Jonathan Foust

March 11, 2009

Pain and the Second Arrow

Filed under: Dharma — jonathanfoust @ 10:21 am


Since the topic of suffering is a constant in Buddhist teachings, I thought I’d mention how my dog is doing.  His relationship to pain is so much different than mine.

Three years ago in a fit of irrational exuberance, he took off chasing some deer in the Maryland woods and launched himself off a dry river bank, landing really hard and tearing his anterior cruciate ligament.

Explaining to him that he was now using his college fund, he had TPLO surgery on his left knee, a pretty aggressive surgery  to stabilize the joint.  It involved cutting and reshaping the tibia bone.  On Monday I took him in because at least one of the screws in the plate holding his leg together had apparently worked loose and was infected.

We’d tried a few months of antibiotics, but the infection was deeply lodged in the bone.

On looking at the x-ray, the vet was concerned about bone density and warned me that there might be a possibility of bone cancer.

I spent the day at a cafe working and trying not to obsess.  In the early afternoon I got word that the surgery went fine, the bone was surprisingly healthy and he saw no reason to even do a biopsy.  That was a relief.

One the way home he was retching from the anesthesia wearing off and much of the night he was uncomfortable. As I’ve been nursing Hakuna since then, I’ve watched his relationship to pain.

Buddhism speaks of the pain and ‘ the second arrow.’  The first arrow is pain itself.  That is inevitable.  The second arrow is how we react to it.  When we add aversion, craving, resistance, worry and obsessive thinking, we add immeasurably to our experience.

One thing I’ve noticed is that Hakuna doesn’t appear to add anything to the pain he’s in.  It’s just pain.

I keep reminding myself that the second arrow is optional.



  1. also, possibly a lesson in simple whole hearted compassion. I hope Hanuka continues to recover well. He looks quite handsome, even with the satellite dish!

    Comment by Sylvia — March 15, 2009 @ 8:19 am

  2. What a blessing that the surgery went so smoothly and that the bone is so healthy. And… dogs provide endless dharma lessons, don’t they?

    Rakhal had so many surgeries and had to wear a cone so many times. I always thought he looked kind of like a daffodil with that thing around his neck.


    Comment by Ellen — March 15, 2009 @ 12:10 pm

  3. In dealing with my disability, when things get difficult I remind myself of two very important things. One, that not a day goes by when I am not wholeheartedly thankful for my physical challenge. It forces me to slow down and pay attention to both my body and my spirit. I have grown immeasurably since learning that slowing down offers so much. And two, I toss in a bit of self love when things do get tough and I don’t WANT to slow down. So, yes, it is important not to get caught up in worrying and aversion. But isn’t it also important to remember that our pain and discomfort can be a doorway to a higher understanding of what it is to learn to watch ourselves and be truly mindful?

    Comment by Heather — March 15, 2009 @ 3:43 pm

    • Thanks for all the well-wishing for my pup. And Heather, thanks for the wonderful commentary on pain. I keep coming back to the Tonglen practice to remember, when we’re feeling pain, “Other people feel this too.” It has such a powerful way of melting that membrane of separation. (Of course, it’s also powerful to remember “Other people feel this too” when we’re feeling joy!)

      Comment by jonathanfoust — March 15, 2009 @ 4:03 pm

  4. Thanks for sharing Hakuna’s story. Animals are just the best. I wish him and you well! xoxoxo Donna

    Comment by Donna — March 16, 2009 @ 12:52 pm

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