Last week I tuned into Fresh Air on National Public Radio; Terry Gross is in her fourth decade interviewing people in this highly regarded show, and yet she was saying, “…if somebody gives me positive feedback, I feel like yeah, I’m really OK. Give me [negative] feedback, and I think, like, oh my God, I’m such a failure. I’m so horrible.”
She was finding herself blown around by one pair of what are called the four worldly winds, states of mind that can take us off balance if we believe our thoughts and identify with them. The pair she was reacting to is usually known as praise and blame.
One pair that I am particularly susceptible to is often translated as fame and ill-repute. But another translation that I found is closer to my experience of this pair—recognition and disregard. At some point in my childhood, I developed the coping strategy of being agreeable, following the rules, and generally keeping the peace to avoid criticism or conflict. But then I suffered because I felt unseen and like an outsider. So when I’m recognized or praised, I feel that glow that Terry was feeling; and when I’m not included I can (less and less, I’m happy to report) feel bad about myself.
The other two pairs are gain and loss, and pleasure and sorrow. When we get too attached to any of the positive experiences, we can get a bit full of ourselves, and then more easily knocked off balance by the negative. And vice versa, if we identify too much with the difficult states, it can be hard to let in the positive.
The advice the Buddha is reputed to have given: know that these worldly winds come and go and rest like a great tree in the midst of them all.