If you were pricked by a thorn, would you touch it again? Or would the pain the first time be enough to stop you from doing it again? Most of us would be smart enough to learn the first time. But most of us also choose to think about things repetitively that have caused us suffering. If we experience some kind of pain like the thorn, we have the nerve endings to experience it once and learn from it. But to continually do so will be extremely uncomfortable. There will eventually be blood loss, your finger will develop a gradual numbness to the anticipated pain. There will be a scar. Your body will send white blood cells, platelets and everything else required to help heal it. But if we don’t allow time for healing, we cannot expect to heal.
Stress is a really big factor in our society today. Stress depletes the immune system so much, and takes away time from doing the things we wish we were doing. It creates resentment and absence in the lives of others we care about. It’s a lingering virus that erodes us away faster. And the cause of the virus is most often recurring painful thoughts that we have yet to lay to rest. They are the thorns you keep pricking your finger on, disallowing healing into our lives.
Whenever we revisit the past, we must make sure to enjoy the good moments as much as we scrutinize our bad moments. It’s easy to spend time scrutinizing every mistake you’ve ever made – who else besides us knows every mistake we’ve ever made? But for some reason, it’s so easy to forget the things we do correctly: the good decisions. The decisions where present-day you would be proud of younger you for making that choice. Most of us (when invited) would easily celebrate the victory of a good friend or someone else we care about, but why do we forget to celebrate our victories as greatly as we scrutinize our pain? Perhaps we’ve contlditioned to look for the faults in others, instead of improving ourselves, because the former is much easier than the latter – judging others is easy, yet changing ourselves requires a lot of failure, pain and introspection. Is there a painless way to learn? No. Pain is an integral part of the human experience. Suffering however is optional. What we choose to do with the pain is what ultimately transforms us into the person we want to become. We’ve learned to become who we are from the pain of our mistakes. Pain is guaranteed, but suffering is optional.
Many years ago, Sifu (Teacher/Instructor) Patrick taught me about the Buddhist concept of moderation. In my teenage years, and up until my mid-twenties, I’d frequently swing between emotional extremes of happiness and sadness; my accompanying actions were just as impulsive. I would often isolate myself from friends when going through these extremes to avoid my consequences from affecting them– but this thinking was naive. I was always doing it for me.
Most of my life, I’ve been around people who are unable to practice self-control and emotional stability. Because of this, I believed that controlling my emotions meant to suppress my identity. However, I didn’t realize that living at the extremes removed me from living in the present moment: thinking about the past and the future would use time from today. The story that Sifu shared with me was about Buddha during the ascetic phase of his life:
One day, Buddha fell over next to a river while trying to mediate in his malnourished and emaciated state. Laying weakly by the river bank, he overheard a conversation between a teacher and student passing by on a boat. The teacher was advising the student on the importance of properly tuning an instrument. “If you tighten the string too much, it will snap. And if you give it too much slack, it won’t play.” It was then, that Buddha realized the path of moderation, or “The Middle Way.” Buddha had lived life as both a slack string (one of a lavish prince Siddhartha), and one of a string almost about to break (ascetic monk). But only a finely tuned instrument can bring out the true music from within it.
I share this story with you, because it offered great value for me in my personal growth. May you find the middle path in your own life, and walk it towards success.