This title, “Loss is Gain; Gain is Loss”, may sound a bit ridiculous because we are biologically set up to respond positively to gain and negatively to loss. Chapter 58’s, It is on disaster that good fortune perches; It is beneath good fortune that disaster crouches attempts to show how entangled gain and loss are. We can’t have one without the other. The adage “be careful what you wish for, it may come true” also alludes to this.
A useful ploy in life is convincing our hoodwinking emotions of the actual benefit of loss and the hidden downside of gain. Naturally, the difficulty lies in putting principle to practice. The good news is that years of evidence, hard-won through personal experience, can help keep us ever more mindful of this.
There are countless examples of this open secret, although they are mostly fleeting and subtle. Being subtle, such situations don’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 open secret is easy, yet one might say, “Why bother spending time and energy on this?” Well, as chapter 64 advises, Deal with a thing while it is still nothing; Keep a thing in order before disorder sets in. Examining the subtle nature of gain and loss plays a major role in deepening self-honesty… and the deeper that is, the more likely I am to deal with a thing while it is still nothing.
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? Deer are probably smarter than that.
Lynn cornish says
Thank you Carl. I like concrete practices that I can use during the day. Focusing on the benefits of loss and the downsize of gain confounds our habitual habits, like Tonglen.
The first thing that comes to mind is the downside of being retired: sloth!
The second thing is the gain of having three sick dogs: the closeness we feel when I’m taking care of them.
The third, as I get more well known in this little community for the watercolors, the more I’m asked to do.
The loss of the broken dishwasher…..oh I won’t bore you anymore.
Thanks again. I am a practical spiritual skeptic and this fits.
Zenhabits.net is my kind of site for sure Matt! Although, I write so much now-a-days; I’m lucky to get through reading my weekly Science News. Ah well, “a time for everything, and a season for every activity” as the good book says.
The nice thing about the deer-scarer is how it speaks to both sides of life’s process, filling and emptying. One follows the other. In younger days my focus on one side blinding me to the other. Keeping a sense of both, ebbing and flowing, helps reduce extremes.
Matt Logan says
Hi Carl. I enjoyed this post, especially the literal and symbolic reference to the deer-scarer.
I’ve recently been junking lots of old stuff.
The internal stuff tends to clear itself away as long as one applies mindfulness to the whole process, and allows time to do its work (as you have stated in previous posts, time is very significant in the workings of the tao, and something I think I’m only beginning to appreciate).
As for the external, well, it feels good to be surrounded by less clutter and allows me to spend more purposeful and quality time with things that truly matter.
Thanks and many regards,
P.S- I recently found this website : http://zenhabits.net/
I’m not sure if it’d be of any interest to you but it certainly stands beside centertao for my readings.