Stop leaning on the chair

I am very sensitive and get easily hurt by other’s comments, and this makes me avoid people and so I feel lonely. I know it is my fault, but I don’t know what to do.      

TP, Thimphu

Well, TP, we are all affected by other’s words to some degree, but it seems that in your case your fear of being hurt is having a severe negative impact on your life.

Actually, people are very fickle. A person who praises us one week may very well criticie us the next, and so relying on others’ opinions for our happiness causes us to be unstable and weak. It is like leaning on a shaky chair. When it moves, we move. So, the answer is to stop leaning on the chair.

In practical terms, how do we do this? Well, if we observe our mood swings we will realise that there are four kinds of opposites that influence our lives. These are praise and blame, gain and loss, fame and disgrace and pleasure and pain (known as the eight worldly dharmas).*

Let’s take praise and blame as an example. Most people will be happy when they receive a tribute or are presented with an award or a gift. And, for the average samsaric being like us, this is perfectly normal. The problem arises when we are over reliant on such things for our happiness or peace of mind.

In reality, praise, gain, fame and pleasure are like hooks on a fishing rod and we are similar to fish who are deceived by their appearance. We believe that they are a source of happiness, whereas in reality they are traps that cause us suffering.

In the same way that a fish needs to identify and avoid the hooks to remain safe, we likewise need to be aware of how these worldly dharmas create attachment and insecurity.

Take another example. If we respond positively to someone who asks how was our day, it probably means that we have been praised or we gained something. If instead we felt that we had a bad day, it implies that we were criticized or suffered a loss. Rather than turning these experiences into massive highs or lows, however, we can investigate why one experience makes us feel elated, while another makes us feel down. In reality, the whole emotional tsunami merely occurred between our two ears. Outside our heads, the world continued as normal.

Furthermore, it would be helpful to reflect that from birth until death, there is not a single person who only experiences, praise, gain, fame and pleasure, and through examining our responses to situations that stir our emotions we learn to accept that all experiences are equally part of our life. Basically, we understand that like mountains and valleys, praise and blame, gain and loss, fame and disgrace and pleasure and pain are a package deal, and we cannot have one without the other.

Finally, if we can undertake this kind of investigation as a regular mind training exercise and have the courage and craziness to move beyond our regular comfort zones, it is actually possible to reach a state where we are totally unmoved by praise and blame etc. Basically, we don’t care whether we receive a million bucks or lose all our property and land. However, we should not aim to do this right now. This realisation has to arise naturally through practice and cannot be forced. For the moment, we should just maintain awareness of how our mind is hooked by positive feedback and gain and tries to escape rejection and loss and realise that clinging to one emotion while rejecting the other is a cause of our suffering.

* For further information on the four kinds of opposites, read chapter eight (Eight Worldly Dharmas) in ‘When Things Fall Apart’ by Pema Chodron.

Shenphen Zangpo was born in Swansea, UK, but spent more than 28 years practicing and studying Buddhism in Taiwan and Japan. Currently, he works with the youth and substance abusers in Bhutan, teaching meditation and organising drug outreach programmes. Email to jjwangchuk@gmail.com for any queries

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