writing on suffering and awakening

Laying down our load

It’s so easy to get caught up in painful and frightening events, whether in our own lives or in the world around us. I’m really good at it. I see that my bank account is almost empty and I’m a grump for hours. I read a scary headline and go down a rabbit’s hole of articles about it. You know what I mean.

But how often does any of that really serve us? 

I read somewhere once that bad (I’m using bad to mean something that hurts us or scares us) news has five times the emotional impact that good news does. That makes sense to me. Think about it: if someone says something kind to you, you probably appreciate it but brush it off. If someone is rude to you, you might remember it for years.

We take on stuff that scares us. But it can really end up coloring how we see the world. The dark events can blind us to all the love and joy.

There’s a scene from Game of Thrones that I love. Ser Brynden Tully is an old knight and a field commander for his great-nephew, the King in the North, in a war for independence. He’s seen a lot of fighting. During a moment of rest at his castle, he says to his niece that “it often comforts me to think that even in war’s darkest days, in most places in the world absolutely nothing is happening.”

I think that’s a really valuable perspective.

Tully doesn’t mean that we should ignore the scary stuff. His point is that it’s just a small fraction of life. The vast majority of what goes on—for you, for me, for anyone—is the peaceful routine of the everyday. We wake up, eat breakfast, go about our daily tasks, lay down to rest at night. Occasionally, something bad happens. But for every act of violence or cruelty, how many thousands of hugs are given?

I know I often feel like I need to focus on the bad as a means of protecting myself. If I give it my attention, my thinking goes, I can see it coming. But really, all I’m doing is living in fear. I’m bringing fear into my present moment experience, out of the delusion that I can keep something from happening in the future. It’s exhausting, and it doesn’t work. 

Counterintuitively, perhaps, if we stop focusing on our fears, they are less likely to come into being, and  we can better approach them if they do. If we’re acting from a place of love and peace, rather than fear, we’re kinder to the people around us, and provoke kindness from them in return. This doesn’t just affect us—it spirals gently outward. Each person we are kind to carries that kindness with them to all their own encounters. 

The smile you give a stranger on the street will travel around the world.

Ian Cooper