What Do You Expect?

Too many of us traffic in half-truths to our own detriment. We find a sensationalized headline or social media misquote, then use it to wield our worldview. We cling to worn out creeds without challenging their relevance on a regular basis.

Half-truths stymie our maturation. Kudos to those who are willing to dig deeper and find the truest version of the truth?”

Consider this motto that is central to the recovery movement: Let go of expectations, because today’s expectations are tomorrow’s resentments.

In many ways, this is only half true. We all have legitimate expectations. In my life:

  • I expect justice, and when I see racist brutality in our country, I will vehemently protest and work for change. The death of my expectation for justice would equal the death of hope.
  • I expect my wife to meet me halfway in the partnership of managing our home and raising our specials needs son. This is our contract of love.
  • I expect my closest friends to be interested in my life, just as I am in theirs. If they remain self-centered, I will choose to spend less time with them.
  • I expect performance from collaborators on a project. If they slack off, I will likely not work with them again.

Having said all this, I know that expectations can also become attachments leading to grief, anger, and resentment. It happens in my life when:

  • I expect certain behaviors from others even though history teaches me otherwise. This is especially hard when I long for understanding or acceptance from certain members of my extended family.
  • I expect an external factor—some accomplishment or acquisition—to give me lasting happiness, leaving me ripe for disappointment.
  • I expect a response from my Higher Power (God, Spirit, Tao) on my timetable, ignoring that waiting is a potent part of spiritual growth.

Ultimately, learning what to expect and what to relinquish is an art, summed up perfectly in the Serenity Prayer. God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Letting go; this is key! In my collaboration with Heiwa no Bushi called The Six Medicines of BodhiChristo (downloadable here) I share the following.

Siddhartha (the first Buddha) didn’t believe in a personal soul or deity. He held to a pattern of thinking and behavior now called The Middle Way. It strikes a balance in eight different areas: our viewpoints, intentions, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, and concentration. The Buddha offered these teachings and disciplines to help others avoid the extremes of thought or behavior that cause us to suffer. This path helped his followers let go of habits that kept them shrouded in darkness.

Here is a description of The Middle Way from Ajahn Chah, a revered Thai Buddhist who died in 1992. It may seem odd to Western minds, but let the analogy unfold.

If we cut a log of wood, throw it into the river, and it doesn’t sink, rot, or run aground on either bank, it will definitely reach the sea. (The Middle Way) is comparable to this. If you practice according to the path laid down by the Buddha, following it straightly, you will transcend two things. What two things? Indulgence in pleasure and indulgence in pain. These are the two banks of the river. One of the banks of that river is hate, the other is love. Or you can say that one bank is happiness, the other unhappiness. The log is our mind. As it flows down the river it will experience both happiness and unhappiness. If the mind doesn’t cling to either, it will reach the ocean. You should see that all emotions and thoughts arise then disappear. If you don’t run aground on these things, then you are on the path.

Because we have not learned to let go of extreme thinking and behavior, our minds are often unsteady. We carom from one fear or preoccupation to another, crashing into the banks of our old, seemingly deterministic modes of living. Every collision is detrimental to our well-being.

Letting go starts as a simple process in our daily lives, but it progresses to ever-deepening levels. Eventually, we encounter deeply rooted resistance that, nonetheless, still invites us to let go. Here are a few examples.

  • Fear: For some of us, the “devil we know is better than the devil we don’t know.” Even if we see the allure of a new life—an azure lake on the horizon of our desert—we have become accustomed to our unhealthy habits. In a sick way, they provide a level of comfort, even if this comfort means sacrificing our freedom.
  • Trust: If we have been hurt in life, or raised in families that were chaotic or dysfunctional, truly trusting anyone or anything is hard. If we let go into a new lifestyle, will the arms of safety be there to catch us? Is our chosen pathway trustworthy? One woman remarked that in her estimate, “God” had never been there for her during difficult times in her life. Why would “God” suddenly show up now?
  • Laziness: Yes, laziness. We realize that applying this medicine will take effort and vigilance. Though others have told us it will get easier over time, we wonder how long it will take. If we submit, what are we getting ourselves into? It takes less energy (lie!) to remain stuck.
  • Deep woundedness: Some of us have experienced trauma that is hard to overcome. We need more thorough counseling from an expert to help us extricate ourselves. This can be especially true for those of us who grew up in families that shamed us. Shame is a deep and toxic response. Like any other conditioning, it can be released, but it helps to seek the guidance of a counselor, mentor, or spiritual guide. Learning the origin of our shame helps us transition to a life of trust and affirmation.

As we release our worries on a daily basis, consider this quote by Richard Rohr from his book The Art of Letting Go: Living the Wisdom of Saint Francis.

Authentic spirituality is always on some level or in some way about letting go…letting go of our false self, letting go of our cultural biases, and letting go of our fear of loss and death. Freedom is letting go of wanting more and better things, and it is letting go of our need to control and manipulate God and others. It is even letting go of our need to know and our need to be right–which we only discover with maturity. We become free as we let go of our three primary energy centers: our need for power and control, our need for safety and security, and our need for affection and esteem.

How about you? What are your expectations? Are they legitimate expressions of your hopes, dreams, and personal dignity? Or, are they attachments causing you to suffer?


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