Here’s an old story about arrows. If you’ll indulge me, you’ll see how it relates to stress and Tinnitus…
The Two Arrows
In ancient times, arrows were used for hunting but also for war. Needless to say, if one of those arrows were to hit you, it would hurt.
It might even kill you.
That would be the first arrow, the physical one.
The second arrow would be mental, and it would rapidly follow the first.
It would likely come in the form of self-reflection, something like this;
“Why does this always happen to me?” “What’s going to happen now?” “How am I ever going to get over this pain?” “I really should have trained better to avoid arrows, what was I thinking?” And on and on it goes.
Shortly after the first arrow strikes, your mind goes on a rampage, adding to the pain of the first. You might even add a third, fourth or fifth arrow.
In the analogy, the first arrow represents the suffering we experience just by way of being human. Often, we don’t get what we want but, instead, get what we don’t want. And even if we do get what we want, we can’t hold on to it forever.
As they say, “That’s the way the cookie crumbles, baby”.
The second arrow (and third, fourth, fifth, and so on) represents our reaction to the suffering of the first arrow.
Importantly, while the first arrow may have been shot from some distant hilltop, the subsequent arrows come from within.
Now, at this point, you may be thinking, “I’m not an ancient warrior, what the heck does this have to with me?”
Let’s translate the two arrows into a modern example, shall we?
Let’s say you come home late from a business trip, only to find that your spouse has already gone to bed. Because you’re a kind and loving person, you decide to avoid turning on the light and waking your partner. So you get undressed in the dark and make your way to bed. On the way there, you stub your toe on the laptop your spouse left by the side of the bed, and it hurts.
That’s the first arrow.
The second arrow comes as you rub your aching toe in the dark, trying not to scream.
It may come out against your partner, “He/she is so inconsiderate, so selfish” “Here I was, being kind and considerate and he/she left that stupid laptop right in the way” “We’ve discussed this before and he/she doesn’t care about my feelings or needs”.
Or perhaps, the second arrow could come in the form of self-loathing, “I was so stupid to not have worn shoes” “I should have turned on the light”.
Or maybe it’s a combination of the two, you’re mad at your partner for leaving the laptop there and angry at yourself for having been considerate to someone who obviously doesn’t give a wit about you.
Regardless, long after the pain of the first arrow has faded, you are still feeling the sting of the second.
There is another way, the one that is obviously the intent of the ancient story. You could sit down on the closest chair, rub your toe until the pain goes away, make a mental note to raise the “laptop on the floor” issue a bit more forcefully in the morning and then get a good night’s sleep.
Same situation, many possible outcomes.
The key takeaway here is that you can learn to respond to stress, rather than react to it.
We humans have a phenomenal collection of maladaptive coping strategies; denial, workaholism, worry, busyness, substance abuse, overeating, etc. Since these are variously ineffective strategies, they all, invariably, end up adding to our level of stress, rather than diminishing it.
Are you beginning to recognize a connection to stress and Tinnitus in this story?
As part of this community, you either have Tinnitus or someone you love has it.
It’s the first arrow.
So what’s your second arrow? Denial? Anger? Apathy? Withdrawal?
Learning to recognize the maladaptive strategy is among the first orders of business. Next is getting a handle on your unconscious reaction.
Just how do you do that?
Prayer, meditation, hypnosis, yoga, tai chi, the list goes on.
The point is to get yourself into a quiet, reflective place and begin to connect with the arguments going on inside your head. And it’s important to not do so with judgment. Simply recognize the struggle and then let it go.
That’s the practice. To not be attached to good thoughts or bad, just to recognize them and release them. That’s how you learn to quietly nurse your aching toe in the dark without the need for a confrontation with yourself or your partner.
And that’s how you learn to accept the trauma of Tinnitus without judging or reacting, just accepting what is and letting it go.
And that will change your life, Tinnitus or not.
Another Person’s Perspective
Though I do a lot of writing here at Stop the Ringing, I am not a journalist or an author. In researching the story of the two arrows, I found an article from the Huffington Post that does a better job of reflecting on the application of this concept waaaaaaayyyyy better than I ever could. You can read that article here.