrows: Pain and suffering

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Tim Ferriss has an interview with Jane McGonigal* on his podcast that’s worth listening to. She’s an expert in the value of playing games, and hearing her made me go load Tetris on my phone.

(*Also see her TED Talks: Gaming can make a better world and The game that can give you 10 extra years of life.)

In their conversation, though, this quote was discussed:

“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.”

It’s not from the Buddha, and I couldn’t find a definitive source to credit. But it is very Buddhist. And Stoic.

From the Buddhist teaching in the Sallata Sutha:

“When touched with a feeling of pain, the uninstructed run-of-the-mill person sorrows, grieves, & laments, beats his breast, becomes distraught. So he feels two pains, physical & mental. Just as if they were to shoot a man with an arrow and, right afterward, were to shoot him with another one, so that he would feel the pains of two arrows.”

From Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations (4.49):

“So remember this principle when something threatens to cause you pain: the thing itself was no misfortune at all; to endure it and prevail is great good fortune.” 

Between stimulus and response there is a gap. In that gap you get to choose your response. The stimulus may cause pain, but you can choose to respond in a way that doesn’t add suffering on top of the pain.

We cannot control what happens. We can control our response to what happens.

Easier said than done, I know. But this is worth remembering whenever you’re confronted with pain of any sort.