In my middle- and high-school classes, there was a running joke whenever we discussed a short story, novel or poem. The teacher would ask us what the story was about, and someone would inevitably respond “gain and loss”. It was funny because it was always true. Our human drama is always about gain and loss. If those elements are not present, we typically don’t find it worth writing about or reading.
It is of course the insight of Buddhism and many other traditions… when there is a sense of a separate self, everything is filtered through gain and loss, or more presisely, attraction, aversion and neutrality. Will it be of gain to me? Will it bring a loss? Is it neutral (for now)? Will it enhance my life? Is it something I need to protect myself against? Is it something I don’t need to bother with?
As I went about my business today, and especially on the bus and while walking around downtown, I noticed how whatever came up was filtered in this way, and to be more aware of it, I labeled whatever attention went to as either gain or loss (attention naturally goes to the things the personality sees as as gain or loss). By doing this, I saw more clearly how this labeling process goes on throughout the day, often outside of attention.
For instance, walking down a street, I see how the labels of gain and loss come up with only seconds apart. Something in a store window is a possible gain (something that would enhance this separate self). Another thing or person a reminder of a loss (a loss of what was or could have been).