Are you expecting?

I’ve had computer trouble, I apologize for disappearing. Plus, my propensity for amusement is in a lull right now. But hey, it’s my house, so it’s my rules. I hereby allow myself to be unamusing.

Let’s talk about expectations. Here are some of mine:

  • I expect that I’ll have five minutes of peace on the computer to do bills while my children are in the same room.
  • I expect that I’ll complete a ridiculously-long to-do list each day.
  • I expect that my (rather young) children will not act so immature.
  • I expect that my worldly success is imminent.
  • I expect that my diet success is imminent.
  • I expect my husband will read my thoughts.
  • I expect that I am simply on the bottom steps of a fabulous financial escalator (and not on one of the flat ones they have at the airport).
  • I expect a day where nothing and no one will get in my way or make a mess or slow me down or undo my efforts.

What are you expecting?

A friend of mine recently explained her experience at a Buddhist temple, where the monk taught against any kind of hope, as it would always lead to disappointment.

In the zen spirit of being non-judgmental, may I say this is simply ridiculous.

Hope is essential to life. What I think she may have meant, in spirit, is to warn parishioners against the self-torture of expectation. Hope can motivate action, it keeps us moving forward, gives us the idea that unknown, maybe not understood, but valuable rewards in life can and will be found as we move along. We can trust that positive things will take place here and, for the lucky ones who have faith to go along with that hope, in the hereafter.

However, when I expect something, my expectations will be met, or not met. It is not my expectations that increase the likelihood of any specific outcome. Expecting things is just like placing bets. The cards will fall where they will, the marble will settle somewhere on the wheel, regardless of where I placed my bet. But, my fixation on one outcome determines whether I will jump in triumph or, the other 99.9% of the time, be disappointed with my experience.

We expect things of our day, of events, of plans, of our kids and husbands, of everyone around us, of ourselves. We also spend far more time lamenting the falling short from our expectations than we ever spend rejoicing in them being met.

At the same time, we are to hold high expectations for our kids. But I think this is a semantic issue, because setting a high standard of behavior for our kids is not the same as emotionally investing our pleasure or displeasure in their behavior because our expectations have been met or not. I would argue the first is appropriate, but not the latter.

I would also argue that aside from true grief and sorrow, almost all our negative feelings in life come from our expectations. I know this is true for me.

As a person of faith, I also wonder if constantly creating expectations isn’t also a sign of weak faith and my weak trust in a Creator with a Plan. Instead of moving forward, working and having hope that the road ahead will give me something beneficial regardless of what it is and whether I understand it, I constantly interrogate my Maker, “Is this your plan? No? What about this? No, not that either?! Oh, NO! Is there a plan? Where is the plan? SHOW ME THE PLAN!”

Truly Zen folks argue against the analysis, via discussion, debate or even scripture, of this life experience. And I take issue with that, because all that has its place. But I wonder sometimes if my life has come to be completely circumscribed by rhetoric and analysis (and blogging), at the risk of not living a life at all, but instead, watching the highlights as a spectator via daily blogging or cell-phone recaps.

The Zen thing is about actively accepting and living in the present moment, putting aside the ego and self-consciousness and the constant judgment (“Is this person/experience living up to my expectations or not?). So, without being all orthodox zen and tossing out age-old wisdom, scripture and divine and earthly conversation/analysis, I see a need to add the actual act of living my own real life.

I feel like this actual living life part, and not just thinking, writing, wondering, worrying about living, has been a missing leg in the table of my life (which, to continue that metaphor, may account for my instability).

It’s like I live my entire life approaching each day like a new, unopened box. First I decide what could be in the box, what should be in the box, and wonder what I want to have in the box, and, after all that, I look into the box and see what’s in it. But, by that time, it’s been spoiled anyway by all that expecting. It could have been a perfectly fabulous thing, but if it wasn’t what it could, should, or I wanted it to have been, I won’t see that.

What about going up to the box and seriously observing and appreciating what is in it before doing the “What’s-in-the-box?” song and dance? Especially when that box is my life, my experiences, my time, my husband, and, most relevant here, my child?

I do want to teach and train my kids in the best path, but I also want to know them, to discover and observe them, to appreciate them. Not only them, but their stages and struggles and approaches to life. I want to respect them enough to listen to them and observe them rather than just direct and shape them. It is frankly a very big change from my current approach.

And I won’t expect, but I will hope, that I will make this change.

2 replies
  1. Nancy
    Nancy says:

    hi kiddo…
    well I expect the house will be clean when I get home from work… grouchy hubby is doing NOTHING while I am away.
    I expect not to cook dinner.. because after 45 years of cooking dinner I am tired of thinking of what to cook..

    but one thing.. do not be weary of ‘directing and shaping’ your kids… that is our job… as well as observing and playing with and helping them.
    you do great… At conference… I heard… ” most important, your children should know they are loved by you”. My own grandma gave me those words when I was twelve… THAT is what I strive to do in life… let the children know they are loved..

  2. Laura
    Laura says:

    Yeah, I’ve heard it called “shoulding” on yourself, and every time I say something should be a certain way, the answer is, “Who says?” Who says your husband should pick his socks up? Who says your car should always be clean? If the answer is mostly, “well, I do” than the problem is with you and your expectations, not anyone else’s behavior. anyway, that’s what I know about it.


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