There is an old story about a man who came to see the Wise man because he had heard that the Wise man was a great teacher. Like all of us, this man had some problems in his life, and he thought the Wise man might be able to help him straighten them out.
He told the Wise man that he was a farmer. “I like farming,” he said, “but sometimes it doesn’t rain enough, and my crops fail. Last year we nearly starved. And sometimes it rains too much, so my yields aren’t what I’d like them to be.”
The Wise man patiently listened to the man.
“I’m married, too,” said the man. “She’s a good wife … I love her, in fact. But sometimes she nags me too much. And sometimes I get tired of her.”
The Wise man listened quietly.
“I have kids,” said the man. “Good kids, too … but sometimes they don’t show me enough respect. And sometimes …”
The man went on like this, laying out all his difficulties and worries. Finally he wound down and waited for the Wise man to say the words that would put everything right for him.
Instead the Wise man said, “I can’t help you.”
“What do you mean?” said the man, astonished.
“Everybody’s got problems,” said the Wise man. “In fact, we’ve all got eighty-three problems, each one of us. Eighty-three problems, and there’s nothing you can do about it. If you work really hard on one of them, maybe you can fix it — but if you do, another one will pop right into its place. For example, you’re going to lose your loved ones eventually. And you’re going to die some day. Now there’s a problem, and there’s nothing you, or I, or anyone else can do about it.”
The man became furious. “I thought you were a great teacher!” he shouted. “I thought you could help me! What good is your teaching, then?”
“Well, maybe my teaching will help you with the eighty-fourth problem.”
“The eighty-fourth problem?” said the man, “What’s the eighty-fourth problem?”
“You want to not have any problems.”
— Adapted from Buddhism, Plain & Simple: The Practice of Being Aware, Right Now, Every Day. Steve Hagen, 1997.
Such is life, methinks … they just don’t seem to go away.
As much as we think they will get less and less as we get more and more — more secure, more confident, make more money, get more comfortable in relationships, get more comfortable living in our own skin… they don’t. go. away.
So while we work on our problems, it appears we also need to work on our expectations.
This, at least for me, is really disappointing. I hate to work on my expectations. In some ways, it’s the hardest work of all.
I should have expected that.
What do you expect?