"I get to," Instead of, "I have to"

Recently we had a guest speaker and personal friend, Gregg Krech, from the ToDo Institute in Vermont. Gregg spoke at OCBC about 9 years ago, and at that time he introduced us to an amazing form of therapy called “Naikan” (Look into yourself), that was developed by a Shin Buddhist minister in Japan some decades ago. While here, Gregg gave me a small book he wrote recently, titled, “Tunneling for Sunlight, 17 Maxims for Meeting Life’s Challenges.” (A maxim is a memorable thought or phrase as a guide for living). In this short book, he quotes a maxim by Kate Manahan that is simply, “I get to....”

The Buddhist life is so much about attitude and perspective. One’s attitude or perspective can change a situation from being miserable, to being meaningful. It can transform suffering into joy. It can turn something meaningless into something gratifying. This simple maxim is one of those sayings that can completely turn things around, 180 degrees.

How much of our life is spent in the “I have to...”. I have to go to work. I have to go to school. I have to do the laundry. I have to wash the dishes. The more unpleasant the chore, the more it becomes a “have to.” Far different from things like, “I get to go on a cruise! I get to play golf tomorrow. I get to go shopping at Nordstrom’s. I get to eat at Roy’s for my birthday.”

What if we used this expression for the everyday obligations that we often dread doing? “I get to go to work. I get to do the laundry. I get to wash the dishes.” Rather than being a drudgery, at least in our mind, our perspective has changed. Our attitude has changed.

As Gregg Krech writes in his book,

The phrase “I get to” implies that it is a privilege do such activities – a blessing. It’s a blessing to be able to put gas in my car. It’s a privilege to be able to water the plants.”
p. 21, “Tunneling for Sunlight.”

Sometimes life experiences can awaken us to the privileges of life that we take for granted. We throw out our back and for a few days the pain and discomfort reminds us of how much we take for granted something as simple as sitting up or walking without pain. We get laid off from work and would give anything to be able to complain about having to go to work everyday. I can remember years ago I broke my thumb playing basketball and had my thumb in a little metal splint. I had a terrible time zipping up my own pants without the use of my thumb. How much more so, do we take for granted, so much of our life. Our heart beats each and every second of the day, keeping us alive. We live and sleep in the comfort of our own home. Water streams from our faucets. The lights go on when we flip the switch. There is food in our frig, and more in our pantry.

But yet we live with the attitude and perspective of, “I have to take out the garbage. I have to take my kids to soccer practice. I have to take my mom to the doctor. I have to do my taxes.”

The Buddhist way of life is a change of perspective, a change of attitude. Instead of the cup always being half empty, it is always half full.

Sometimes Buddhism can appear so difficult, philosophical, and too deep for us to understand, but in reality, the essence of the teachings are profoundly simple. Just a change of attitude and perspective alone can turn our life around. But we have to be open to seeing a new perspective. We have to be open to being shown a different attitude.

We just finished our Hanamatsuri bazaar, and it always amazes me how hard everyone works, from the children up to our senior citizens. Just to make one item, like our popular wontons, takes hours and hours of labor, prepping the ingredients, frying the inside meat mixture, stuffing the wontons with the meat mixture, then frying them, putting them into plates, and running them over to the food line that was in the gym this year because of the wind. Many people are there working their shift for their respective organization, but their spirit of work does not reflect a “have to” attitude.

I was even more impressed when we were cleaning up and it was around 9 or 9:30. I saw someone whose son had played in our sports program but is now grown up. This father came just for the cleanup. He knew we always needed help at the cleanup, and although he wasn’t able to attend and help at the bazaar, he came for the cleanup. His son is no longer in an organization so he had no obligation as a parent. It was truly someone who came with the attitude of “I get to go help with the cleanup.”

As we go about our daily life and tasks during the week, you might want to keep this little phrase in the back of your mind, and if you can replace your thought of “I have to go to work. I have to cook dinner. I have to wash the dishes,” with the simple switch of words and say to yourself, “I get to go to work today. I get to drive in rush hour traffic. I get to mow the lawn. I get to read the kids a bedtime story.” How different our feeling and attitude is with that simple change of words.

I am grateful for the wonderful book and teaching I received from Gregg Krech, which enabled me to “get to write my Korin article for this month.”


Rev. Marvin Harada