Buddhists believe that the first noble truth of human existence is suffering.
All of us will grow old, will get ill and will eventually die. And often we will experience events that will cause us discomfort, agitation, pain and way lay our plans.
I happened to experience a major setback as I was about to get on a flight from Delhi (INDIA ) to Hongkong on 16 th may.
A couple of hours before the flight my handbag with my passport and other valuables was stolen from the car while the driver was still inside.
Our driver dropped us for dinner with our friends and said that he would go and get a quick bite at a roadside restaurant.
I made the cardinal mistake of leaving my handbag in the car ..
As he reached the desired restaurant
someone tapped on the car and told him there was some oil leaking from the car. As he stepped out to check the leak an accomplice grabbed my bag from the car and disappeared. My driver had no idea what had happened.
After dinner when he came to pick us up he immediately realized what had happened. He saw that I had no handbag in my hand so he knew he had been duped.
I was mortified that my bag along with my passport and other items was gone. I was very upset and so was my husband as we had to be on board our flight back to Hongkong in a couple hours. We went to report the theft to the nearest police station, the police were helpful but not very encouraging.
We were told that these gangs are becoming very active and will steal laptops, phones, and any other valuables they can lay their hands on. The chances of recovery are minimal.
The news was not comforting at all.
The situation was pretty upsetting and I could have made the situation worse by getting angry and upset with my driver for his carelessness.
Fortunately, I have managed to rewire my brain to see the situation as is.
An incident is just an incident, how we respond is what determines how the incident impacts us.
In this particular case, I missed my flight, lost money, lost a few credit cards, lost all my valid visas, and quite a few articles that were in the bag. Instead of getting angry and upset, I saw the situation as an incident that put things in perspective.
I realized how lucky I was that I still had my phone with my Hongkong ID, my drivers license and all the Hongkong credit cards. I became thankful for what I had and shifted my gear from poor me to lucky me, I felt that I got away with a bit of material loss and a bit of hassle. I was not physically harmed. No one got hurt. The car was not damaged. The driver was safe. We were safe and I still had all my suitcases in the boot of the car. My husband’s bag was safe too as that too was in the boot of the car. His passport and other valuables were intact.
Once you start looking at things from a different perspective, the odds don’t seem that much against you. However it is not always easy to shift perspective. Our brain’s default mode is that of fear as fear of the unknown is what kept us safe.
Although this bias towards fear and negativity keeps us safe, we pay a huge price for it. We live in constant fear and mistrust, and when events happen that contribute to the fear and mistrust our brain goes into the default mode. Everytime an unpleasant incident happens our brain forms deeper neural pathways of fear, frustration, anxiety and helplessness.
This is when we need to switch gears. Instead of allowing the brain to switch to the default mode we need to use the neo cortex, which is a relatively newer part of the brain and is what makes us human. We humans have a huge advantage over other species. We can train our brain to think differently. With practice and awareness we can choose to respond to a situation instead of reacting instantly.
The loss of my passport and other valuables was very disheartening but there was nothing I could do about it. I needed to focus on getting a replacement passport as soon as possible. Once the initial shock wore off I got into high gear. I went to report the loss to the nearest police station and called a few friends who I thought could help with the situation.
The next morning, I was up and about trying to get a new passport. During all this I remained calm and kept consoling myself, saying ‘ whatever happens, happens for the best.’
I convinced myself that there was some good in this situation and therefore the situation did not seem to bother me much. I accepted it for what it was. It was an unpleasant incident and it was no one’s fault.
Focusing on solutions instead of focusing on why something happens is way better. I did learn some valuable lessons though.
- Never leave your valuables unattended.
- Make copies of the passport and all the visa’s
- Keep emergency money in a separate location.
- Remain calm and know that things eventually work out.
In the end things did work out. I got my emergency passport within a few hours. I was told that the process takes about two to three days at a minimum, but I got mine in a few hours. ( a phone call from the right person helped). The people I met were very helpful and supportive.
Having spent a day at the passport office I learnt a few things about the Indian bureaucracy. I have new found respect for the Govt employees.
To go back to the first noble truth about life. Yes we all will get old, will get sick, will go through unpleasant situations and will eventually die, but
suffering is a choice. We don’t need to suffer. We need to see the situation as it is. An unpleasant situation is just a situation.
Pain and illness are a reminder that something is not right, but it’s also a reminder that we are alive. It is a part and parcel of life. If we are alive we will go through the ups and downs that constitute life. Nothing in life stays static, if we have good days, we will surely have bad days. If we are happy, we will surely face unhappiness at times. If we are healthy, we will still have days when we are sick. The key to life is to remain stoic and see life as an experience. Learn from our mistakes and try and improve every day. Appreciate the small stuff and develop resilience to handle the unpleasant.
Learn to live life fully while we are still alive. Although I agree with the journey of birth, old age and eventual death, I don’t necessarily believe we need to suffer.
Shveitta Sethi Sharma
Chief Happiness Officer
School of Happiness