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The Easiest Way to Suffer

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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

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Patty - Why Not Start Now? October 29, 2009 at 2:20 am

I know about attachment and suffering, but I never before thought of it as unenforceable rules. Just the phrase itself gives me pause, because it’s sounds painful. And it is; I’ve experienced it, many, many times. I’m going to have to think more about this. Thanks for the insight.
.-= Patty – Why Not Start Now?´s last blog ..Imagination Quiz =-.

Kim October 29, 2009 at 2:44 am

Great post. I had to put it into practice when I stuffed up on the weekend. I arrived in plenty of time for my flight at London Heathrow only to find that it departed from London City! I paid a fortune to convert my ticket to get my connection at the other end. I stuffed up. It was just money and I learnt a lesson… I still wince when I see the charge, but it was just money and I was able to put it behind me and spend the time catching up on my reading without fretting.
.-= Kim´s last blog ..Impressions of North Korea – Visit to Kumsun Palace =-.

Positively Present October 29, 2009 at 3:18 am

Great post, David! As someone who’s about to get on a plane, this was a great one for me to read.

Jay Schryer October 29, 2009 at 5:01 am

“unenforceable rule”…I really like that. Indeed, even the phrase sounds painful, as Patty pointed out above. That’s such a powerful, yet simple way of defining suffering, and dealing with it.
.-= Jay Schryer´s last blog ..Thou Shalt Not Sell Out =-.

Eric October 29, 2009 at 7:44 am

Hakuna Matata my friend. The unenforcable rule idea ties in nicely with my own “no worries” philosophy. You have to take life as it comes and make the best of it.

I really like this statement that you made: “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.”

This is a powerful statement, and an excellent way to approach life. I believe it’s what we should strive for when working our way through this world of ours. Excellent post!
.-= Eric´s last blog ..Get that debt monkey off my back! =-.

Lisis October 29, 2009 at 8:18 am

True. There are too many variables you (we) don’t control. You can’t pin your hopes and happiness on an outcome you don’t have the power to create.

Ironically, we are more likely to create the scenarios we fear because we obsess about them… we constantly send that message out into the universe… “broken laptop, stolen money, lost passport, missed flight…” If this is what you are thinking about all the time, it is the reality you will create. Every action is preceded by a thought, so be mindful of what you are thinking.

Alternately, if you live as if everything will work out just fine… you will always have what you need, you will make it to where you need to be at the appropriate time (even if it wasn’t your chosen itinerary), you will be safe, relaxed and happy… then that is the reality you (and the universe) will create for you. Focus your energy on the outcome you WANT, not the one you wish to avoid.

Sounds new-agey and goofy… but it works! I’m living proof.

.-= Lisis´s last blog ..15 Brilliant Thoughts About Unschooling (and my own) =-.

John October 29, 2009 at 10:11 am

Great stuff, David. I suppose I have turned my desire into unenforceable rules, but I feel that if I don’t, I won’t take achieving it seriously enough. And when I create desires, it’s in the hope that I will one day achieve them.

What’s important to take away here is that if your desires don’t happen exactly the way you want it, IT’S NOT A BIG DEAL. Let’s say you wanted to be a doctor, but found out you have another more important passion that’s less profitable. For the sake of happiness, you take the more enjoyable, less profitable venture. Sure, you may be thinking your life is over now, but in the long run, you’ll thank yourself for the decision you’ve made.

You may not be able to control life, but it’s in your best interest to try and make the most of every situation. If you don’t try, you might as well give up.
.-= John´s last blog ..What I’ve Been Reading This Week – Issue 2 =-.

Erin October 29, 2009 at 10:23 am

I loved this post. It is an illusion that we are in control of everything. Somehow, (probably in getting through the school system) we are made to feel there is something wrong with us if we are not in control. Yet, I believe as you do that we can overcome the difficulties that come. And life is difficult at times. We can and do have what we need. Thanks for sharing some of your teachings from Hollyhock.

Travel itself is an adventure. People talk about how “these days” it is more difficult. But imagine crossing the Atlantic 200 years ago, then going from Nova Scotia to Alberta. It would have taken months instead of days and people died along the way. I think travel is easier today except for the time deadlines.

Lisis has a great point in focusing on what we want. I pray that you are divinely protected. Also that your journey is fun and filled with adventure and fabulous experiences. I pray you are blessed in every possible way.
.-= Erin´s last blog ..Miracles Daily =-.

Srinivas Rao October 29, 2009 at 10:45 am

Nice post David. I love it. You’ve kind of taken that idea of rules and demonstrated the attachment that comes with them. Excellent ideas.
.-= Srinivas Rao´s last blog ..25 things I’ve accomplished while I’ve been unemployed =-.

Dayne | TheHappySelf.com October 29, 2009 at 11:24 am

This post is absolutely correct!

I think you have to shift your thinking from “What If?” to “So What?” thinking and realize, things happen, but life moves on and no matter what…you will be ok in the end.

I actually discussed this shift in thinking this post I did a while back regarding anxiety and worry…

I’m always loving your wonderful posts David! Thank you for sharing all your greatness. :)

.-= Dayne | TheHappySelf.com´s last blog ..How to Get More Energy =-.

sarah October 29, 2009 at 12:32 pm

i loved it too. It’s something I’ve been thinking quite a bit about lately and letting things be really does make a profound effect on my happiness. I also fly a lot and have a habit of misplacing things (bad combination) so i understand how stressful it can be.

Lori October 29, 2009 at 3:00 pm

Hi David,
I second @Eric, “Hakuna Matata my friend.”

In one of my careers, I traveled for my employer. I mean, bust-a-gut travel with lots of West-coast to East-coast travel, late nights, waking up at 2 AM local time, etc. In fact, once I was in an airport, forgot what city I was in, and had to search for an airport map to orient myself again. I wish I would’ve had this post back then to help me chill out regarding the travel.

And, yes, totally about agree with unenforceable rules. I also second Lisis: I’m living proof that if you assume the best life will take care of you; it amazingly happens! Well, obviously you have to do your part, but if you do yours, life will do its part, too.

Hope that made sense! :) Nice to be here, David.
.-= Lori´s last blog ..Jane Makes Me Feel Warm and Loving =-.

suzen October 29, 2009 at 6:26 pm

Hi David!
I am totally with Lisis on this one. What you think about expands for you – Wayne Dyer taught that and I’ve found it so true. If you think about what you want instead of what you don’t want, and live in the present moment, what you don’t want won’t happen.

You might think this is nuts but its not. My mother-in-law said for years she didn’t want to loose her mind. She didn’t want to loose her mind, she said it over and over. Guess what? She lost her mind. Seriously. It was as if she called it to herself. And thinking negatively about what you don’t want will do that for you. I’m doing a post on Do Be’s and Don’t Be’s you might want to look up next week. It’s all about the self-talk we do.

David October 29, 2009 at 7:00 pm

Hey thanks for excellent comments everyone. I do agree that fear seems to create what you are afraid of somehow. There are so many great points here but I just woke up in Bangkok and I want to figure out how to post some pictures on David Goes Kiwi before it gets too late in the morning. I need to find some breakfast first. I will talk to you all soon.

Char (PSI Tutor:Mentor) October 29, 2009 at 7:23 pm

Methinks it is important to remember that there is a difference between obsessing about something that could happen, and focusing on how we want our reality to be.

One is fed by fear, the other trust.

It is amazing how acceptance of what will be in life reduces that see-saw of emotions.

David October 30, 2009 at 11:02 pm

That’s a great point Char. I guess the litmus test is whether there is suffering or not. It is definitely possible to intend, and picture a particular outcome, without worrying that it won’t happen. That’s something I’d like to get good at.

Char (PSI Tutor:Mentor) October 31, 2009 at 2:26 am

hmmm~ though how does one remove the dross and refine the spirit without the crucible…?

methinks the key is “worry”; I can be hurting, scared and/or grieving and still trust…I think…I’m going to think/soak up more on this one…

Chris Edgar October 30, 2009 at 1:18 am

Hi David — that’s a great point about how we’ll suffer even if we have the thing we’re attached to — I know a number of wealthy people, for instance, who are fairly stressed and anxious even though they’re rich and have “made it” because they’re constantly fretting about losing their money.

David October 30, 2009 at 11:04 pm

Oh for sure. I remember many instances as a kid when I bought something I really wanted, and I had it in my hands, and I was so uptight about getting home without losing it or breaking it.

Daphne October 30, 2009 at 9:24 am

One of the most important things I learned while traveling in Europe for several weeks was to go with the flow. I learned to fly by the seat of my pants, to get lost without panicking, to rebook a flight after missing it. Some of the best experiences were the unplanned ones. It’s all about letting go of the things we have no control over and preparing ourselves as best we can to handle whatever life throws at us.

Thank you for sharing.
.-= Daphne´s last blog ..Who Am I? =-.

David October 30, 2009 at 11:06 pm

Thanks Daphne. I try to carry with me the intention to take little hits in stride, before they happen and I find myself in the middle of a nasty emotional reaction. I would like to skip that part and get right to the “Okay, here I am, so what now?”

Brenda October 30, 2009 at 6:16 pm

I’m reminded of the absent-minded professor who is always losing or forgetting something. I think the professor has a presence problem. If you can stay focused on the moment, in that moment you have everything you need.

You know I don’t subscribe to blogs, not even this one, but I had a weak moment earlier and subscribed to The Kiwi Report. I don’t know what’s come over me.
.-= Brenda´s last blog ..Laughter is a Funny Thing =-.

David October 30, 2009 at 11:08 pm

Great way of looking at it Brenda. Stay here, and “here” is all one needs to deal with. I’ll keep that sentiment with me today.

Joy November 1, 2009 at 12:04 am

“Unenforceable rules”-wow, now that you’ve brought it to my attention I believe I may be queen of creating them. Even though I believe I remain open, when I make these “rules” I am actually trying to regain control and influence a situation. Hmm…must be very mindful of this in the future. Thank you!

Tobi February 21, 2011 at 4:35 pm

Another brilliant post. I sent this to my friend… I think it’s just what she needs to hear. Thank you for writing this blog!

Trevor M March 14, 2011 at 5:12 pm

I enjoyed this piece of writing because it came to me in a moment when i am frozen in a state of self doubt and artistic and instinctual paralysis. With everything to gain all i can focus on is what i stand to lose and the seemingly overwhelming tasks at hand. The notion that i have created these unenforceable rules for myself and that they could be a factor in what has held me back recently is a small revelation. Is there a way to forgive myself for doing this without crossing into the zone of not holding myself accountable for not reaching certain goals? Because that seems dangerous to me.

David March 17, 2011 at 8:48 pm

Forgive yourself anyway. Chastising yourself is not the best way to hold yourself accountable. If you want accountability, get it from someone else. Make someone a bet or a promise, or announce your intentions publicly.

Hamlet April 23, 2013 at 9:26 pm

(Last month I decided to start at the beginning of Raptitude, and chronologically have worked my way up to here so far. Absolutely terrific blog of yours. I’ve refrained from commenting out of a concern of over-loading your mental circuits, but I hope you get a laugh from the last word.) This blog post seems to reveal your independent discovery of what the psychologist Albert Ellis also discovered (perhaps you’ve since come across his self-help books on Rational-Emotive Behavioral Therapy). Dr. Ellis’s enlightenment (and liberation from Freudian psychology) came from reading the philosopher Epictetus, that “People are disturbed not by things, but by their views that they take of those things.” People develop irrational beliefs that are expressed using the words “should,” “ought,” and “must.” “I must not be late.” “This car must start.” “I must not lose my passport.” Etc. Dr. Ellis labeled this habit of thinking “musturbation.”

Alya May 6, 2013 at 3:36 am

great article ! Greetings from hongkong!
Worrying, anxiety over perfection is not worth it at all..
constantly i have to manifest for certain things to turn out right,
i guess most of my brain cells are dead by then… but as contradicting as it is.. if one has the gift of manifestation, is this a gift or rather a death trap?

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