Buddha once said everyone would experience 10,000 joys and 10,000 sorrows in their lifetime. I came across that quote the other day, and the number jolted me. It sounded so high! I mean, it’s not hard to imagine 10,000 joys if you think of a joy as finding a pretty feather as a child or eating a really good meal. But it was nearly impossible to wrap my head around 10,000 sorrows. That seemed so daunting. Must we really bear so much?
But then I asked myself why “sorrows” have to feel so much bigger than joys. Maybe our sorrows can be simple too, like feeling sad when a friend cancels a coffee date or when you find mold in your bowl of strawberries. Maybe sorrow doesn’t have to refer only to the biggest, hardest things we endure.
There will be the immense joys, like the birth of a child or the moment you are handed that diploma, and immense sorrows, like the loss of a loved one or the betrayal of a best friend. But if you can start to see life as a balance, you come to understand that in any given day, you can experience sorrow and joy, and they can live comfortably side by side.
In some ways, I think artists and creatives are more affected by this roller coaster than many people. Just going through my e-mail on a Monday morning brings a constant stream of joys and sorrows. “Oh yay, a book order! Oh no, my speaking gig fell through. Oh yay, I just signed a new business partner. Oh no, I didn’t place in the contest.”
For far too long, I took only passing notice of the joys, and dwelled for hours on the sorrows. What could I have done differently? Why didn’t that person like my work? Did I drop the ball somewhere? Why did I put myself out there when I knew it was a long shot? The joys seemed to be only momentary confirmation my hard work had paid off. The sorrows felt like heavy mistakes.
I’m not doing that anymore. I’m taking a moment to feel the joy, and a moment to experience the sorrow, and then I’m releasing them both. They are all part and parcel of doing business. Sometimes the joys lead us to great new places and sometimes they turn out to be nothing. Sometimes the sorrows bring an end to something we cared about and sometimes they free up space for something better to come along.
It’s not my job anymore to question what either of those things means or to spend all my time hoping and praying for the joys and beating myself up over the sorrows. I understand now you can’t have one without the other, and neither is “better” or more important. They just are.
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Also published on Medium.