Breaking free of our expectations
The father of a good friend died today, he was 89 and had slowly been dying for some time. He had a marvellous life, was larger than life, was involved and engaged in his community and blessed with a sunny disposition. I rang my friend who said that even though she knew that he was going to die, she still sobbed and was so very sad when she heard that he had died.
We talked about the fact that there are so many different types of deaths and yet we tend to just see it as ‘death’. There is a death that is in alignment with our expectations, like my friends father dying in due time with life slowly leaving them. The grief we feel is usually then not mixed with a perplexed and desperate asking: ‘why?’ and a sense of having been cheated. When a young person dies or when someone dies in an accident or in their prime of a disease it challenges our expectations, our ingrained beliefs about how life should unfold, it feels like a deal breaker.
And yet we have been promised nothing.
We are prisoners of our expectations the good and the bad. If we have high expectations of how our life should unfold and it doesn’t happen we get frustrated, if we have low expectations of our life and ourselves it keeps us stuck in a little life.
Internal conflict starts as a discrepancy between our expectations and our perceptions of reality. If I expect to have a holiday every year to some exotic place and it does not happen, I may blame my partner who cannot make or save enough money for us to go away or I might get angry at myself thinking ‘I am hopeless and useless that I can’t make enough money for a holiday.’
What if we changed our expectations? Before we can change anything we need to be aware. Expectations are attachments to life being in a certain way, and we feel cheated when it doesn’t happen. There are many expectations we are not even aware of, for instance that we will always be healthy, that we won’t die young, or that we will have our own home, or that we will get married, be wealthy, have children, be loved, be respected, get a good job etc. Having no expectations would not mean that we don’t act but rather that the intent to do something would be attachment free, no sense of how it ‘should’ feel once we achieved.
What if we could adjust our expectations to zero? We would have no expectations around how our life should unfold. The first word that comes to mind is ‘Gratitude’, we would be amazingly grateful as we benefit from the generosity and kindness of others.
I was early for setting up a Mindfulness class and while waiting brought my bags to the door, the older lady who had the key picked up some of the bags to take inside. I said, ‘you don’t have to do that’, her reply; ‘I only do what I want’. With that there are no expectations as to how grateful I should be for her deed, no endorsement of her behaviour from the outside is necessary, it is really very healthy.
What if we work on adjusting our expectations of friends and family, of ourselves? So when someone does anything positive or kind we appreciate it, but if they don’t we don’t get upset or angry?
Our own expectations of ourselves are relentless and are really about our attachment to how we think we and our life should be, we should be fit, slim, be kind and polite, be considerate, be clever, be rich, be talented etc etc. How much do some of these expectations keep us from living how we would like to live? Perhaps if we thought about it with awareness we would realise that these attributes matter little, it is always about how we are in the moment, present or not. Are we aware that we are alive, are we aware that we are with someone, are we aware of the beauty around us, are we aware of the good meal we have just had or the way the moon shines on the sky tonight?
It is the moments that count, each moment which is witnessed expectation free, story free, attachment free but with purity of mind, this is both freedom and life quality.