Free Yourself from Expectations
The good news is that you do not have to continue to suffer from the tyranny of expectations. It is one of the most troublesome areas of life, yet it is also changeable. Even a little effort makes a huge difference. But first you must penetrate the nature of expectations, observe how they manifest themselves in your life, and be able to access another way of approaching the future.
Expectations are almost always the result of what in Buddhism is called "wanting mind." This wanting mind is driven by desire, aversion, and anxiety; it creates an illusion of solidity and control in a world that is constantly changing and unfolds independently of how we believe it should. Knowing this, how do you proceed? How can you free yourself from expectations? In mindfulness meditation, you start with what is true in the present moment. You use discernment to know what is true, but you do not fall into judgment, which is yet another form of expectation and one of the most tyrannical.
Look for Possibilities
One distinction is critical for you to understand if you are to work with expectations: the difference between expectations and possibilities. Expectations assume a certain result and are future- based. They actually narrow your options, retard your imagination, and blind you to possibilities. They create pressure in your life and hold your present sense of wellbeing hostage to a future that may or may not happen. Expectations create rigidity in your life and cause you to react impulsively to any perceived threat to that future you believe you deserve.
When you are controlled by your expectations, you are living a contingent life; you cannot be free in the present moment. You cannot be happy with a beautiful sunset or with a moment of warmth between you and another; instead, every experience is interpreted in the context of an expected future. Can you feel how enslaving this is to you? It would be one thing if in fact you could control the future, but is that the case? I suspect not. To deny the truth of life is a fool's errand and is costly to your well-being.
In contrast to expectations, possibilities are based in the present moment, where you're alive to the mystery of life. You live as fully as you can in the present moment based on your values, which reflect your preferences for the future, but you do not assume that the future will come to pass, because you realise that the future is unknown. Being open to possibilities acknowledges that what you may think you want changes with time, or that there is another future that will bring you equal or more happiness, or that the future may turn bleak, or that you may die before any future can unfold. Real joy, then, is that which is available to you right now.
Living a life that is open to possibilities is more like a request, a prayer, or an act of witnessing your faith in life. Your well-being is not contingent on the future. Your mind is open and inspired in this moment. You therefore have more access to imagination and intuition. Your mind is clear and less reactive, and you make better decisions. You respond rather than react to life as it unfolds.
This ability to respond to change rather than react to it is the primary distinction observed between those who feel free and those who are caught in the suffering of life. You may often find yourself reacting to the behavior of others or to changes in your circumstances and never realise it is because you were expecting others or your life to be a certain way. When you react this way, you are opting not for the mind of possibility but for the mind of expectation, and you are left disappointed, hurt, lost, angry, or defeated.
Adapted from Phillip Moffitt's article at http://dharmawisdom.org/teachings/articles/tyranny-expectations
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