I want to introduce another element to this concept and that is the element of requirements. Personal requirements are related to what Guy Finley called our ambition.
The concept of personal requirements was introduced by the Charlotte Joko Beck, perhaps the most well-know American teacher of Zen. Charlotte passed away last year, but her books, Every Day Zen and Nothing Special live on as two of the best and most popular books on Zen.
I think of requirements as an unconscious insistence that things – life, people, circumstances – be a certain way or else we flip out. I may have a requirement of my wife:
You must not contradict me (seriously, men often have this requirement) When we are contradicted, which is bound to happen, we flip out: we get angry, passive aggressive, we pout, whatever…
You must not talk about me in public.
You must never raise your voice at me.
For my kids: You must always obey me immediately.
At work: I must always be appreciated for my work.
Dating: You must never be late, more than a minute or two.
We have these requirements of life and when they are inevitably – inevitably – violated, we react, we resist, we get angry upset, confused, even “we fear.” All kinds of inner and outer commotion sets in when our requirements are violated.
Bear in mind that by nature, requirements will be violated because neither life nor anyone in it is perfect or ideal. I may have a requirement that traffic will always flow smoothly. I freak out when I get stuck in traffic You see, there are NO LIMITS to the requirements I can make up, but LIFE, other people and circumstances in the outside word DO HAVE LIMITS on what they can deliver. So, as long as I maintain impossible requirements, I am bound to be disappointed.
We react poorly – over react – when our requirements are violated. When our reasonable expectations are not met, we can be disappointed, but it is manageable. Requirements lead to stressful overreactions. So if you tend to overreact in a given situation, you can bet there is a personal requirement in play.
Think of a situation in which you over react. If you don’t have any of those, congratulations. Keep listening for entertainment purposes, please, but the exercise won’t apply to you. Only those of us who tend to overreact. I have a several of them.
When my wife contradicts me, I overreact. Usually I just sit there in shock, then I may get angry, then I may abandon the situation if she doesn’t come around. See how nuts it is. The other day I was working on a new program for the iNLP Center, our personal development site. After 30 minutes or so of developing the concept of a self-esteem program, I showed it to her and she thought it was going in the wrong direction. I was shocked.
Another example. I offered to make her breakfast the other day and she wasn’t interested. Again, shocked, I insisted on making her breakfast because I am her husband I love her!
She just didn’t need breakfast right then. I, with my requirement, that she go along with my ideas and not contradict me, I had a hard time.
1. Realize that it is your requirement that is cause you the emotional pain and stress.
2. Take out a paper and pencil (yes these primitive tools are still useful) and write down your requirement in the form of the statement YOU MUST _________.
The write down all the ways in which you react poorly when your requirement is violated.
3. Accept that you are requiring something that life will not always deliver. Sometimes it will, but not always.
This may be enough to let the requirement go!
4. Relax. Use your favorite relaxation technique. Chill out and reapproach the situation without the requirement in place.
Over time, doing this, you will loosen your attachment to the requirement. Some requirements are ingrained culturally, developed within family systems or as a result of self-protection. This is deep stuff! We loosen requirements slowly and surely over because we need to train ourselves to live without them.