Weekly Mindfulness Support - What Did You Expect?
Hello and welcome to this glorious Friday, April 24, 2020! This is a rare and precious day that will never come again. This week in my personal Mindfulness practice, I’ve been working with skills that promote equanimity. One of my assignments was to watch for [unrealistic] expectations. Generally, expectations get a bad rap. But it’s not that they’re inherently good or bad, it’s just that we tend to have more unrealistic than realistic expectations. An example of an unrealistic expectation might be that if we eat right, exercise, get enough sleep and don’t smoke and drink, we’ll stay healthy and won’t get sick. Sure, taking care of ourselves certainly helps, but it’s unrealistic to think we’ll never get sick! “But who even thinks this way?” You and me. Another example might be that if we take care of our car, we feel it will never break down. “Who really believes this?” I would suggest that most of us do. More often than not, we typically feel traumatized when we get sick or our car breaks down. It’s as if we’re surprised that it happens! “Sure, it happens to others, but why me? Why now?” Here are a few more unrealistic expectations: I believe that my partner should make me happy; my boss shouldn’t yell at me; other people should adopt my values. Good luck with these. If we reflect on our thoughts, actions, and reactions, how often do we hold these people accountable for not meeting our expectations? My guess: most of the time. Our response to these inevitabilities can be a significant source of suffering. So what about realistic expectations? I feel like it is pretty safe to expect that the library is going to have plenty of books. I feel like it’s safe to assume that if you go to the store, it will have food and supplies. But even these can be tricky. The library may not have your book and the store may not have your brand of cat food. Considering what’s happening meow, I never expected that our libraries would be closed until further notice and I certainly never imagined a time when I wouldn’t be able to find toilet paper. It seems that expectations are troublesome. Nevertheless, they are not entirely the issue. What is more problematic is our attachment to a particular outcome. But I’ll come back to this point. When I was much younger (OK, not that much), I got so sick and tired of things not working out the way I thought they should that I adopted the philosophy, “If you expect the worst, you’ll never be disappointed.” I pretended that it worked for a while. It’s hard to believe, but this philosophy did not work out too well (that was a joke 😊). What my brilliant philosophy actually did was turn me into a complacent pessimist. I mean, if everything is going to turn out crappy, why even try? Though it was unhealthy and harmful at the time, I’m grateful to have that experience to call upon today. It reminds me of many things. For instance, my effort and attitude most definitely matter. If I believe the result of whatever is happening is going to somehow suck, how much effort do you think I’m going to put forth? Very little. How do you think I’ll feel about myself if I’m not doing my best? It doesn’t feel good, at all! One of the key messages that I return to time and time again is that Genuine Happiness is a result of doing things we feel good about. Keeping a positive attitude inspires us to be the best version of ourselves possible. Being optimistic and doing our best is one way that we can be the example of the world we want to live in. Will it always work out like we expect? No! Much of the time, when we are optimistic, things turn out far better than we could have ever expected. The opposite is also true. Trust me, I know. Effort and attitude matter! Something else that my low-expectation philosophy helped me to realize is that I have very little control over the outcome. Early in 2020, my daughter, Lacey, and son-in-law, Paul, bought tickets to fly out from Colorado to spend a week with me here in Oregon. Though Lacey has been here a couple times, Paul has not. I was delighted to have Paul join her. He has never been to Oregon and works as a climbing arborist. I was especially thrilled to see him go nuts over the ginormous trees. Their flight was scheduled for early April. A vacation is a somewhat reasonable expectation. You buy tickets to fly somewhere, you’re probably going to go. Sure, you may miss a flight, but there’s always another. But cancelled indefinitely? A Pandemic! Not unrealistic, but certainly not something we would have ever expected. My response to the cancelled trip; of course, I was saddened. But I immediately moved into acceptance. So did Lacey and Paul. If my happiness and well-being were tied to them spending a week in Oregon, then I am condemned to suffer. If our happiness and well-being is tied to any specific result, then we predispose ourselves to unnecessary suffering. Other than our effort and attitude, we just don’t have that much control over what happens. What ultimately matters is how we show up and respond to what this wild, crazy, mixed up, messy, beautifully precious world throws at us. I love you and there isn’t anything you can do about it. Expecting change, Dan Contribute to the Turning Leaf Foundation. If you would like to help bring Mindfulness to the less fortunate and to help pay for current services, your generosity will be deeply appreciated. www.turningleaffoundation.com