Saturday, November 13, 2010

Buddha was Right

Buddha taught that the cause of suffering is attachment. When we are attached to a particular outcome, when we desire things to be other than what they are, when we crave something we don’t have or fear losing something we do have, when we seek to control what we can’t control, we suffer.

As Sylvia Boorstein writes, life’s challenges are inevitable. Suffering is optional. The last few days have been the perfect example.

I’m planning to retire. I have been thinking about it for awhile, and for many reasons, the timing is right. Just as I was poised to tell my supervisor that I was ready to retire, my workplace offered a generous severance program to certain eligible employees, including me. This is a one time offer for the purpose of cutting back on staff to address budgetary concerns. The funds for the offer are limited, so not all employees who are eligible will be able to get in the program. The funds will be allocated during a six week window on a first come, first served basis. The window opens Monday morning.

Speculation and anxiety are rampant. Will people be lining up during the night like folks trying to get tickets to a rock concert? What time should I be there? What if I don’t go early enough and miss my chance? What if people try to save places in line for other people? What if, what if, what if...?

So for the last several days, I have been plotting my strategy. I couldn’t sleep last night. My mind was too busy playing out all the “what if” scenarios, all ending with the crushing dread, “What if I don’t get the money?” I felt stressed and anxious and overwhelmed with greed.

What happened to my happy place? Apparently, I am willing to sell it for the right price. For even the possibility of the right price. I woke up knowing I needed a reality check, so I drove up to my cabin for the day and had some quiet time by the creek.

Sure, I want the money. All of us who are eligible and ready to retire want it. Wanting it is understandable. But I’m not more entitled to this money than any other eligible person. And why have I conditioned my happiness on getting it? If I don’t get it, I have not lost one penny. I’m exactly where I was before I knew about the program. No one is taking anything away from me. If I was happy with my plan to retire without the severance package, then why would my happiness be affected by not getting it?

So here is my challenge to myself. Can I line up with everyone else, understanding that we are all connected by our hope? Can I see everyone as a child of God instead of some enemy trying to cheat me out of something that isn’t even mine? If I am lucky enough to get the money, can I feel compassion for those who don’t? And if I don’t get the money, can I allow myself a moment of disappointment and then walk away, happy for those who did and knowing I am still blessed beyond belief?

I hope so, for my sake.


  1. Wow! You have set a challenge for yourself! And you've hit upon what every human I know of struggles with. You don't want something until you know it's there to want. Think of the kids that grow up with TV and commercials and those that don't. The kids that don't see the commercials are much more content. They don't know it's there to want.

    I hope you get the severance package, but more so, I hope you find contentment either way! Enjoy your retirement!!

  2. Thank you. I made my best guess about when to show up and was lucky -- it isn't official yet, but I'm pretty sure I will get the package. What an interesting day of group dynamics. We called it Retirement Survivor Reality Show.

    Predictably, those of us who showed up early were in a better mood, even though we were exhausted by the long wait, than those who showed up later and were worried that the money would run out before it got to them. Some people behaved badly. I held them in my heart and wondered if I, too, would be acting the same way in their place. Who knows?

    It was a good opportunity to practice what I try to live by.


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