Thursday, December 2, 2010

Expectations & Plans

It's a set up, all this internal arranging around projections and assumptions. Could be a simple thing, like expecting my spouse to put the pot lid back where I think it belongs, or a complicated thing like expecting to find bliss in Savasana. In either case, it's a construction and prompts a sequence of conditions and reactions. Judgments, disappointment, anger, one-ups-man-ship, controlling behaviors and even affection can link to expectations. How many acidic comments towards self or others have originated in expectations that have not been met? So many awkward and painful moments taint the opening of gifts. Even deeply loving relationships can be poisoned by holding tightly to projected ideas of who someone is, by expecting specific actions, types of achievements or responses. This kind of expectation creates others as who we want (think) them to be, denying them the chance to fully express who they are. Many grown children feel this prison of expectations in relationships with their parents, until the relationships can shift to different ground. This trap is not one way but operates in all directions!

Plans are a different matter if they can be separated from expectations. One can plan a trip with thoughts of being open to the possibilities of choices, conditions, and requirements without attaching too solidly to the expectation that it will be this or that, go this way or that. Think of planning for weather when you travel and you can understand the conditional nature of a plan. Weather has an influence on activities and by accepting the possibilities, we can make a reasonable guess at the patterns based on time and place, and perhaps pack a sweater, or find an optional inside activity. When we are taken by surprise to find an unusually warm day, or windy day, we can make our accommodations on the spot without attachment to disappointment or other judgment. Enjoying this aspect of our ability to react to changing conditions is part of what makes life interesting and allows for a range of experiences.

We might look at relationships to other parts of our lives much as we do the weather, planning for a normal range and observing the reactions that arise when conditions change. This attitude of openness offers fluidity and possibility rather than the clutching of disappointed expectations. The more familiar we are with our own patterns of reactivity, the easier it is to let those patterns shift or even chose a different reaction before acting.

Planning might be setting an alarm clock so that you can wake up in a timely way, knowing even so that there is the possibility of a snooze alarm or a malfunctioning alarm clock. If you know your pattern of reactivity, you can get a clock without the snooze, or put a second alarm clock further from the bed so that you must get up to turn it off. It is the attitude that shifts when we release expectations. Accepting that missing the alarm changes the day, perhaps helps you to see your priorities more clearly. It can help you identify physical or emotional needs that were being ignored, such as resistance to the expectations of the day, a need for more rest, resentment of obligations, or even that you are fighting off an illness, or need more time to prepare yourself.

Shifting from expectations as a way of operating takes time and practice. We will still expect the sun to rise, and the night to fall! Letting go of expectations even just a little can ease stress during these next few demanding weeks. Maybe New Year's resolutions can be seen more as intentions rather than a straitjacket of expectations. Maybe gifts can be felt as intentions too, and the judgment of objects, expense, choices etc. can be softened. It can be the greatest gift to free the people around you from judgments about them and their actions.

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