The crazy ways we can hurt ourselves


I’m sitting at the bottom of the stairs of my little house with a wildly angry child. Her arms and legs are flailing, the emotions are shooting out of her limbs like fireworks.

My child and I lock eyes. In an effort of desperation, because frankly I don’t know what else to do, I say – let’s take a deep breath. I feel sort of insane saying this. She’s never going to buy this hippy crap! I think. She looks at me, I wait cautiously for more screaming, before she too inhales and we both sort of melt. The end of her pain is coming.

It’s been a week of high emotion. Many things jumped into our lives – and I say to my husband that it’s like some kind of test in the form of a devilish assault course.

The children’s feelings seem often an expression of how the husband and I are feeling. When things are going wrong for them I look at us, and often I find that there is tension or stress or fear – some toxic emotions poisoning us.

As she is breathing, I start to breathe too. And it feels good. Like it is taking a little edge off this stirring undercurrent of discomfort that has come from all the jumping over the obstacles that we encountered (well, actually, I tripped over more than a couple. I still feel bruised).

And it feels so completely nice to just sit with in her and breathe, and then we hug and I feel her body totally relax, as I am holding her.I feel, too, a gratefulness in her that she is over that stress – to be free again. We sit for a while on the quiet of the stairs, in the sudden silence. And I realise that I need more of this. Some quiet air circulating around me, through me.

If I’m really honest, I also want someone to come to me and let me shout and scream and shout, and then wrap their body around me, and whisper, as I am whispering in her ear, everything is Ok sweetie, everything is OK.

Later I am getting into bed, as I have finished the long list of tasks and doings that come with living, thoughts from the day start to swirl. And suddenly that icy creep of fear appears. And I know why – because in times of crisis-like situations – which this week has been – I am not always that calm, understanding mother that I was on the stairs today.  I can be unpleasant, petty, hot-headed, and impetuous. I can be a righteous flame of anger (my husband’s helpful description). And it’s usually fear that lights this bonfire of ungraciousness.

It unnerves me.

But seeing as I am on this new trip of kindness, I can’t allow the torrent of judgment that wants to assault me. I can feel it building up, ready to explode like a dirty bomb. But I won’t let it go off. I seize hold of my mind before it does.

There is a concept in Buddhism called the second arrow. (Yes, I might be a Buddhist, I’m not entirely sure). The idea is that the first arrow is the event that causes you pain – a call from a client telling you they aren’t working with you anymore, a slight from a friend, an argument with your child. These are all things that might cause pain. They hit you like an arrow.

The logical way to process this pain, or this arrow, would be to just deal with it, right? Well, that’s really not how many humans operate. What we like to do is to shoot ourselves with a second arrow of pain, and that’s in the form of a big layer of judgement or guilt or shame about the event. Oh I knew that client was going to drop me because I am just not good enough. Or my friend did that because they just doesn’t like me! Have they ever liked me?!?

You get the idea. So not only does it really suck to have two goddam arrows stuck in you, the second arrow just causes confusion – and it becomes nigh on impossible to heal even the first arrow.

So with my brain captured in a vice-like grip, I lay down in bed. I listen to my favourite sound (aside from the soft purr of my children when they are asleep) and that’s the soft patter of rain on my window. Thinking about everything that has passed, the first thing that I see is shame. Shame about the million ways I didn’t get it right. But then I meet it with kindness. Because that’s my bag now, kindness.

I let it all wash over me, the pains of the day, of the week, of anything else that wants to show its face. And then I wash myself over with kindness. Sometimes I actually say, Poor Di. Or – that’s really tough. Like I’m some kind of deranged person. But you know what, it feels good.  And I would say something like this to my children when I am in good-mother mode, so  why can’t I be my own good care-taker?
And so this combination of accepting the pain and meeting it with kindness seems to shift something. I refuse to judge myself, I refuse to allow more pain into my body in the form of a second arrow. And gradually it starts to pass, like everything passes in life. Like clouds that drift across the sky only to disappear to who knows where. And then something new will drift into my world.

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