Since I left on my trip, I’ve had quite a few deadlines to hit. Bus at 07:50. Ferry at 15:45. Plane at 14:30. Pick up the key after 5:00 and before 6:00. Meet so-and-so here at 7:30.
I’m also constantly checking to see if I still have my crucial items: passport, laptop, wallet and tickets. Occasionally I’ve had a moment of panic, but I haven’t run into any catastrophes yet.
It almost seems like I’m going to have to keep my luck going and continue hitting all of these targets as they arise, lest my trip grind to a halt. Sure I can deal with a setback here and there, but there are certain mishaps that I feel are just completely unacceptable.
I can’t lose my passport.
I can’t miss my flight.
I can’t let my laptop get stolen.
I can’t let myself run out of money.
Whenever I sit down, I hook my laptop bag and backpack straps around my feet. When I stand up I check to see if my wallet is still where it should be. I feel for my passport whenever I think of it. I’m extremely careful with these things, but I deep down I do know that absolute security is impossible, and there is always a risk of something bad happening.
That thought is more than a little unnerving, especially when I remember that it applies to every part of life, not just travel. People do get sick, fortunes do get lost, hearts do get broken, people do die unexpectedly.
If something did happen, who knows how it would play out, but one thing is certain: life will go on, and all involved parties would have to adjust, like they have been for millions of years. We’ve all experienced many catastrophes over our lifetimes, and somehow we survived. As anal as I might become about getting to the airport with plenty of time to spare, and checking my wallet every twenty seconds, if the universe wants to throw me a curveball — or just clock me in the temple outright — it will. C’est la vie.
People miss flights every day.
People lose wallets and cell phones every day.
I’ve known people who have lost their passports abroad. In none of those cases was it fatal.
In reality, our control over what happens is quite limited in range and scope, yet some ancient part of our brain tells us if we just obsess over something, we can force it to turn out a certain way. Even when it seems like it is completely up to us whether a particular wish comes true, such as getting your degree, buying a home, or taking your long-awaited trip, we do depend very much on luck and the help of others in order for our wishes to turn out. Life is completely unpredictable, and injury, illness, crime, natural disasters and financial meltdowns sometimes materialize out of nowhere, spoiling our “musts.” Luck is a silent conspirator in our lives, until it turns bad.
It is so completely normal for a person to establish musts that simply cannot be guaranteed. We know that we can’t make a must into a true certainty, yet we treat many target outcomes as if they’re imperative for the universe to go on.
“I can’t fail this exam.”
“I absolutely have to get to the airport by 8:30.”
These are not true statements at all. They are fantasies. Fantasies of a universe that delivers what you want just because you are so terribly frightened of not getting it.
This is garden-variety attachment. When we cling to something, we invite suffering. It hurts to really need something badly, even if you’ve been given no reason to believe you won’t have it. The attachment itself — the mere possibility of disaster or disappointment, is enough to make existence itself hurt.
Ideally, we’d humbly do our best to make things go our way, all the while accepting what is actually happening as if we’d chosen it. That way one could greet life with open arms, live without suffering, and be in the best frame of mind to deal with bad results when they do happen.
But even those who understand that concept may still find themselves insisting that only certain favorable outcomes are acceptable when the stakes are high enough. Evolution has left us with this awful tendency to see our desires as needs, at the expense of our quality of life.
While I was at Hollyhock, I had an excellent teacher who used a very interesting phrase to describe attachment. It keeps popping into my head when I start to get uptight about my travel arrangements, or anything else. He said, “I’ve created an unenforceable rule that things must be a certain way.”
An unenforceable rule. I love that concept, it really says it all.
Internally, I’ve made a rule that I can’t lose my passport or my wallet. Yet no matter how paranoid and overprotective I get, I cannot enforce this rule that I’ve created. I can’t control the forces that be — thieves, faulty hotel safes, crooked maids, my own occasional oversight… all of these dangers are forever lurking out there, and I just can’t enforce the rule I’ve made. I don’t have the power to do it.
Whenever you feel like a certain thing must happen or you’ll be upset, step back and ask yourself what unenforceable rule you’ve created.
I’ve created an unenforceable rule that I cannot get laid off.
I’ve created an unenforceable rule that my car will start today.
I’ve created an unenforceable rule that I’ll get to relax and watch The Office tonight.
I’ve created an unenforceable rule that nothing can happen to my children.
I’ve created an unenforceable rule that I will be a doctor.
I’ve created an unenforceable rule that I will make it to the party, and that I’ll have fun while I’m there.
I’ve created an unenforceable rule that it will be sunny for my wedding. Just for the ceremony and pictures, at least.
I’ve created an unenforceable rule that I will not suffer.
Ironically, creating an unenforceable rule is actually guaranteeing suffering.
So when you notice you’ve created an unenforceable rule, just kindly remember it’s a desire, not a rule. Forgive yourself. You just were trying to rule the universe again, and sadly we humans can’t do that. But we sure do like to try.
Photo by Alyssa L. Miller