The root of all heartache
Shakespeare once wrote that “expectations are the root of all heartache” and I think he’s right.
For anyone who’s been watching the recent news cycles on the new mutation for Covid, you’ve probably felt some strong emotions.
If you expected this all along, you might feel a kind of justified satisfaction that you were right in your caution.
If you were expecting this pandemic to be on its way out, you probably feel fairly depressed or angry.
Whatever the case, notice how your expectations are linked directly to your emotional reaction to our changing reality.
Our judging mind
What happens when we have expectations is that we become attached to a certain outcome.
The idea behind aversion and attachment can be explained in some way by the Four Noble Truths, which are designed to explain the ways that we suffer in this life through our thinking.
Now, I’m not a Buddhist, so I don’t claim to understand the depth of this practice, but I do find the framework helpful.
What I like about Buddhism, Zen, Stoicism and other practices is that they offer us a way to step outside the theater of our minds and get a glimpse of what might be going on for us.
There’s the pain of the moment, and there’s the wishing that moment never happened. The same is true for moments that we wish would stay forever. We suffer the loss.
Wishing for bad luck
This is a reference to one of my favorite John Prine songs that he wrote in tribute to Dear Abby. (See link if you don’t know who Dear Abby was.)
In the song, various people write to Dear Abby complaining about problems that they are having in their life. (The gist of it is that most of their problems are of their own doing.)
The words on the chalkboard are from the chorus, and they imply that so much of our suffering comes from wishing that we were different, and wishing that reality was different.
Expectations are resentments in the making
I don’t know if it’s possible to get rid of all expectations. They are a fundamental part of being a human being. Our brains are designed to predict and create expectations about how things will happen. We create expectations about how the world works, and it saves us so much time.
I recognize, however, that when I take the time to notice that I have expectations about an outcome, I have a better chance of letting that expectation go.
The goal is not to feel hindered or trapped by our own thinking. In life and in work, it’s important to meet what’s happening head on with open eyes and an open heart.
The better you are at letting go, the easier it will be to communicate in a way that people will hear and respond to.
Let go of expectations when you notice them, and meet this life as it is.
Kurt Garascia says
It’s often hard for me to see that expectations, especially negative ones, have been set. They seem to form within just a few moments of reading about a project, a plan, an idea. Even if I can just be more aware that they exist is a big step forward.