Guard Against the Highs

8 of Swords from the Light Seer's Tarot

"To know that one does not know is best.

To not know yet think one knows will lead to affliction.

The sage is free from affliction because he sees affliction as affliction,

and so does not experience affliction."

– Tao Te Ching, chapter 71.

We know we should be strong during our low moments. When doubt or anxiety creep up, we know we're supposed to pull out our spiritual + psychological tools, to keep the emotion from overwhelming us.

What we don't do nearly enough is guarding against the highs. Confidence, success, excitement, status ... these feelings are intoxicating. We crave them, and so we chase them. And when we finally get them, even just briefly, we drink them up. We can't get enough of them.

There's a popular quote that talks about ignoring the boos and the cheers from a crowd, because all of them are just noise.  

That we shouldn't just ignore the boos, we should ignore the cheers as well. It's a radical concept in a world where we're always trying to pump ourselves up.

But it makes sense. Because if we teach ourselves to thrive on praise, we're also teaching ourselves to pay attention to criticism. If your self-esteem goes up when people say nice stuff, then it's going naturally to decline when they start to say some nasty stuff.

To really, truly not care what people think means to be unbothered when they praise us – not just when they criticize.  

I'm not saying it's bad to feel good. But it's a slippery slope between enjoying these emotions and depending on them.

So when good things happen to you, enjoy them, but don't hold too tightly onto them. Don't make them a part of your identity. Don't let your self-esteem be built around them. That way, even if they're gone tomorrow, you're still you. And you're still going to be okay.

When Lao Tzu says "the sage is free from affliction because he sees affliction as affliction", this is what he's talking about.

When we learn to see that 'good' feelings have the potential to derail us just as much as 'bad' feelings, we keep ourselves from getting too attached. We're able to remain grounded and humble, even when everything is going our way and we feel on top of the fucking world.

And then, over time, practicing that groundedness and humility strengthens us. And so on the bad days, when nothing is going our way and we feel like our entire life is collapsing, it's much easier to remain centered and stable.

It's not magic. It's just practice.

Be like the sage in the 8 of Swords, who looks in the mirror and sees what's real and what's not. Cultivating this awareness is what frees her from the suffering that the rest of us are trapped in.