Expectations. We have them about virtually everything in our lives. We believe expectations propel us into action and help to manifest future joy (or pain). Sometimes expectations help us to prepare for what may come. But more often than not expectations are a slippery slope to disappointment.
Typically disappointment arises when some idea we have about what is supposed to happen (or what we want to happen) is dashed. We think our idea of reality is better than what is really happening and as such enter into a frutiless war with the suchness of life.
Whatever the case; good, bad or falsely indifferent; all expectations take us out of the present and into an imagined future. Expectations at their root are another tool the ego uses to manage uncertainty and give us the illusion of control.
Human beings can make the smallest expectation into an indicator about "the way life really is". Those little expectations built up over time become ample food for our stories about life. And what ego doesn't love a good story? Some stories are superficially more fun, positive or exciting, while others are a bit more dismal. But a story is a story.
Many spiritual teachers tell us to drop the story. Byron Katie asks us to, "make friends with reality", and to question our beliefs about everything. In her estimation "reality is God because it rules". I think this is a beautiful way to concretize a wildly misunderstood concept. It's an entryway into what the Divine truly is. It's a truly liberating practice to detach from our expectations but we can have a hell of a time trying to do it.
Personally I struggle with the good ol' "things never work out so why look forward to anything" AKA "expect to be disappointed". I often play this off as though I have no expectations, but embedded in that message is the hope or the challenge for Reality (AKA God) to prove me wrong.
When it doesn't I get to reinforce my story that things and people disappoint me, and when things do work out I have the grandiose belief that my mental temper tantrum somehow eeked out my desired result. What's your expectation drug of choice, because I can get my high on mine way more than I should when I'm not practicing being present.
Inherit in all expectations is an idea about the way things should be; a distrust that what life has to offer will be fundamentally undesirable. We might even go so far as to say that expectation is one of human beings' greatest limitations to true happiness. It's difficult to truly drop all expectations but the more we practice presence the more they seem to loosen their grip on our worldview.
Even positive expectations can create problems, it's almost as though we become so attached to the positive outcome we turn into the overly stressed out, rigid party planner that can't enjoy the celebration because their too busy creating a "fun" "positive environment".
You may be asking, "without expectations what are we left with, wouldn't you be leaving behind excitement, happiness and your personal standard for life and other people?" A valid and important question.
Without expectation we're left with a resolute tranquility that whatever happens is absolutely perfect. Without the idea or the future projection of what should, could, or ought to be we move out of the future and into the present. We actually make greater room for the miraculous to occur because we aren't clamping down possibility. Our thought energy is immensely powerful, and expectation often limits wonderment.
We become cradled by the knowledge that what is meant to occur will occur with or without our mental projections. We become, as Byron Katie says, lovers of what is.
We can check in any time to whether we are holding an expectation. Chances are you're doing it all the time and don't even realize it. A practice I use is this:
Stop yourself mentally and notice whether you have an idea about how things are supposed to be. If you do, allow in the thought that whatever happens next is exactly what is supposed to happen. Drop the judgement about your desired outcome or what is "good" or "bad", and just allow whatever is happening to unfold. Watch yourself in the situation.
This may be uncomfortable at first, particularly if you're used to leaning on your expectations. You may feel anxiety, sadness or anger, as you relinquish control, and you may then decide to let back in the expectancy, that's okay, don't beat yourself up about it, just notice that you've let it back in and what it's doing for you.
With practice you'll find yourself relaxing into the present. You'll have less desire to interfere, control and manage reality. But we all have flare ups, so be kind to yourself when it happens, we're human beings with human egos we have to learn to be friendly with it.
Letting go of expectations doesn't mean we have to eliminate excitement and joy from our lives, and it also doesn't mean that challenges don't still arise. It means that we approach life with curiosity. It means we can entertain possibilities but give them no importance. We can marvel in the mystery of the Universe's plans and stop pretending we are the sole cartographers of our life's trajectory. There is a much broader picture to be seen that is impossible to perceive if we are only focused on what how we think it should look.
There are many hidden nooks and crannies to every situation that we cannot appreciate when expectation clouds our view. Reality is often a much more apt architect than we are. We become a co-creator to our life stories rather than that megalomaniacal micromanage in the cramped corner office whose always stressed out because be believes the company won't run unless he spins the wheels, because nobody wants to work with that guy.