Heal Negative Emotions in 3 Steps

Heal Negative Emotions in 3 Steps

As a therapist, I think the largest part of my work involves telling people that it is OK to be going through what they are going through. Our society has become so afraid, so unaccepting of negativity today that it is breaking people down.

I think one of the most extreme cases I heard recently was when a girl who had just lost her boyfriend, told me that 3 days after his death her parents told her to ‘get over it’.

We just can’t take negative emotions anymore – in ourselves or others – and want to snap out of it as quickly as possible. To make matters worse, we have all this propaganda from ‘positive thinkers’ that you choose to be miserable and that you can choose to feel better. If only.

Step 1: Reverse the Approach

Most people that come to me are grappling, trying to stop feeling so miserable and negative. The harder they try, the harder it gets. Now picture this – if you’re walking down a street and see a few stray dogs, what would be the smartest thing to do? Run? A smart person knows that running isn’t the solution. In fact, the faster you run, the more dogs will chase after you. It’s the same for negativity.

Stop trying to feel better. Let the pain come. Contrary to what you think, you will not remain depressed for the rest of your life or cry for days. That happens when you resist your pain. For once, let the pain come. Don’t resist it.

Step 2: Face It

Depression, anxiety, fear, and other ‘negative’ emotions are most commonly just a sign of a healthy mind. Of course when a person loses a job they’re going to feel afraid and unsettled. Of course when they lose someone they love they are going to feel lost and in pain. It is a sign that you are feeling. It’s natural!

What makes it permanent is our refusal to acknowledge and feel it – must like the refusal to acknowledge and handle the trash in our house, it will soon start to stink and create disease. Which is exactly what it does.

Feel, don’t Think

When we face our emotions, it is important to stay true to our feelings – not our thoughts. A thought is a programmed response to an unpleasant feeling. So whenever the mind starts going crazy, instead of trying to control the mind, ask yourself one question – ‘what am I really feeling right now?’ And feel that more deeply.

If the feelings are too intense to handle, do this.

Step 3: Be Honest

This process often works like magic. And those who have seen its effect have a strong tendency to fall into the trap of pretending to feel so that the feeling goes away. If you find yourself thinking ‘Oh I’ve been feeling my emotions for the last 2 days and I still feel miserable’, you aren’t focused on the emotion at all, you’re focused on feeling better, which is exactly the opposite of what you need to do.

Sometimes a feeling that is associated with our core identity can remain for months before it goes away for good. Sometimes the pain comes emotionally and sometimes it is physical. In either case, what you are doing is surrendering to your present moment with your full awareness. Do this honestly.

Can Positive Thinking Be Hurting You?

Can Positive Thinking Be Hurting You?

In a world seemingly full of negativity, positive thinking appears like a big boon.

We live in a world that thrives on fear. Fear is used by the governments and media to manipulate the masses, by corporations to manipulate employees and by parents and teachers to manipulate children. By the time these children grow up, they are so full of shame, guilt and lack of faith in themselves and the world, that they see no way out. And for these people, positive thinking is a big boon indeed. To switch from a constant stream of negative thinking to focusing on the positive can bring about big shifts.

There are some things in life that are very useful in certain circumstances but a pain to carry around. Like a ladder. Positive thinking (and the law of attraction) is that ladder. It pulls you out of a deep ditch that life worked you into, helps you climb out and changes your life. But then, you start carrying it around, and that’s where the problem begins.

How can Thinking Positive be Bad?

Really. How can something that is positive, be ‘bad’? Contradiction? Not really. If a coin identified only with the ‘head’ and refused to acknowledge the existence of the ‘tail’, what good would that do?

When we refuse to acknowledge the existence of our negative emotions, it is akin to refusing to acknowledge the trash in our house, and choosing to focus on the flowers. Over time, the trash starts to stink and the flowers wilt. If however, we tackle the trash, convert it into manure, then our flowers grow even better. But for that we have to get our hands dirty.

Putting this into Context

Negative emotions are not meant to be avoided. As mentioned earlier, there are times when people get stuck in a negative spiral, where a short phase of positive thinking might pull them out of their mess. But unless we work on and transmute our negativity, we cannot completely utilize the power they bring to our personalities.

Also, positive thinking creates a suppression of negative emotions which eventually manifest as physical disease – because the body needs to find a way to release them.

Neither Positive Nor Negative: Don’t Think

When we are focused on doing what we need to do, there is very little thinking. We might choose to think – i.e., plan, execute, delegate, etc., but when we are really engaged in the action, there is very little scope for thinking about the outcome, because all our energies are dedicated to the present. In this moment, there is no positive or negative. There is just action.

It is when we are concerned about the outcome that thinking becomes negative or positive. If something unwanted happened in the past, we resist reality and either feel miserable or suppress it and convince ourselves that things will get better. If we are waiting for the outcome, we project a positive or negative outcome and feel happy or sad. In either case our thoughts are a lie, because the future isn’t here yet, and we have no idea what it will bring. The only thing that is real, is the present. And when you are in the present, there is no positive or negative. It just is as it is.

What is Illusion? (& How to Transcend It)

What is Illusion? (& How to Transcend It)

Maya‘ or illusion is one of the most commonly used words in Indian spirituality. Everything is an illusion, we are told again and again. And today, Quantum physicists agree, saying that everything that we perceive, including the separation between ourselves and other people and objects, is nothing but an illusion.

But, what does illusion really mean? Does it mean that if you are hungry, there is no point in eating, because food is an illusion? Or because YOU are an illusion? It took me a few months to start to understand that just because something is an illusion, does not mean that nothing exists in its place.

Illusion is not the existence of something, but its perception. 

When you glance at the picture above, it looks as if a miniature Eiffel tower is standing on the paper. On taking a closer look, we realize that it is just really clever drawing. When we look at a table, we see a solid surface, separate from ourselves. On taking a closer, very microscopic view, we realize that everything is made of molecules and there isn’t really any separation, just a variation of density.

It’s All About Your Perception

Going deeper, we start to see that absolutely everything we know and believe is based on perceptions – and it is only the illusion that we perceive. For example, when someone comes and tells you that they just enjoyed a chocolate cake, you go back to the experience of eating chocolate cakes in your past, and feel happy for them. Now if you realize that they don’t like chocolate cake and are unhappy  they had to eat it, you go back to another memory when you ate something you didn’t like, and imagine that they feel the same way.

In both cases, you imagine that what you felt in the past in a similar situation, is exactly what the other is feeling. And this is the biggest illusion we foster.

It’s Never the Same

I remember going to a science museum in Singapore as a teenager, and finding a bunch of tasting ‘papers’ in a bowl. When we licked the paper, some of us found it sweet, and some sour. We were utterly surprised to find that all the papers had the same taste. And yet, what we were experiencing was completely different.

When you fall and hurt your knee, when you eat an apple, when you get your heart broken, when you get a massage or place your foot on the earth, your experience is unique. Just like no two people can ever see the same rainbow, no two people can experience anything the same way.

Going Back to the Point of Reference

Absolutely everything we talk about, needs a point of reference. When you say ‘sweet’, you are referencing with sugar. When you say ‘anger’, you are referencing to what you feel in situations where people think you or someone should be angry. This is why behavior that might seem completely acceptable to you might be completely offensive to someone else – because you are using different points of reference.

The Pitfall

One major pitfall in being bound by illusion is that we cannot relate to people who are experiencing something we have never ourselves experienced. Or when their perception varies greatly, like having a drastically different threshold of pain. This creates disruptions and problems in relationships. Also, forgetting that perceptions are limited to our current view of the situation can lead us to get lost in unnecessary and intense emotions.

Transcending It

A careful look back at our own lives will show us how our own realities have changed with our perception. Maybe you hated eating broccoli as a child, and now you love it, or maybe you thought your father was the most amazing guy on the planet, and now he’s just human. Opinions change with perception. And perceptions are variable, based on where you stand.

If we can just remind ourselves when we speak with others, that what they have or are experiencing has no relation to our own experiences, and that their experience is completely unique, it creates a great shift in relationships. We move from ‘I know what you are feeling’ to ‘I’ll never know how that feels for you, but you have my attention and/ or my support’.

5 Signs You are Smarter than ‘the Media’

5 Signs You are Smarter than ‘the Media’

The amount of hypnosis and mind-manipulation in the media today is staggering. Children have been a favourite target for long, and now we have a generation of adults that has been exposed to a whole lifetime of media hypnosis.

In my observation, apart from making people more addicted consumers, a constant exposure to the media dramatically reduces happiness levels .

Advertising is increasingly using hypnosis to sell products – the whole idea of advertising is mostly to sell you things you don’t need, so they have to create a demand first, by showing you how sub-standard your life is, without the product. The implications are vast, and effective – people are becoming increasingly body, fashion and brand conscious, mostly to their detriment. But what affects people more than anything else, is the hatred that is being spread in the name of news.

However, there are also people today who are more aware than before, and not everyone is brainwashed by the media. Here are a few signs you have remained above it all.

1. You don’t take sides

When you read the news merely to stay up to date with what the world is talking about, you are usually unaffected by it. Anyone who has had a close tryst with the media knows first hand how so much news is completely fabricated out of thin air, or in the very least, distorted beyond recognition. When you view the news with this knowledge, you know that it is foolish to be on one side, because what you are so passionately feeling about might not even be true.

2. It doesn’t stick on

If you spend the rest of your day thinking about what you saw/ read, then you know you’ve fallen for their tricks. This applies to news, series, reality shows, everything. Today the media is using stronger emotions because whether positive or negative, intensity is usually addictive.

3. You are not a mouthpiece for the media

When I was young, I’d hear this phrase a lot – any publicity is good publicity. Everytime you talk, share or tweet something, whether against or in favour of, you are directly playing into the hands of those who are trying to gather free publicity – this is exactly what they want.

If you look at it from an energy perspective too, the more you make an issue out of it, the more energy you send it. The more energy an issue has, the more it can affect you. Of course, we do the right thing when we can, but most of the times when we discuss – either verbally or through media – we are just providing people free publicity.

4. You are not addicted

Would you feel at peace on a vacation where you don’t use any gadgets? This is a common fantasy, but it does nothing to indicate an addiction or the lack of it. You know you are free when you don’t go back to media when you have ‘nothing to do’ or ‘are bored’. Spend a holiday at home just spending loving time with the family, without an insane desire to check your email or whatsapp just one more time, and you know you’re dong fine.

5. You are not a consumer

Consumerism is a disease that stems from an inability to be with oneself. We try to fill this gap through retail therapy, or over-stimulating ourselves. An inability to ‘be’ with oneself leaves one vulnerable to manipulation and deception. If you are satisfied with what you have, however, this is not possible.

The Dream of Life

The Dream of Life

As I played some background music today, I was startled by some words starting to play. And boy, I was hooked. It took some searching to find the original version. What a gift, to discover this video. I hope you all enjoy it too.

I also just realised that this is my 100th post! What a wonderful post to celebrate this milestone with!

Here are the words, in case you prefer reading it:

If you awaken from this illusion and you understand that black implies white, self implies other, life implies death or shall I say death implies life, you can feel yourself – not as a stranger in the world, not as something here on probation, not as something that has arrived here by fluke – but you can begin to feel your own existence as absolutely fundamental.

I am not trying to sell you on this idea in the sense of converting you to it, I want you to play with it. I want you to think of its possibilities, I am not trying to prove it. I am just putting it forward as a possibility of life to think about. So then, let’s suppose that you were able every night to dream any dream you wanted to dream, and that you could for example have the power within one night to dream 75 years of time, or any length of time you wanted to have.

And you would, naturally, as you began on this adventure of dreams, you would fulfill all your wishes. You would have every kind of pleasure during your sleep. And after several nights of 75 years of total pleasure each you would say “Whoa, that was pretty great”. But now let’s have a surprise, let’s have a dream which isn’t under control, where something is gonna happen to me that I don’t know what it’s gonna be.

And you would dig that and would come out of that and you would say “Wow that was a close shave, wasn’t it?”. Then, you would get more and more adventurous and you would make further- and further-out gambles what you would dream. And finally, you would dream where you are now. You would dream the dream of living the life that you are actually living today.

That would be within the infinite multiplicity of choices you would have. Of playing that you weren’t god, because the whole nature of the godhead, according to this idea, is to play that he is not. So in this idea then, everybody is fundamentally the ultimate reality, not god in a politically kingly sense, but god in the sense of being the self, the deep-down basic whatever there is. And you are all that, only you are pretending you are not.

Why People Judge & How to Deal with It

Why People Judge & How to Deal with It

We all point fingers. Some of us do it more subtly, that's all.
We all point fingers. Some of us do it more subtly, that’s all.

The millenials are an interesting generation. We want to share our lives with the public, and we want everyone to love us.  We seek approval quite compulsively, because we rarely have any real assurance that we’re doing ok. And this sharing and desire for approval comes with its shares of disasters. When you share your lives with the world, someone is bound to disapprove. And then all the troubles begin.

I’ve been seeing a spate of images like this, making rounds on facebook.

Judgmental remarks about judgmentalism
Judgmental remarks about judgmentalism

and it seems almost everyone is feeling this way.

What is ‘being judgmental’?

When someone starts to decide who or what someone else should be, we can say they are being judgmental. People are judgmental all the time – people are either too fat or too skinny, too dark or too pale, their hair is not right, they don’t raise their kids right, they don’t have kids, or don’t get married in time, the list is endless.

Why do they do it?

Yes. Why do WE do it? Have you ever met a non-judgmental person? That person is probably enlightened. And even they might have judgmental thoughts that they’re not paying heed to.

Why do we judge? We judge when our identity is threatened. We judge because in some way, the other has caused us pain. And if we chose to admit that we are all the same and there is no difference, then that would undermine the pain they are causing us.

Look at the images above, for instance. They are completely judgmental statements about judgmental people. By telling another not to judge, we are telling them they cannot be exactly who they are. Which is exactly what we are telling them not to do. And why are we doing it? Because when they judge us, it hurts us, and we feel a tiny bit smaller. One more person who doesn’t think we’re good enough. Who needs that kind of negativity in their lives?

We want people to accept us as we are. And we refuse to accept others as they are until they stop judging us.

We’re all doing the same thing

We all judge. Some are more open and verbal about it, and others are more sophisticated and quiet about it. We judge when we meet someone who challenges our description of what the world should be like. Everyone’s description varies, and that’s what makes things interesting.

We even judge ourselves, and sometimes we go one step further and judge ourselves for judging others.

How do we deal with it?

We start by recognising that judgment is a reaction coming from pain. Why would we ask a person in pain to change themselves? They’re in pain. And if they are projecting their pain onto us through their judgment, we take a metaphorical step back, and witness our pain. Yes, I feel hurt, yes I feel judged, and it is ok for this person to judge me. This is who they are, and I am what I am and we are both ok.

A beautiful woman had once told me, ‘lead by example’, and those words rung so true. Lead by example. Embrace the other along with all their flaws, even the ones that seem to hurt you. And bring just a little more love, and a little more joy into the world.

Dialogue: Spiritual Teachings

Dialogue: Spiritual Teachings

A Bylakuppe, near Coorg, is a beautiful, serene Buddhist monastery
A Bylakuppe, near Coorg, is a beautiful, serene Buddhist monastery

Absolutely any spiritual teaching holds the risk of being misinterpreted, especially when it is read by the wrong person at the wrong time. Just like religious texts have been misinterpreted and twisted to suit one’s convenience for centuries, anyone reading spiritual teachings must also beware that teachings will work against you if you read through the filters of your beliefs instead of trying to connect with the essence through your heart.

And here I present especially something that can be open to misinterpretation, but I do it anyway, because I believe it will still help those who are prepared. One of the most common traps on a spiritual aspirant’s pathway, is getting lost in teachings. I have found myself lost more than once, and I see many around me deeply trapped by their intellect – able to give an entire discourse if need be, but barely able to invest any energies in actually experiencing anything.

Spurthi contacted me recently during her stay at Bylakuppe, where she was attending HH Dalai Lama’s teachings. I would like to mention here that our conversations have nothing to do with Buddhism itself, but with the idea of listening to teachings.

Spurthi
I am in Bylakuppe for Dalai Lama’s teaching.
Ashwita
great, how’s that going for you?
Spurthi
Very good… it’s awesome to be in his presence.. very peaceful. I experienced similar first in your presence.
He covered how to realise emptiness and impermanence, origin of dependence
Ashwita
oh, sounds wonderful
Spurthi
It helped in my intellectual understanding, I need to do lot of work to surrender fully. Hope 2016 helps me better
Ashwita
Yeah I find that the one risk in Buddhism is getting lost in the intellect
Spurthi
Yes.. tats why HH stressed direct realization is must
Ashwita
yeah, that can also be a very intellectual statement 😀
Spurthi
Teaching should only be a signpost
Ashwita
See all these things come in when you want to ‘get’ somewhere
Yes – signposts are needed when there is a journey. A journey is when you are not happy with where you are. Just sit down, there is nowhere to go. Stop trying to be better, and surrender will happen naturally. Otherwise you will end up with a fake intellectualized surrender
Spurthi
Hmmm … how can surrender happen wen my mind still complains / resists
Ashwita
Surrender to that state of mind. It is only the mind that is telling you how the mind should behave. Let that layer go first
Spurthi
It still wants to take control of things and induces fear of future by negativity
Ashwita
That is the only ‘work’ you need to do – witnessing the mind and not heeding its madness
Spurthi
While witnessing I somehow get lost with it and stop being witness..
Ashwita
practice practice practice
Spurthi
I need to practice
Yes tats the way.. should be more patient.
Shouldn’t give up practice
Ashwita
that’s all 🙂 there is nothing else you need to actually know
Spurthi
Right… Thanks a lot Ashwita for the way i want to discuss more with u.. now going to attend one more teaching from a Buddhist monk.. it’s so true as u said there r lot of chances here to get lost intellectually.
It’s easy to start seeking …
Ashwita
yeah. The real teachings fit in half a page. Anything more than that has a potential to mislead you
Spurthi
Exactly!!! Mind will be more than happy to resume it’s work after half page
Ashwita
gooood girl 🙂
Spurthi
🙂

At the beginning of a spiritual journey, it is usually of much help to be able to heal some deep wounds through therapy or some sort of spiritual healing. Until one reaches this stage, there might be some desire to ‘reach somewhere’. But eventually one reaches a point where all the basics have been learned, and practice is all that is required. One needs to steer clear of intellectual masturbation and focus on the only real thing on the ‘journey’ – simple, boring practice.

Is World Peace a Distant Dream?

Is World Peace a Distant Dream?

It is OUR earth, every inch of it. Can't bomb one part and think it isn't hurting US, ultimately.
It is OUR earth, every inch of it. Can’t bomb one part and think it isn’t hurting US, ultimately.

My heart is aching. I don’t watch the news, but some bits of them come blaring, into our lives anyway. I heard about the blasts in Paris first thing in the morning on the 14th, and then started to realise that it wasn’t just Paris that was bleeding. Lebanon, Syria, Iraq… the list is endless.

But what hurts more than anything else, is the violence I see in day to day life, and the encouragement of more violence. Nobody seems to be talking about the fact that this was a retaliation by those who were upset that Paris was bombing Syria. Not that that makes it any less painful, but how is it that we didn’t care about dead Syrians or express our solidarity by changing our profile photos – are some lives less valuable than others? Can the Westerners go around funding and selling arms to whoever they support, encourage mass murders and then be alarmed when they experience a fraction of the same horror? Is this what you support?

Are you Contributing?

Do you really want a peaceful world? It is sometihng we talk about, but I’ve observed that it is hardly something anyone really wants. We’d rather see severe, brutal punishment. We’d rather see Paris retaliate with bombs, because the media has convinced us that Muslim lives are worthless and they’re all violent terrorists.

There were hundreds of responses to this image, applauding and celebrating the bombs. Are these people any different from the ‘terrorists’ that bombed Paris out of fear and anger?

So, whose side are you on?

Are you taking sides again? Are you filled with hatred and anger towards the killers? Do you realise that by doing this, you are helping the world remain a violent, horrible place to live in?

What can you do?

The violence in the world is nothing but a reflection of the violence inside our hearts (read more). We can blame the ‘selfish’ politicians, the terrorists – who are really just people tortured by the West and trying to fight back, no different from the Western soldiers who are sent to bomb their wives and children – or anyone else. But really, we are contributing by allowing the violence to seep inside our hearts, and by sending it back out into the world through our words, thoughts, and now social media posts.

Let go of your beliefs

Yes, a large part of the wars are motivated by greed, but they are supported by ideologies. Every citizen that supports the war, believes that his side is right, his view is perfect. Don’t you, too? If you’re taking sides, you can come up with dozens of reasons why it is ok to kill innocent people on the other side – but can something like that ever really be justified?

If we want a peaceful world – if at all we choose to make it a priority before we ourselves stand to lose everything we love – we need to stop taking sides. We need to stop making it about ‘them’ and ‘us’. There is no separation, not really. The worst monsters in the world are a reflection of our own inner darkness. We can choose to dive into that darkness and create more bloodshed. Or we can send them love, refuse to take sides, and hold the space while the earth starts to heal.

CAN you make a difference?

One of the most common excuses is that one person cannot change anything. Yes, you can. You have no idea how many thousands of others you will join, and maybe if we’re all lucky, you will help us cross the critical mass. There are dozens of scientific studies that have shown how group meditations have brought down crime rates. You CAN make a difference. Will you?

Lighting the Inner Lamp

Lighting the Inner Lamp

Diwali is my favourite time of the year. I don’t so much know why, because it is the festival I do the least in. Maybe something to do with the lights.

In India, Diwali can seem like the festival of pollution and explosions, more than light, but to me, it really is the festival of silence. Despite all the noise. The outer chaos only makes the silence louder, if only one chooses to tune in to it.

Light is very significant. My favourite lines about it, I read in an Osho book.

Wise Words by Osho in his book "Intimacy"
Wise Words by Osho in his book “Intimacy”

As a healer, for years I was stuck with a belief that once I am completely healed, I will be happy. But even months and months of therapy later, I still felt messed up. It felt like digging an infinite well.

And then, one day, it dawned on me. Light up. That is all it takes to dispel the darkness. The healing will happen automatically, for guess what – it is what eventually fuels the fire. You will burn. Joyously.

Just like the oil in a lamp, or the wax in a candle, every bit of your ego – your sense of separation from the source – will burn away, lighting up the world, until absolutely nothing remains, and ‘you’ have gone back to the source, burned away.

Stop trying to be a better person this Diwali. Stop trying to burn away all your inner trash, stop trying to heal a little more so that you can one day be happy. You can’t remove the darkness. You can only bring in the light. Burn away, my dear ones. Burn away.

Shit Happens

Shit Happens

Vietnamese countryside

When we planned a trip to Vietnam, one question bothered me vaguely, at the back of my mind. ‘Why are we going to a country that was so devastated by war? Will it be too much to handle?‘ Luckily for me, I was too busy to actually think about it.

Places where trauma has happened almost scream back at you. In Berlin especially, one can feel the intensity of pain where the concentration camps once were. The Jallianwala Bagh still vibrates with intense pain, so does Cherokee, an American friend on this trip mentioned.

And yet, as we landed in Hanoi, I was struck by the absence of any such vibration. Indeed, all I could feel, was peace. I was very surprised. This country thrives. And it isn’t even the commotion that many people use to mask their pain. It was simply quiet. One normally finds stillness only in temples or sacred places. As far as countries go, Vietnam is the most ‘still’ country I’ve ever been to. It was amazing to see such hard working people, not driven by a desire to

Our surprise intensified when we visited the War Museum in Saigon (It is called Ho Chi Minh City now, but I somehow still prefer Saigon, like many of Southern Viets). This museum showcased thousands of photographs taken during the Vietnam war, showing how people suffered. The Americans violated international laws and agreements and flooded their rivers for 10 years, with highly toxic chemicals. Not only did this destroy the lives of many alive at the time, but also deformed babies that were being born. The result is handicapped people, still being born decades later.

A former nurse, next to her 23 year old disabled son. Between 2-5million people were directly affected by the chemical, and many more continue to be affected, as these people have children. On the right, is a picture of indiscriminate bombing, by B-52 planes, or 'Whispering Death' as they were called.
A former nurse, next to her 23 year old disabled son. Between 2-5 million people were directly affected by the chemical, and many more continue to be affected, as these people have children. On the right, is a picture of bomb craters left behind, by B-52 planes, or ‘Whispering Death’ as they were called.

I have a fairly small threshold for intense stuff, and I spent most of my time in this museum trying not to burst into tears and resisting the desire to run out. It was hard not to hate the Americans by the time we left the museum, even more so because they still continue to hurt entire countries. Even so – if we found it hard to forgive after a couple hours of seeing photographs, how could these people, having directly borne the atrocities, move on?

The USA still spends money on Vietnam war veterans – apart from everything else, they needed therapy for years. How did Vietnam move on? We finally asked someone.

‘Everybody wants to win’ she said, explaining away all the horrors of the war. ‘We just focus on the present. Now we have welcomed Americans and Australians into the country, and hugged them. We treat them as friends.’ There were no traces of bitterness or hatred in her voice, or on her face.

I couldn’t stop thinking about it. It couldn’t be that simple. How does one simply move on, deciding to work on building a better future? As a therapist I know that just that much would only lead to suppression, and an eventual need for therapy. It couldn’t be the complete story.

The real answer occurred to me a couple of days later. It really boils down to a deceptively simple phrase. Shit happens.

Sounds trivial, doesn’t it? Reducing all of that pain and healing, to two words? But when you really understand and integrate this phrase into your life, it can make a world of a difference.

Our story isn’t meant to be perfect. Nature didn’t intend for life to be a bed of roses. Life isn’t fair. But growing up listening to fairy tales with ‘lived happily ever after’ endings teach us something else. ‘Good things happen to good people’ is a dangerous lie we grow up with. No, they don’t.

We’ve formed a wide set of belief systems in a bid to find some security in an unpredictable world. We convince ourselves that if we act a certain way, things won’t go wrong, that there will be no suffering. This is all a lie, and if anything, it only creates more suffering. Won’t one just be left asking ‘But I pray everyday/ go to church every week/ I’ve never hurt anyone, why did this still happen to me?’ A lion doesn’t ask a deer about its moral conduct, before it kills it. There is no real insurance against misery.

And having battled outsiders for many decades, maybe even centuries, it is only natural for the Viets to know this. She was right. Everybody wants to win, and wars of all things, are not fair.

When we learn to accept the calamities of life as a part of life, we don’t cry out in pain asking ‘why me?’ There is no sense of entitlement, something the current generation across the world is infected with, explaining the growing need for therapy and the increasing incapacity of people to function effectively. And without this sense of entitlement, there is no need to place the blame – either on others’ or one’s own shoulders. One can just move on.