Another place where thinking about the second arrow has been interesting and helpful is in dealing with my health. At the moment, that has to do with having an autoimmune arthritis. (Or two: I put it this way because my initial diagnosis was seronegative RA. About seven or more months ago, I developed some patches of psoriasis, and my rheumatologist added psoriatic arthritis to the list - this is one potential course of the disease, to start with the arthritis and then move to psoriasis. I thought we'd changed diagnoses, but my PCP pointed out that overlapping and multiple diagnoses are possible, and that that hasn't been ruled out. At this stage, I find it easier to talk about autoimmune arthritis.)
The first arrow is pretty easy to notice. On many days (not all), joint pain, sometimes fatigue, weakness in my hands. Typing hurts. Those things are uncomfortable or outright painful.
But then there's the second arrow. That arrow takes the form of stories about how this is so awful and unfair; or about how it's only going to get worse; or about how frustrating and upsetting it is to not be able to open a jar, when I used to have the strongest hands in the house. They own the future - and it's always the most negative future possible: I won't be able to ride any more; if swimming hurts, and walking hurts, how will I ever get any exercise? And if I don't exercise, how will I sleep? How will my clothes fit? Those stories take me out of the present experience and into all kinds of things that haven't happened yet, and adds the misery of those things onto the discomfort and unhappiness of the current moment. Worse yet, they linger, clinging to my attention even when the current discomfort wanes, or when other, happier things might have caught my attention, were it not so bound up in offering energy to the rantings of the second arrow.
Recently, the first arrow has had to do with the drugs that I'm on. I'm experiencing what I believe to be some side effects from the big gun drug I take every week, and I'm preparing to go off that drug to see if a) the side effects abate, and b) we can find something that works without the side effects (and maybe even c) something that works better than this one to control inflammation and pain). The side effects range from annoying to pretty darned uncomfortable. But they're not (I'm assured) life-threatening in any way, and I'm mostly able to live with them.
The second arrow - boy howdy, are there second arrows around this one! I shouldn't be on these drugs, I should be able to control this through diet/willpower/energy work/sleep/exercise. My rheumatologist and cardiologist both think I'm nuts and are simply humoring me. The last time I went off this particular drug, I had to live with a pretty unfun flare - I don't like pain, I'm back to work full time, how will I manage if I enter into a flare and have to spent six hours on my feet and run back and forth across campus twice a day? What if I don't lose all the weight I gained on this drug and I'm just lazy and fat after all? What if my clothes and rings never fit again?
Do you see how crazy my second arrows are? Stories, fears, anticipation (or whatever the word is for negative anticipation - and why don't we have a word for that? Dread isn't quite right, although it's close. Maybe nonticipation? Antiticipation?). And those thoughts usually have the energy of a squirrel hyped up on amphetamines set loose in a nut store. They don't quit.
The first arrow is what it is. Pain happens to everyone. People get sick who don't deserve it. I'm part of everyone, and I'm not immune to life's ups and downs. I'm not going to get out of this one without getting hit by those first arrows. (Hell, I'm not going to get out of this one alive!)
But the second arrow? That one I have some leverage over. That one, I can look at and say, thank you for trying to keep me safe, but I've got this. Not always, not every time. But even sometimes is a good start. There's a spaciousness in refusing the second arrow, in trying not to pre-own the (not yet happened, maybe never will happen) suffering of the future. The first arrow is more than enough, thank you. I'll stick with that.