Month: June 2017

43 – No Cows, No Problems

In this short episode, I want to talk about a story that is often shared about a farmer who lost his cows. To me, this is a story about attachment to our possessions. It’s a story about the suffering that arises out of our attachment to our possessions. It’s relevant because we ALL HAVE COWS. I want to talk about the story, and talk about what the moral of the story is. What can we learn from this story when we apply it to our daily lives?

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Transcription of the podcast episode:

Please excuse any typo’s, I use a transcription service to create a text version of the audio recording. If there are any issues with the transcription, please let me know.

Hello. You are listening to the Secular Buddhism podcast and this is episode number 43. I am your host, Noah Rasheta, and today I’m talking about No Cows, No Problems. In this short episode, I want to talk about a story that’s often shared about a farmer who lost his cows, and to me, this is a story about attachment to our possessions. It’s a story about the suffering that arises out of our attachment to our possessions and it’s relevant because we all have cows. I want to talk about the story, I want to talk about the moral of the story and what we can learn from the story when we apply it to our daily lives, but before I jump into that, a quick update on the podcast format.

Something I’ve been thinking about incorporating into the podcast is to do an occasional Q&A podcast episode, so questions and answers. As you may know, several of you have reached out to me by email in the past and quite often I get questions about clarification on certain topics or how does that topic apply to this situation, things of that nature, so I thought it would be cool to occasionally, maybe once a month or just every so often, dedicate an entire podcast episode to questions that I received from you, listeners. There are two ways to send me the questions. You can email me the questions like you have in the past, [email protected], in which case I would just read the question in my own voice and then give you an answer in the podcast episode, but what I thought would be cool, if you’re willing, you could call in with your question and leave me a voice mail.

That would allow me to extract the question in your own voice, insert it into the podcast and I think that would sound a little bit more fun for some of you who are willing to call in, in your own voice, ask the question and then I’ll answer it in the podcast episode. The way to do that would be to just call my phone number. I have a Google Voice number that’s set up just to receive voice mails, so if you call area code 435-200-4803 and leave me your question in a voice mail, I’ll extract it, put it in the podcast and on that specific episode of the Q&A episode, I’ll address the question after letting everyone hear what your question was. Those of you outside of the US, you would just have to dial the country code +1 and then area code 435-200-4803. That’s something I want to try. Hopefully, that’ll work out well. I think it would be kind of fun to do that occasionally.

The other format that I’m ready to do occasionally is to interview people. I have a couple of interviews that I’m lining up that I’m actually really excited about. I wouldn’t want to do this in every podcast episode because it takes a lot of time and effort to line up interviews, and I’m not quite ready to do that all on my own yet, so I will do occasional interviews. The three formats of the podcast would be the most common just like this episode and all the past episodes. It would just be me explaining a specific topic or a story or, you know, just discussing something. The other format would be an occasional question and answer podcast where I would address the questions that I received from the listeners. The third format would be an occasional podcast interview.

That’s where I’m planning to take things down the road, so if any of you have questions and you’d like to be featured on the podcast, call with your question. That would be my preference, but you can also email me if you prefer to remain anonymous or not have your voice featured in the podcast. You can do that by email. Again, phone number 435-200-4803 and the email is [email protected] Okay, before I jump into the story about the cows, again, remember the Dalai Lama’s advice? I try to say this in every episode and do it for a reason. “Do not try to use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist; use it to be a better whatever-you-already-are.” I think that’s so important to emphasize regularly.

Also, to remind you that this podcast is made possible by the Foundation for Mindful Living, a 501(c)(3) non-profit whose mission is to make the world a better place by teaching people to live more mindfully. This podcast and the topics I discuss and the stories that I share, they’re all part of that mission, so if you get any value out of this podcast and if you’re in a position to be able to, consider becoming a monthly contributor. Even $2 a month can make a big difference. It allows me to do much more with this platform. One-time donations are appreciated as well, and of course, you can do this by visiting and clicking on the Donate button at the top of the page. Again, I want to say thank you to everyone who’s done that because it’s making a very big difference with helping me to plan how I do this in the future, knowing what resources I can depend on to grow not only the non-profit, but also the podcast itself, so thank you, thank you, thank you to those of you who have been in a position to be able to do that.

Okay, so let’s jump back in to this week’s topic real quick. The story I want to share today, it goes something like this. One day, after the Buddha and a group of monks finished eating lunch mindfully together, a farmer, very agitated, came by and he asked, “Monks, have you seen my cows? I don’t think I can survive so much misfortune.” The Buddha asked him, “What happened?” The man said, “Well, monks, this morning all 12 of my cows ran away and this year my whole crop of plants was eaten by insects.” The poor farmer was dismayed and the Buddha said, “Well, sorry, we haven’t seen your cows. You know, perhaps they’ve gone in that other direction.” The farmer ran off in that direction. Then the Buddha turned to his monks and he said, “Dear friends, do you know how you are the happiest people on earth? You have no cows or plants to lose.” That’s the story. That’s the essence of the story. When I first heard this story, it really spoke me on multiple levels.

You know, at the time I was feeling very much like the farmer. Ironically, when I first read this story, I believe it was in Old Path, White Clouds. I may have to look at that and reference it at the end where I first read the story, but I felt like the farmer. My cows were missing and I was in a frantic search to see if I could find them or to recover them. I felt like the farmer in the parable, only that for me, the story is a little bit different. For me, the story goes on. I felt like the farmer. I spent some time looking for the cows. I couldn’t find the cows. Once I realized, “Okay, well, there’s no recovering the lost cows,” I felt like I was able to come back and sit down with a group of monks, and I found peace, tremendous peace, in the concept of letting go or in the concept of letting be and I was able to sit with my feelings. I was able to distinguish clearly between the emotions that I was experiencing.

Going back a little bit real quick, most of you know the plight that I’d been going through with my company and the difficult financial times that I’ve experienced after my company had placed several of my products in various big-box retail locations, specifically Walmart, AT&T Wireless and Verizon Wireless. Well, as many of you may have been able to drawn from conclusions from past episodes, ultimately what’s happened is my company has been forced under, which has forced me to go under personally because my personal credit and loans were all linked to the business, so when you have roughly at this point 6 or 7,000 stores worldwide all returning product … and this is inventory that I have already paid to manufacturers. It’s inventory I have not been able to resell to others. A huge portion of it is because it’s inventory that’s now essentially obsolete.

Some of you may know I was one of the very first to popularize the selfie stick and what a global phenomenon that was. Today it’s the fidget spinners. Back then it was the selfie sticks. They were all over the place. As soon as we popularized those, companies from all over started copying my design, they started manufacturing cheap versions, and before we knew it, you could see these things on street corners being sold or in gas stations. They were just everywhere and not just here in the US, but worldwide. It was crazy how fast it all climbed and how fast it all dropped. I December, so not this December, but the previous December, I was being featured by The New York Times in an interview about the rise of the selfie sticks, and then it seemed like in January they started to be banned. Walmart … or not Walmart. Disneyland started to ban them, museums, the Louvre in France, and just as fast as they climbed in popularity, it seemed like overnight they were frowned upon. Nobody liked them. It wasn’t cool to have a selfie stick anymore.

The timing made it so that I had thousands and thousands of these in stores all over the world, so suddenly they were all turned back to me and I was in this position where I had to absorb the loss of the manufacturing cost, the shipping cost to get to all those stores, and then when they send them all back, they don’t just say, “Hey. You know, we don’t need these anymore,” which at the time, of course, I was manufacturing a significant amount of these every month. I was also in the position where they asked for their money back. When Walmart says, “We want out money back” on all these inventory items that we had paid for, it’s a big deal. It’s a pretty significant amount. Long story short, it left me in a position where I realized I was not going to be able to survive this and it was really difficult because while there was uncertainty about whether or not this could maybe fail or maybe it could succeed, that was a tumultuous phase.

The moment it crossed the line from that uncertainty to certainty and it was certain that I was going to have to go down the path of bankruptcy, it became a little easier because at that point it’s like when you’re in a water fight with water guns. You don’t want to get wet, but the moment you get wet, you’re like, “Oh, well, I’m wet now,” so it’s not so stressful to have someone come spraying you with water. It was a similar feeling for me going through this. It was during that tumultuous time, during the uncertainty of what was going to happen that I had encountered this story of the farmer and the cows. I remember laughing hearing the story, thinking, “Oh my gosh, that’s so true. So much of this suffering I’m experiencing of the loss of my cows, it’s real and it feels very difficult to cope with something like that.” Fortunately, this also came during a time in my life when I’ve been spending a considerable amount of time and effort to be more mindful and to have more mindfulness as a regular, everyday part of my life.

While I felt like the farmer at first, running down the path, thinking, “Wait, I’m going to find them,” I also feel like in my version of the story, I went, I look and I realized, “Hey, it’s true. They’re gone. I can’t do anything about it.” Instead of holding on to that for much longer, I feel like I went back and I sat down. I was like, “Okay. Well, now I’m one of you guys. I don’t have cows either, so I’m going to enjoy the same experience of peace and contentment that you guys have because you have nothing to lose, and now I have nothing to lose.” It was an interesting process to sit with that. I’ve talked in the past about the parable of the two arrows and I felt like I was experiencing that as well. There was the first arrow of suffering that I was experiencing, at the loss of my business, at the loss of my sense of identity.

I’ve mentioned this before, I think, how my sense of identity was attached to a label with my career. I’m an entrepreneur, and that’s been a very important part of how I identify myself in relationship to the world and to others. I realized a significant part of my suffering had to do with this perceived loss of my identity, and when I realized, “I’m linking who I am to what I do,” I was able to at least mentally sever the two and realize I’m not an entrepreneur. That’s just something I do, but when that no longer felt like a sense of my core identity, a significant amount of the pain I was feeling also went away with that because it wasn’t me personally being threatened. It was just a label that is not going to be a label anymore. Maybe it will be again someday. Maybe I’ll be an entrepreneur when I do something else, but for now I’m not and I’m just someone who doesn’t have cows. It was interesting to sit with this, with the two arrows. The first arrow was the loss and that’s normal, natural pain and suffering, you know?

For me, this came in the shape of looking at warehouse, seeing my employees, thinking of the various memories I’ve built with them, the trade shows that we’ve attended worldwide, and the people I’ve met along the way and the hard work that’s gone into designing the product packaging. This has all been a very significant part of me for the last seven years and there was nostalgia in that emotional grieving, that this is something that I’m going to lose. It’s not a part of my life anymore. That’s was a difficult phase and I was able to sit with that. It lasted about, I’d say a good week where I’d go in to work and I’d see everything I built. I would get emotional, and I would laugh and I would cry. It was an interesting phase, but what I noticed is I was always experiencing the pain of the second arrow, which is I was feeling bad about feeling bad.

A part of me was saying, “You’re not supposed to feel bad. You’re supposed to be mindful and get past this really quickly.” I realized that’s a big part of the pain I’m feeling, it’s that I’m feeling bad about feeling bad. That’s when I was able to do something incredible. I was able to just allow myself to feel bad. I allowed myself to just feel the emotions. I was able to reminisce on all the great memories. I was able to feel sorrow. I was able to let myself cry. At the end of that process, which took about a week, I just found a tremendous sense of peace. It was over. The cows were gone. I no longer have to worry about losing the cows because I don’t have those cows anymore. It was fun to link what was happening in my personal life, in my career, in my business life, with the story that was very touching to me, the idea of the poor farmer losing the cows.

I felt like I could identify with the farmer, but I could also identify with the monks. I could identify with the pain and sorrow of losing the cows, the frantic search for the cows, but I could also identify with the serenity, the deep serenity and the deep peace that comes from knowing I don’t have any cows to lose. I think when it comes to possessions, we’re always trying to accumulate more and more, and we think that these cows, they’re essential for our existence. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having possessions. It’s not the possessions themselves that cause the problems. It’s the attachment that we have to the possessions that becomes the problem.

Often our attachment to our possessions is the very obstacle that prevents us from having joy or contentment in that present moment because we’re accumulating stuff, and the more we have, the more we have to fear because the more we depend on our attachment to possessions for something like feeling joy or happiness. Well, the greater the risk of losing those things. It’s like the higher you climb, the scarier it is that you’re going to fall because the higher you were, the harder the fall, that kind of thing. To me, this story is a valuable teaching that says we can let go of our attachment. You know, we have the attachment that we have to our cows. We can become free and the key isn’t to let go of your cows. I don’t think that the moral of this story or the key to this story is to say, “Hey, let go of everything now because if you give it all up now, you’ll never have to worry about anything.” I think there’s truth to that, absolutely, but I don’t think that that’s necessary.

We don’t need to give up everything that we own, but I do think we need to give up the attachment that we have to everything that we own. You know, it’s all impermanent anyway, our possessions, the labels that we have like my label of being an entrepreneur, the opinions that we hold. We attach to those as well. All these things, they’re all impermanent. These are the cows. Several weeks ago, I did a guided meditation on impermanence where I asked you to imagine what it would be like to see everything that you own slowly disappear on a stage. I focus haven’t had a chance to listen to that, go back a few episodes and find that because the point of that exercise is that this is the nature of reality. All things change. All beginnings have endings, so why should we feel so attached to the cows that we own?

Again, I’m not saying that we need to start letting go of our cows, but take a look at the cows that you have in your life and imagine, “Well, what would I be if I didn’t have these cows?” The cow could be the specific house that you have, the specific job title that you have, the car that you drive, the type of work that you do. Whatever it is, are you attached to it? Do you feel that your sense of identity derives from the thing that you do or is it separate? There’s me and then there’s how I am. There’s what I do, there’s what I’m called, my name. These are all separate from the core essence of who I am. Who I am is just me and that’s constantly changing. In one day, I wasn’t an entrepreneur. The next day, I was. In one day, I didn’t have a big business. One day, I did and I had products sold all over the world. The next day, I didn’t.

You can start to see the reality that I talk about so often, which is that life is like a game of Tetris. One piece shows up and it’s all great, and the next piece shows up and you’re like, “Oh, that doesn’t fit anywhere and it’s ruining my game.” Are we attached to these pieces as they unfold? That’s the core essence of the teaching of the story. It’s not about the core. It’s about the attachment to the cow, so this has been an opportunity for me to spend a considerable amount of time looking at my attachments. Now in my case recently, I am losing a lot of these attachments and that’s not the problem. That’s not painful. What’s been painful is realizing that some of the things that I’ve had to give up are things that I was attached to. For example, my title, my identity as an entrepreneur weirdly enough was more painful than losing my house or losing the money or the income I had from my company. It was the perception that I had that other people have of me, so therefore my sense of identity was on the line.

That was more painful and I’m glad I was able to explore that and see that and find that, and then disassociate with that label in terms of allowing that label to own me. Remember, that’s my definition of non-attachment. It’s not about not having things. It’s about, do the things that I have, the labels that I have, the opinions that I hold, do those things own me? It’s been really neat to spend time with this and realize right now nothing owns me and I own very little. It’s been very refreshing. It’s been very refreshing to hit this reset button to be at a place where I get to decide with my blank slate, where do we go from here?

This week is a big week for me. On Thursday is when I meet with the trustee over the bankruptcy to find out what are they doing with all of my stuff, all of my inventory, all of my personal assets, my home. I expect that it’ll all be taken. It’ll all be gone. That’s the standard protocol, and it’s been fascinating to be able to sit with that, to experience that, to see the attachment that I have to these things, and to watch them go. In that parable of the cows, it’s one thing to wake up and beck, “Oh, no. The cows are gone,” but I think it’s another to sit there and watch somebody come and say, “Hey, these are my cows now” and they’re going to walk out with them, and to have peace with that. To think, “Well, okay. I’m not going to have any regrets about this. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the last seven years running my business, watching it grow, watching it reach the peaks that it did.”

Now I want to enjoy watching it dissolve because it’s a reminder to me, in the same way that I would watch incense being burned. You know, I see the smoke going up and I see this is the nature of my reality. I’m experiencing it. I’m seeing it firsthand. Things that are born die. Things that are created dissolve. This is reality in motion here, and I’m grateful for that experience. I’m grateful to be able to experience this right now the way that I’m experiencing it, with the perspective and the mindset that I’m experiencing it with because I can see how difficult and how emotional and how heart-wrenching it would be to go through all of this if there was a significant amount of attachment to the possessions while going through this. It would be very painful, so it doesn’t need to be more painful than it is beyond that first arrow.

That’s why I love that parable. The first arrow of pain, sure, that’s fine. That’s natural. I have no problem with that level of pain, but I don’t want to allow the second pain of arrow to make this any more painful than it has to be. That to me is really the essence of what this story is about. Again, maybe look in your own lives and look at your cows. Look at your possessions. Which of these possessions, not just physical possessions; the possessions of your labels and your opinions and your beliefs and everything. Throw it all in there. Look at it and say, “Where do I see attachment?” It’s okay to have that attachment. Just know that that attachment will cause significant pain if and when, and I should just say when, it’s time to let go.

That when may not be until the end of your life, that you’re sitting there on your deathbed realizing, “Oh, this is it. I’m about to die.” Maybe that’s when you sever the connection with everything that you know and does that have to painful or will you be prepared because you’ve been letting go your whole life, you’ve been experiencing non-attachment with your possessions your whole life? To me that’s the essence of non-attachment. It’s not necessarily letting things go. I talk about attachment and its opposite would be detachment, but non-attachment is not the same thing as detachment. It’s like holding on to something and saying, “I’m holding on to this because this is what makes sense now, but I can let go if I need to.” That to me is non-attachment.

Another example on the flip side of that, it would be saying, “Oh, there’s that thing. I will never hold on to that. I will never touch that.” That to me is also a form of attachment. It’s certainty, whereas non-attachment would say, “I’m not going to hold on to that, but if I need to, I will because I might need to one day.” The difference is the maybe. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. Maybe this is the best thing to hold on to right now. Maybe it’s not. Then there’s a level of comfort that arises because you don’t have to oppose something so firmly or hang on to it so tightly. You know, it all becomes a loose grip on reality. You can’t just let it all go. That’s why I think I like the expression, “Let it be.” Let it go works for the past, right? Let things go in the past, sure.

In the present, I think it makes more sense we’re letting things be. Letting it be just as it is because remember, the moment we want life to be other than it is, we experience suffering, so here we are letting things be and seeing what would life be like if I would just let it be? What if the experiences that I’m going through, the emotions that I’m feeling, what if I just let them be what they? Well, then you discovery pretty quickly that because of the nature of impermanence, they arise, they linger and then they pass, and that’s it and we move on. That’s the nature of reality. That’s the topic I have for today, no cows, no problems.

Now a quick item for news. I’ve talked about this a couple of times, upcoming workshops. I’m doing a workshop on Sunday, August 27th in LA, I’m doing one on Saturday, October 21st in Orlando, and one on Saturday, November 4th in Phoenix. If you’re interested in any of those, visit Then you can click on … I think the link says Start Here. At the bottom of that link, you’ll see Attend a Workshop. If you click on Attend a Workshop, you’ll be able to learn more about those workshops, sign up for them. Right now the registration is only opened for the LA one, but monitor that page because the Orlando and the Phoenix one will open up soon.

I’ve mentioned this. Again, the recent Humanitarian Mindfulness Trip to Uganda that I did earlier this year, I’m doing that again next year. If any of you are interested in learning more about the African humanitarian trip, it’s a life changing trip. Everyone who went, 16 of us went on the last one, everyone loved it. Email me with questions about that, [email protected] As always, if you enjoyed this podcast, please share it with others. Write a review. Give it a rating in iTunes, or if you’re new to Buddhism and you’re interested in learning more, you can always go back to the first five episodes of the podcast. Listen to them in order. They’re a summary of some of the key concepts taught in Buddhism.

You can always check out my book, Secular Buddhism: Eastern Thought for Western Minds. It serves as a basic introduction to Buddhist concepts. That’s available on Amazon, Kindle, iTunes, Audible, and for more information or links to those, you can visit That’s all I have for now, but I look forward to recording another podcast episode soon, so thank you for your time, thank you for joining me, and until next time.

42 – We Didn’t Sign up for This

Imagine what it would be like to suddenly wake up and realize you are on a roller coaster ride. You didn’t choose to get on, you woke up on the ride. This is what it’s like to wake up to life. We didn’t will ourselves into existence. We are the result of causes and conditions. For me, the idea of not having signed up for this, allows me to be open to whatever may come.

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Transcription of the podcast episode:

Please excuse any typo’s, I use a transcription service to create a text version of the audio recording. If there are any issues with the transcription, please let me know.

Hello. You are listening to the Secular Buddhism podcast and this is episode number 42. I am your host, Noah Rasheta, and today I’m talking about the fact that we’re all here, but none of us signed up for this. I’m talking about life.

Several weeks ago, a friend of mine and I were having lunch and we were talking about life. As we discussed our things were going, an expression was brought up and it’s had me thinking about it ever since. The expression is, “I didn’t sign up for this.” Has that ever crossed your mind, perhaps in referring to how something is turning out, whether it be in your career or your marriage or in any other area of life, that sentiment of, “I didn’t sign up for this”? There was a time in my life, in my marriage specifically about seven years ago, where I had the same thought. I was going through something difficult and I have this thought that, “I didn’t sign up for this.” In fact, I’m certain that a significant portion of my suffering at the time was tied up with this recognition that I was experiencing something that didn’t seem fair to me, something that I hadn’t signed up for, so I wanted to talk about this thought, this idea. What did we sign up for? But before I jump into this topic, I do want to remind you of a couple of quick things.

First, my commonly shared quote by the Dalai Lama where he says, “Do not try to use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist; use it to be a better whatever-you-already-are.” Regardless of which path you’re on or how far along that path you may be, mindfulness can help you to become a better whatever-you-already-are. On second, to remind you that this podcast is made possible by the Foundation for Mindful Living, 501c3 non-profit, whose mission is to make the world a better place by teaching people to live more mindfully, so if you get any value out of this podcast and if you’re in a position to be able to, please consider becoming a monthly contributor. Even $2 a month can make a big difference. One time donations are also appreciated, and you can make that donation by visiting and clicking on the donate button at the top of the page.

Now one thing that we recently were able to accomplish thanks to the support from podcast listeners, I was able to hire a company to transcribe every single podcast episode up until now, and this podcast along with all future ones will also be transcribed so that there is a text version of the podcast episode. Every time I publish a podcast, there will be a transcribed version that people can read, so if you any difficulties with hearing or listening to a podcast, you can always read through the podcast episode as well. That’s something new. That’s something that costs money, and I’ve been able to do that, I’ve been wanting to do that for a while, but I’ve been able to do that thanks to the support of podcast listeners, so thank you very much for that.

A couple of quick news items. I do have some upcoming workshops, one in LA, August 27th, one in Orlando on October 21st, and one in Phoenix on November 4th, so if you have any interest in attending any of those workshops or getting more information about them, I will be posting that on the website, but for now you’re welcome to email me directly with questions at [email protected] A quick reminder that the Successful Mindfulness Humanitarian trip that I did earlier this year in February, 16 of us went to Uganda in Africa, and we did humanitarian work.

While we were there, we also spent time doing a mindfulness retreat, so those were the two key components of the trip, doing humanitarian work every day, doing mindfulness work on ourselves, learning mindful meditation and discussing various topics as like an infusion of going on a mindfulness retreat while at the same time doing humanitarian work. Then for fun, we topped off the trip at the end with a safari, two days, and got to see all of the things that you would hope to see in Africa while on safari. If that sounds interesting to you, I’m doing that trip again next year, either February or March 2018, so get more information about that, email me and I’ll send you information.

That’s all the news that I have, so now let’s jump back into this week’s topic, so this idea, “What did I sign up for?” This is interesting to me because to think about this in the context of interdependence, you know, I didn’t will myself into existence, none of us did. None of us signed up for any of this. We are the result of causes and conditions, so we’re here. This makes perfect sense to me in the big picture of it all; you know, life in general. None of us signed up for this, but what is it that we expect when we’re not expecting anything? To me the answer is everything. This is the thinking behind the idea of emptiness in Buddhism. It’s essentially understanding that if I didn’t sign up for anything, then everything is possible now. It’s like a blank slate, and because it’s a blank slate, well, boom, we’re born and here we are, and the world doesn’t owe us anything. We’re just here as the result of causes and conditions.

Now I would hope that you’re not listening to this and thinking, “Well, that just sounds sad” because to me this is an incredibly liberating idea. You know, what are we signing up for when we make a choice? I think we’re signing up to embark on the path that we hope will lead toward the expectation that we have when we make that choice. Now the difficulty with this is that we do tend to live life under the tyranny of our own expectations, don’t we? Let me be clear. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having expectations, but it is important to know that it’s our expectations that may be the very source of a lot of our suffering.

I see this a lot, for instance, in marriage. In the context of marriage, people will talk to me usually when they’re going through difficulties in their marriage because they know that my wife and I went through a difficult phase and we were able to recover. Now we have a very happy and healthy marriage, so people will talk to me about their marriages and say, “How do you recover from this?” or, “How do you get through that?” Something I hear all the time is the sentiment of, “I didn’t sign up for this” when they’re venting about marital problems, and I know the feeling all too well. Like I said, when I got married I had a lot of expectations, things that I thought I was signing up for, and when those expectations weren’t met, I was confronted with suffering. In my case, loyalty was a big one in that list of things that you’re expecting.

As I look back now, I try to imagine the start of my marriage as I would the start of a giant rollercoaster ride. What did I sign up for? The ride. I’ve mentioned in previous episodes that I had a really rough patch in my marriage about four years into it. There was a breach of trust and it was devastating to experience that. I clearly remember thinking, “I didn’t sign up for this,” but when I took the time later to become more introspective about this whole thing, I did have to ask myself, “Well, did I sign up for?” We were just two young kids getting ready to get on a rollercoaster, and it’s like we looked at each other and said, “Hey, do you want to ride this with me?” I mean, that’s really how I see it now. I signed up for the ride, that’s all. Again, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have expectations. I’m just saying that what if we weren’t attached to the expectations? What if we had the wisdom to adapt to the ride as we go along?

When you get on a rollercoaster, part of the excitement is the mystery. We don’t know how many ups or how many downs, how many loops. You don’t know exactly what to expect. It’s the highs and the lows, the fasts and the slows. They’re all part of the ride, and then you have the uncertainty of whether the person sitting next to you is going to make it through the ride, whether they’re going to last as long as you. Are they going to throw up all over you? Are they going to have their arms up and waving, and yelling with joy when yours are down and you’re scared or vice versa, when your arms are up and you’re enjoying the ride, and they’ve got their arms crossed and they’re really upset? These are all dynamics that marriage, you could think of as marriage on a rollercoaster. I think of couples, couples who lose a child or perhaps they lose each other, or couples who have a child with a disability. Did they sign up for that?

Do we sign up for that in life? I think if you really think about it, did any of us sign up for any of this? Did any of us will ourselves into existence? We’re here, again, because of causes and conditions. We’re the result of those causes and conditions, and here were are and we didn’t sign up for this. I think if we look at this mindfully, we’ll see that because we didn’t sign up for this, we’re open to all of it. You know, this idea of come what may. For me, “I didn’t sign up for any of this” means I’m open to all of it and I like to think about that idea of the rollercoaster. I have many friends who have encountered ordeals that are very difficult. Like I mentioned before, losing a child. You didn’t sign up for that, but at the same time, because you didn’t sign up for it, it is a possibility.

You start this ride and here we are, and we don’t know what to expect. I think that’s life, right? Life is the rollercoaster, but we’re on it, but we didn’t get to choose to get on it. It’s like we opened our eyes and woke up, and we’re on a rollercoaster. I think part of the problem is that we go through life trying to get something out of it, usually happiness or the cessation of suffering, and that becomes the very source of our problem. We’re trying to get something out of life and life isn’t something to get something out of. Life is always changing. There is no permanent state, and therefore we can’t get what we want. I think as soon as we realize that life itself is the rollercoaster, the ups and the downs, they’re both part of the ride, the sooner we can make peace with the fact that, “Hey, we’re on the rollercoaster and I don’t know what’s going to happen next.”

I think this is where this idea of learning to be comfortable with uncertainty really plays a part. This idea of, “I didn’t sign up for this,” when we have that attitude, we can look at it and ask, “Well, what is the expectation that I have tied to this specific event I’m going through?” Again, it’s not about not having expectations. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having goals or having expectations, but I think there’s wisdom in being able to adapt quickly: to have an expectation, to realize it’s not being met, and then to be able to adapt, to be able to go with the flow, so to speak.

There’s a famous parable, the parable of the two arrows or the parable of the two darts. I think I referred to this in previous podcast episodes, but I want to discuss this just a little bit more today in a different context because I think it has to do, in some way, with dealing with expectations. The premise of the parable is that when you’re struck by an arrow or a dart, that first dart, you can’t help it, right? You’re walking and boom, you get shot by an arrow. That’s it. That’s what happened. There’s nothing you can do about it. Now we have all of the control to decide if we’re going to pick up a second arrow and start prodding the spot where we were struck with the first arrow, or if we’re going to start poking ourselves with that second arrow.

It’s the second arrow that we’re very concerned with in Buddhist practice, and contemplative practice, I should say, because we want to look at things and understand, “Is part of the suffering that I’m experiencing part of the first arrow or is it part of the second arrow?” because the first arrow is natural, it’s completely normal, but the second one is self-inflicted. For example, and again because we I went through this myself, discussing recently with a friend a specific scenario that he was going through in a relationship, he was really upset and feeling bad about, I guess, the loss of the dynamic or the relationship that he was in before. He lost someone he cared for and he was very upset about that, but in looking at this little bit, what we were able to conclude and what he was able to realize is a significant portion of the suffering that he was experiencing was the suffering that comes from feeling bad about feeling bad.

You know, this idea that, “I’m going through this loss. This is a difficult thing and it sucks. It feels bad,” and somewhere in the back of the mind is this idea that you’re not supposed to feel this way, “So now I feel bad about feeling bad.” He’s trying to get out of that funk and asking, “Why do I feel this way? How can I get out of this rut that I’m in and feel differently?” What I reminded him of was this parable of the two arrows. What part of the suffering is the first arrow, loss, and what part of it is the second arrow, the self-inflicted part, which is feeling bad about feeling bad? There was a moment of recognition there where he concluded, “Yeah, I think a significant portion of this comes from the suffering that I’m experiencing that’s the second arrow.”

That’s how I felt when I recalled the experience that I went through. The pain and suffering that I was feeling during my marital crisis was one thing, but there was a significant portion of hurt and sorrow and pain associated with feeling the hurt and the sorrow and the pain because I was feeling like, “I’m not supposed to feel this. I didn’t sign up for this.” Like, somehow, in an ideal world people like me, who are going about doing the right thing, are not supposed to experience these emotions of being hurt or betrayed. It was really interesting to arrive at the conclusion through contemplative practice that a significant portion of my pain had to do with not being able to just be with my pain, you know? I was mad about being mad. I was sad about being sad. That’s essentially the second arrow. That’s where the parable of the two arrows or the two darts kind of fits in here.

That’s something that you can look at in your own life when you’re experiencing suffering. You know, from the Buddhist approach we try to say, “Whatever it is you’re experiencing, that’s it. That’s reality. That’s how you’re feeling, so don’t push it away. Don’t think that it’s wrong. Be with it. Befriend it. If it’s fear, be with the fear. If it’s sadness, sit with the sadness. If it’s anger, sit with your anger. Allow it to be what it is. Try to befriend it.” Don’t resist it or push it aside because it’s very easy to start being angry about being angry or to be sad about being sad, and then we’re dealing with situations where we’re not entirely sure how to fix it because we’ve added multiple layers of complexity to the reality, which is just the first arrow.

I want to deviate from that thought for a moment and talk about something else, a lesson that we can learn from Japanese psychology. This is talked about by the ToDo Institute who has a website ( and a really neat practice called Naikan practice, but here I want to talk about shifting our perspective from the sense of “I have to,” to a sense of “I get to,” so “I have to” versus “I get to.” The lesson is very simple. We want to be aware of every time we have the thought, “I have to do such and such” or, “I should be” or, “I have to” whatever. Transform that statement replacing, “I have to” or, “I should” with “I get to.” See how that simple, yet profound shift, can have a powerful change in how you experience life, how experience whatever it is you’re going through.

For me, again going back to this analogy of life is the rollercoaster, if I decided, “Hey, there’s a rollercoaster. I want to get on it,” and then I do get on it, and now I’m going through it and I’m not enjoying the experience, it’s easy to think, “Well, I have to because I chose this and now I have to endure the suffering I’m experiencing on this rollercoaster because it was my choice to get on the rollercoaster.” It would make sense to say “I have to” there, but going back to the scenario where if I understand that I didn’t choose to get on this rollercoaster, I woke up on the rollercoaster. This is waking up to life, right? I woke up. I didn’t will myself into existence. I woke up to this experience of being alive, so I don’t have to any part of it. I get to because there was no choice involved with that first decision of choosing life.

Now this is a topic that in some faith traditions … I think I’ve alluded to this before, but my wife and I share different faith traditions or different, I guess, paths. For her, this idea was kind of goes against her understanding of life. From her background, life is a choice, right? There was where you are before you were born. There’s a realm, a spirit world, and we chose to come to this earth to prove ourselves worthy of returning after this life to be in the presence of God, but even in that context, we were talking about this and I brought this up, I said, “Well, did you choose, before you became a spirit, did you choose that or was your spirit created by God?” You’re back at the same dilemma. It’s like, “What were you before you were what you think that you were?” At some point, you have to recognize, again, the same analogy of the rollercoaster. You didn’t will yourself into existence whether you were intelligence that was created into a spirit in the form of God or born in life, born in the image of a god.

It’s still the same dilemma, right? You didn’t choose this, in the same way that my children didn’t choose to exist. They were the result of causes and conditions, and now here they are, and they exist and they have their personalities and they have all these choices that they can make, but they woke up in this rollercoaster of life the same way that I did, the same way that any of us did. Whether that be this life is the start of the rollercoaster or you happen to believe in a prior life, that’s the start of the rollercoaster, but you can’t ever get to before the rollercoaster. At some point, we all woke up on this rollercoaster of life. That’s what I’m trying to get at with this little explanation. It doesn’t matter how far back you can go. You’re stuck with the same dilemma, which is that we woke up on a rollercoaster and here we are in existence, and we don’t have to look at it with this attitude of we have to or should.

We get to look at it with this attitude of, “Well, here I am, so I get to. I get to experience this.” Now this was really powerful for me applying this to negative experiences that I’ve had in life. I get to go through this ordeal. I get to experience what it feels like to be hurt. I get to know what it feels like to feel pain, to get emotional, to cry. I get to experience joy beyond what I can possibly describe. “I get to” in all of these scenarios is a really powerful shift in perspective when compared to, “I have to,” so I hope you can look at different instances in your life and try to reframe them with that perspective, and think, “What would this look like if my attitude was, ‘I get to’ versus ‘I have to’?” See how that feels. See how a specific scenario of your past or your present looks like when you shift that from have to, to get to.

Again, this is an idea that’s talked about by the ToDo Institute specific to Naikan practice, N-A-I-K-A-N practice. Naikan practice is the practice of self-reflection, so as we go through life, we have a relationship with everything that we interact with, right? Whether that be a person — spouse, children, parents, friends, coworkers — we have a relationship with people, but we also have a relationship with things. I have a relationship with the shoes that I wear, the clothing that I choose, the house that I live in, with the car that I drive, so the different objects that I have, I have a relationship with these things. Naikan practice is the practice of becoming intimately familiar with the relationship that we have with people and with things.

The way Naikan practice works is that you pick a specific relationship — again, it could be a person like a sibling or a spouse — and then you ask three questions based on that, the relationship. What have I received from, what I have given to, and what troubles and difficulties have I caused? The point of this exercise is to be able to be reflective about the relationship. When I think, “What have I received from my spouse?, what have I given to my spouse, and what troubles and difficulties have I caused my spouse?” I start to gain insight into this relationship I have with my spouse. Now this can apply to anyone. You can do this exercise on anyone or on anything. You can do this with your shoes, for example. “What have I received from my shoes? What have I given to my shoes? What troubles and difficulties have I caused my shoes?” I start to gain some insight into the relationship that I have with my shoes.

Now one of the end results of Naikan practice is that you start to experience a tremendous sense of gratitude because you realize that you depend on relationships. None of us exist alone in a vacuum. We don’t go through life, we can’t go through life without depending on other people and other things. We can’t. If you live completely alone out in the forest, your interdependencies would be with the sun and with the plants, with the animals if you hunt, with the climate. Whatever it is, you have interdependencies. You can’t exist alone, none of us can, so reflecting on the relationships that we have with these things can be a really neat exercise. It’s called Naikan practice or Naikan reflection. You can learn more about it on the website, T-O-D-O Institute dot org. I’ll post a link, but it’s a neat exercise. I think it’s relevant in the context of this idea, “I didn’t sign up for this.”

Again, what I’m trying to get at, the heart of this entire podcast episode is how we feel is one thing, and how we feel about how we feel is another thing, so feeling bad about feeling bad, sad about sad, happy about happy, that’s the second layer like in the parable of the two darts or the two arrows. The first dart is what is and the second is the story we construct around that reality, so this idea of, “I didn’t sign up for this,” if you really sit with that and look at it, what you’ll find is there’s a story there. There’s a story that we’ve constructed around reality and because reality is not fitting with the story, now we’re experiencing a whole new layer of discontent or of suffering that may not be necessary.

It only arises because of the perspective we have, which is that, “I thought I signed up for this or that, and what I’m really experiencing is this other thing or that other thing.” We create problems there, but problems in the sense of the two darts. There’s a very big difficult between the first dart of reality and the second dart of the story of reality, so I hope you can look at that in your own life. It’s been very beneficial for me in my own life to look at certain instances and ask myself, “Was there an expectation here that wasn’t met? Was the expectation the problem or was the actual circumstance or the event the problem?” Typically what you’ll find is there is a portion of suffering that’s related to the expectation not being met rather than just whatever it is that happened. Then that gives you a new, fresh perspective of something to work with, with whatever it is you’re going through. That’s what I wanted to share in this podcast episode. We didn’t sign up for this and because we didn’t sign up for this, we’re open to all of this.

I hope, if you enjoyed this podcast episode, that you’ll be willing to share it with others. Write a review. Give it a rating in iTunes. Again, if you’re new to Buddhism or you’re interested in learning more, you can listen to the first five episodes of the podcast in order. They are somewhat of a summary of the key concepts talked about in Buddhism. You can also check out my book, Secular Buddhism: Eastern Thought for Western Minds, available on Amazon, Kindle, iTunes and Audible. For more information and links, visit That’s all I have for now, for this week, but I do look forward to recording another podcast episode soon, so thank you and until next time.