Do you sometimes feel trapped? We can easily feel this way when we are trying to figure something out, or even just about life in general. In Chinese we call it “going straight to the tip of a horn”. There is space everywhere and we can go anywhere we like. But we just go inside a horn and straight to the very tip and get stuck there. The more we struggle, the deeper we go into the tip. We cannot move and we feel suffocated. We can’t see the way out and we fall into great despair.
One of the main ingredients accounting for this is polarized thinking, that is, not being able to see past the two extremes. Something is either right or wrong, success or failure, winning or losing, loss or gain.
Let’s talk about loss and gain. It comes as no surprise that this is one of the main considerations when we look at life. Our ancestors had to constantly fight for their survival. Loss could mean loss of their own lives or even the lives of loved ones. Victory was not just a great feeling; it was a necessity. There were hardly any in-between options. Being prepared for the next battle, be it with natural elements or other human beings, would naturally be a major focus of their consciousness.
Today, even though we are not living in the jungle, this survival instinct still remains. We manage to turn life into a battlefield. Everything is weighed to assess whether it will put us on the gaining side or the losing side. We fight to stay on the gaining side so we will get closer and closer to winning or success. We are always on the lookout for the next thing to acquire or achieve. We compare ourselves with others to feel assured that we are doing better. We feel happy when we get what we want. It is ok that this happiness is short-lived, as long as we can maintain the advantage. We are so afraid of loss – loss of wealth, loss of opportunity, loss of what we have achieved, loss of others’ admiration, loss of youth, loss of health, loss of life. Whenever something doesn’t go as we expect, it is considered a loss. Endless effort is needed to keep holding on to what we have. When we do lose something, we feel like it is the end of the world. We feel hurt. We feel disappointed and frustrated. We feel angry. We do what we can to recover our loss or to find something else to compensate. Loss is simply unacceptable!
No wonder we get stressed so easily! Every little thing can become a stressor when we fear loss so much. We develop all kinds of coping mechanisms to prevent loss. We become control freaks or perfectionists. We imagine the worst possible scenario and get frightened before we even start to do something.
When we hold such a polarized view of loss and gain, we lose everything that is truly valuable for life – trust, the joy of living in every present moment, health, and the opportunity to grow. And what do we truly gain? Nothing. But does our perception of loss and gain actually reflect reality?
You may have heard the story of the old man who lost his horse. Let’s listen to it one more time.
Near the northern border beside the Great Wall lived a man who was conversant with arts relating to astrology and foretelling the future. One day his horse ran away to the nomads on the other side of the Great Wall. People tried to comfort him. Yet he said, “Is this not a blessing?” A few months later, his horse came home and brought with it a few other beautiful horses belonging to the nomads. People congratulated him. Yet he said, “Is this not a misfortune?” With a good number of excellent horses at home, his son got interested in riding. One day he fell off and broke his leg. People tried to comfort the father. Yet he said, “Is this not a blessing?” A year later, the nomads crossed the border and invaded his country. All the healthy young men had to fight in the war and most of them died. His son didn’t have to go because he was handicapped. He got to live.
This is also well elucidated by Lao Tzu in his book the Dao De Jing: ‘A misfortune can beget a great fortune; a great fortune can be the breeding ground for a misfortune.’ There is no real loss or gain in life; what we perceive as loss or gain is only the activity of our survival instincts and the patterns related to them. If we turn everything that happens in life into an opportunity to move closer to our True Self, everything will be a gain, a real gain. When we have reached the True Self, we will finally see that the True Self is already complete. There is no need to gain anything and there is nothing to lose. We will no longer be trapped. We are free.
Experience this message on Transforming Polarized Thinking as a meditation on REN XUE TV