Hey friend, have you had the thought lately "everything is just working against me today!"
Let me tell you a story, an updated parable first told by a Taoist teacher named Chuang Tzu called “The Empty Boat.”
You’re relaxing in a canoe on a river, and suddenly there’s a loud “thump” against the side of the boat and you’re dumped into the water. You come to the surface to find that someone has jokingly flipped your canoe and is laughing. How do you feel?
Next, imagine the same situation—you’re in the canoe, hear and feel the “thump,” get flipped, and when you come to the water’s surface you instead find a large log that has drifted and bumped into your canoe. How do you feel?"The Empty Boat" - Chuang Tzu
In both scenarios, the facts are really the same: you end up cold and wet when your plan was not to be in the water.
But when the situation feels personal (the story we tell ourselves), everything feels worse.
The fact is, most of what “bumps” into us throughout life are logs—it’s smart to get out of the way and avoid getting “thumped” if we can, but even if you do end up getting hit, it’s not (usually) personal.
Traffic jams, getting sick, reactions from other people—they’re all logs. Impersonal phenomena.
Have you ever had a day where one thing goes wrong, and then it feels like the rest of the day you’re left noticing how the world is against you?
We’re in traffic and think “why me?” or “of course it would happen to me today of any day!”
The snowball continues when the barista gets my drink wrong, my friend, Lucas, is ignoring my text to confirm our meeting (when I’m trying to help him out of the goodness of my heart!), and to top it all off, I drop my phone in the parking lot and my screen is shattered!
It’s easy to get caught up in “me-myself-and-I,” but really, it’s all drama in our heads.
Even when someone else is involved, they are typically caught up in their own stories and snowball of events and are hardly worried about ours.
Instead, what if these things just happened, like a log floating down the river?
What happens when we take the “me” out of it?
There is traffic today (and most days, because it’s Los Angeles).
The barista made the wrong drink—perhaps she’s struggling this morning?
Lucas isn’t responding, and who knows why or what his schedule is today? He will respond when he gets a chance.
The phone shatters, and it’s an inconvenience for sure, but it can be dealt with (and more easily so with a clear and composed head).
Sometimes, stuff happens, and it does suck. But the suffering we experience doesn’t need to be as extreme as we often make it.
I love to borrow a Buddhist analogy of “the second arrow.”
Let me use a personal, real life example, to demonstrate.
I walk out of my bedroom in the morning, and in the dark, I stub my toe. I turn on the light and see my dog Kristen’s bone.
The physical pain I experience is the first arrow. Ouch! It does hurt!
My reaction—that irritation I feel at Kristen for leaving that darn bone in the middle of the floor (and doing this to me)—is the second arrow that I pierce myself with.
I spent a lot of years piercing myself with second arrows.
What were really just impersonal logs floating down the river of life became pains that I was inflicting upon myself because of my reactions to them.
When I take the “me” out of it, I can acknowledge the first arrow, and address it from a place of calm. When there are more arrows involved, we can’t think as clearly, and we end up reacting, rather than responding.
I encourage you to spend the next week noticing any time you verbally or non-verbally use the words “I,” “me,” or “my.”
Explore framing situations without those words, and see how things change. If you try it out, reply to this email and let me know how it goes for you!
A lot of people are emotionally activated right now and, in these times, it’s easy to take things personally.
It isn’t personal, and it isn’t really any different than “regular” life. But these are great opportunities for us to notice and grow!
Sending light and love your way,