The reason this title, “Loss is Gain; Gain is Loss”, may sound ridiculous is that we are biologically set up to respond positively to gain and negatively to loss. The Tao Te Ching echoes this view in chapter 58, It is on disaster that good fortune perches; It is beneath good fortune that disaster crouches. The adage “be careful what you wish for, it may come true” also points in the same direction.
A useful trick in life is convincing our hoodwinking emotions of the actual benefit of loss and the hidden downside of gain. The difficulty comes in putting principle to practice. The good news is that years of evidence, hard-won through personal experience, helps keep us increasingly mindful of this — finally!
There are countless examples of this ‘open secret’, although they are mostly fleeting and subtle. Being that they are subtle, such gain and loss doesn’t trigger emotion strongly enough to make the process easy to notice. When major loss or gain occurs, the emotions overwhelm reason and so all you see is one side, feeling either euphoric or miserable. Both emotions blind-side impartial observation.
Looking for evidence of this is really quite easy, yet one usual response might be, “Why bother spending time and energy on this?” Well that’s easy… As chapter 64 says, Deal with a thing while it is still nothing; Keep a thing in order before disorder sets in. Without a doubt, the better I know myself, the more likely I am to ‘deal with a thing while it is still nothing‘, and looking deeply into ‘gain and loss’ is simply an essential side of getting to know myself.
The photo is of a Japanese shishi odoshi (“deer scarer”). Every now and then I’d come across one on the grounds of a Japanese temple. I always assumed it was symbolic of the process: loss brings about gain, gain brings about loss (i.e., when it fills, it empties right away, and then begins filling again). Looking for this photo, I discovered its practical and perhaps traditional use. Does it really scare deer away? They are probably smarter than that.