It’s happened to all of us: We stub our toe, prick our finger, poke ourself in the eye. It’s a painful experience. But the worst part of it is that our mind then leaps to judgments: “Why am I so clumsy?” “Why can’t I be more careful?” “It’s the story of my life!—I always do this!”

Sharon Salzberg calls these thoughts “add-ons” in Real Happiness:

I once witnessed a particularly good example of add-ons in action when I was teaching a retreat with my colleague Joseph Goldstein. We were sitting drinking tea when a student in some distress came in and said,”I just had this terible experience.”  Joseph asked “What happened?” And the man said, “I was meditating and I felt all this tension in my jaw and I realized what an incredibly uptight person I am, and always have been and I always will be.”

“You mean you felt some tension in your jaw,” Joseph said. And the man said, “Yes. And I’ve never been able to get close to anyone, and I’m going to be alone for the rest of my life.”

“You mean you felt tension in your jaw,” said Joseph. I watched the man continue barreling down this path for some time, all because of a sore jaw, until finally Joseph said to him, “You’re having a painful experience. Why are you adding a horrible self-image to it?”

Today has been a very busy day, and I haven’t been in as close touch with friends and colleagues as I’d like. But I’m not going to add self-recrimination to my difficult day: It won’t help!

Discuss Real Happiness and the 28-Day Meditation Challenge in the Tricycle Book Club.

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