forest

Do Expectations Equal Suffering?

I was chatting about hopeful expectations and it hit me how the majority of the time our hopeful expectations only lead to our own disappointment.  LOL!  Perhaps that sounds cynical or negative.  But it isn't, because our expectations can in any direction.  From the overly optimistic to the overly pessimistic.  Either direction is going to bring us some form of disappointment when the reality we have decided should exist does not materialize.

Interestingly, even when we simply create an expectation for the next five to ten minutes, we discover that the world has other plans for us.  It can be as simple as "I'll just dash into the grocery store and quickly pick up a few things."  And then we discover — to our dismay — that we are stuck in a line behind someone paying their bill in dimes and nickels.   I guess that's what is called "the best laid plans of mice and men…"

And then we react to our disappointment by getting angry, annoyed and unsettled.  And thus the cycle continues…hopeful period, disappointment period, angry period, etc.

But oh it's hard not to engage in expectations!  It's not looking pretty!  The Buddhists have been working on it for millennia.  What hope do the rest of us have?

Perhaps a place to start is by looking at what we hope to accomplish with our expectations.  Then engaging in some self-examination of how far and how deeply our expectations run.  And finally to look at how do we react when our expectations are not met.  If nothing else we will gain a greater understanding of our psyche and behavior from the exercise.

So what do we hope to accomplish with our expectations?
Hmmm…probably several things.  Our expectations give us some sense of stability.  They keep us buoyed, floating along and "having something to look forward to" as so many people enjoy saying.  Kind of like a series of security blankets, actually.  And it goes either way — whether we routinely engage in optimistic expectations or pessimistic expectations.  For either one, there is a "hoped for" or expected outcome.  Whether it is expecting to be invited to a swanky dinner party or expecting the economy to fall flat.  The minute we expect is the minute we've placed our bets on an outcome.

From a Buddhist standpoint, there's a certain naiveté about it all.  We place our power outside of ourselves, embark on a path that requires Life, the world, and a series of unnamed others to cooperate with us on creating our particular desired vision and then we become disgruntled when things don't go according to "our plan."

It's a mild way of deluding and anesthetizing ourselves with a little ego-driven thought process of "If I expect this wonderful thing, it will keep the worst (or best!) at bay."  It keeps our minds busy in a land of illusion, so we can keep ahead of the dark dogs which yap at us about how uncertain life really is and how there is an aspect of day-to-day living that we can not control, no matter how hard we try.

And lets admit it.  Expectations (hopeful or not so hopeful) feel good!  Like despondency — they're old friends that provide good company under the right circumstances.

And finally, they mask our behaviors which may have contributed to the situation.  So in a weird, ironic way, they let us off the responsibility hook while the resulting disappointment allows us to throw blame outside of ourselves (or in a reverse scenario to heap too much blame upon ourselves).

So where are our expectations?  And how deep do they run?
That's a very individual answer, however the amount of expecting we do in our lives probably determines the amount of disappointment we experience.  If we're not expecting, then we can't be disappointed.  LOL!

If we want to get an idea on how we engage in expecting at the micro level — which reflects the macro level — then we can start looking at where situations repeat in our life.

Are we always late because we don't give ourselves enough time to navigate through the traffic?  That's an expectation.  We engage in the same behaviors and cross our fingers hoping that "this time" things will work out.  We keep trying, but our trying is shaded by a lack of grounded reality.

Do we continually jump headlong into relationships only to resurface emotionally disappointed?  Maybe if we didn't jump so quickly we wouldn't look back, scratching our heads and saying "What just happened here!?!"  So engaging in expectations — whether hopeful positive ones or pessimistic ones — is a mild form of madness in a way.  We're engaging in a behavior that is putting a filter on reality, meanwhile hoping reality turns out how we hope.

And now how do we react to our disappointments?
  Do we overly blame ourselves? Do we overly blame others?  Do we get angry with the gods above and shake our fist at the sky?  Do we become angry, sulky, bitter, disillusioned?

Or are we ready to change our world views?  Do we look at ourselves and objectively examine where we could do better, where we could change, where we could empower ourselves further?  And do we accept that in some instances we simply need to let go of trying to control the outside world and accept this aspect of life that is the unknown?

Our reactions to our disappointments set the stage to how we interact with the world around us and whether or not the cycle of expectation, disappointment, anger continues.  Or little by little we bring this merry-go-round to a halt, disembark from the ride and go find another pastime that is more interesting and fulfilling.