We suffer more in imagination than in reality…Most of the things that we’re anxious about, that we torture ourselves about, that we dread, that we catastrophize in our head—they never actually end up happening. Sure, bad stuff does happen in life, but our nightmares are usually worse than reality. Don’t suffer unnecessarily. Don’t borrow suffering from the future.” Ryan Holiday
It’s been said that 95% of what we worry about never happens. We fret, procrastinate and hide rather than face whatever might come along. And when it finally comes to pass, we realize that it wasn’t as bad as we thought it might be. While I think it is a good idea to be prepared for the worst, we don’t have to live as if the worst has happened. How much of our time is wasted thinking about and living with the idea that things aren’t going to go my way? And there we have it, Ego putting in its two cents worth of advice: my way.
How many people live their lives in a constant dither of worrying about what is going to happen or what someone might say or think? Then the thing happens and if it does go badly then they fall into self pity and let that waste their time. And even if it goes well, they second guess and bemoan that it should have been better. How many times do we imagine a catastrophe, pre-live it in full colour detail? It happens. And then we relive it over and over for the next hours, days or weeks? Let me ask you: did you really have a bad day or was it just ten minutes that weren’t so great that you milked for pity for the next 23 hours and 50 minutes?
As much as possible I try to live in the present, the gift of now. Ego doesn’t like me this way. When I am in the present, aware and observant of what is around me, not making comments, comparisons or judgements, there is no room for Ego. Anger and resentments keep me in the past. Worry and fear keep me in the future. And they are all Ego driven: not having gotten, not getting and might not get my way. When I am living in the present, there is no my way, there is only what is, the here and now.
I think that when I am doing service for others I am in the same frame of mind. I am not thinking about what is in it for me, but how I can assist the community. When I am doing something with love, I place no conditions or expectations. And when I am grateful, I lovingly share with others what I have been given. There is no Ego in this, only the deep seated sense of contentment and fulfillment. My way has been transformed into Our way.
Do I succeed in living my life this way everyday? No. I often spectacularly fall way short of what I had hoped for. I have learned though, that this isn’t failure because I have learned something along the way. Yes, things aren’t always going to go perfectly, but I don’t have to fret and fear so much before hand that I fulfill my own expectations. It really isn’t the end of the world until it’s the end of the world. I don’t have to make my life miserable and cause suffering to others as well. It’s all in my mind anyway: there’s nothing real here, only imagination. Suffering in life really is optional. Besides, I have survived everything that has happened to me so far in life. Chances are pretty good that I am going to survive whatever happens next, and I may get a good story out of the deal!
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Ryan Holiday is a modern follower of Stoic Philosophy. The Daily Stoic morning email from his website is one of three that I always read because it almost always has something that is relevant. Stoicism was never a religion, though it sounds like it could be a heresy that the Inquisition would have pursued, but an approach to living, like Taoism. Much of the writings of Greek and Roman stoics are filled with practical wisdom that we can use on a daily basis. Ryan has authored several books, Ego is the Enemy, The Obstacle is the Way along with The Daily Stoic. Check out the website if you haven’t yet done so.