When I was in high school, I was attracted to guys who were interested in having deep conversations about philosophy or economics or anything I was curious about, which was everything. The first and last to break me was one of those. He was one of the smartest people I’ve ever known and a true original thinker. I met him when I was his math tutor. He was crazy smart but didn’t care about proving it. He introduced me to the author Douglas Coupland and more specifically the book Life After God. I read it at least three times, reveling in the fact that someone could articulate with such sarcastic wit, the existential curiosity that lived within me.
He set a standard. After he crushed me, I attempted to recreate the dynamic I had with him repeatedly throughout my college years and even briefly reconnected with him in my early twenties. I was so intent on controlling the outcome, even if it meant trying to do so with someone who only resembled him. That naive effort failed disastrously on many occasions.
In this era of vision boards and manifesting our desires, how is it different to ‘create the life that I want’ versus being attached to outcome? I once felt I had a handle on this concept, but as I contemplate it now, it seems to me it’s a matter of how much control one has over the outcome that dictates how much suffering attachment creates.
For context, a brief summary of the Buddhist Four Noble Truths
- All life is suffering
- The cause of suffering is craving – attachment or avoidance
- The solution to suffering is non-attachment
- The way to non-attachment is through control of thought and behavior
Craving: Creating a home near the trails– I’m about 90% of the way to being an owner rather than a renter in Boulder. Something that’s been high on my list, and the big breakup allowed me to go finally go for it. I’m terrified because it’s definitely a financial stretch, but I’m taking the risk to create a lifestyle that will contribute to my overall happiness and well-being. There is an element of luck and privilege, but this is by far the most achievable when it comes to desired outcome.
Craving: Trail running and finishing my first 50 mile race – I can’t control everything, but the majority of the contributing factors to meeting my goals are largely up to me. There’s definitely an element of luck and timing, but again, much of the outcome on race day will be a reflection of factors under my control. I’m chasing something that I can catch.
Craving and Avoiding: Relationship(s) – There is basically nothing about this that is under my control. My circle of lady running friends is expanding, and that feels really fulfilling. But then I turn my attention to physically and/or emotionally intimate relationships and I’m at the whim of factors beyond my control. What I’m craving is fun, distraction, validation, connection, laughter, accessibility, reciprocation. What I’m unsuccessfully avoiding are the difficult emotions that are still surfacing after the recent end of my 7+ year relationship. Lately I’m finding myself working way too hard to not get what I want. Both the things I’m craving and the things I’m avoiding.
So tell me, what is the difference between intentionally ‘creating a life I love’ and attachment to outcome? I’m really struggling with this one. How can I define what I want and go after it without inevitable suffering? I don’t know how to be of this world and not crave.
Despite all the things I ponder, maybe a little too deeply, and the internal struggles I write about, I don’t lose sight of the fact that I am insanely lucky. Can I really be upset because I don’t have everything that I think I want? The answer is irrevocably no.
I don’t have the same template for happiness that most people use, i.e. marriage, kids, etc., so I keep doing things that have proven to contribute to my happiness, basically running trails. I continue to evolve and figure out what else makes me happy; and in the meantime, I continue to practice suffering on the trails in an effort to eliminate the cravings that lead to emotional suffering and instead crave pizza.