Depression

Mindfulness: Expectations Can Be Destructive

Mindfulness: Expectations Can Be Destructive

Expectations can be destructive. It isn’t so much the experience itself that causes us pain, but rather the expectations we have about the experience. Have you ever anticipated a first date and then been disappointed because it didn’t meet up to your expectations? If you had gone into the situation with an open mind, you might have actually enjoyed yourself. But instead, we tend to cause ourselves so much pain by expecting people and events to live up to the ideal we have set in our minds.

Mindfulness: Expectations Can Be Destructive

Expectations can be destructive. It isn’t so much the experience itself that causes us pain, but rather the expectations we have about the experience. Have you ever anticipated a first date and then been disappointed because it didn’t meet up to your expectations? If you had gone into the situation with an open mind, you might have actually enjoyed yourself. But instead, we tend to cause ourselves so much pain by expecting people and events to live up to the ideal we have set in our minds.

However well intentioned we may be, the expectation puts the power outside of us. No experience or person can possibly live up to our expectations…or very rarely will this happen, any way. Our expectations, in a sense, take away our power of choice. We have the picture set in our minds, and for many of us, this is an automatic process that we seem to have very little control over. Once we have that picture in our mind, that expectation, that experience or person must live up to it in order to us to be fulfilled. We have no choice but to accept whatever meets our expectation and reject what doesn’t. The choice is really no longer ours to make…unless we can open our minds to whatever is happening in the moment and reject any expectations our mind wants to form.

Expectations create pressure and conflict. When our minds conceive of an expectation, we feel pressure, either internal from ourselves or external from others. That pressure is on us to make the event or person live up to whatever expectations we have or that others have for us. That pressure causes conflict, especially when the pressure is purely external and conflicts with our own expectations, or lack thereof. We feel whatever experience we are having must live up to our expectations and when it doesn’t (for we have made it nearly impossible for anything to live up to our expectations), we have conflict, either with ourselves or with others—perhaps those whom we feel have not lived up to our expectations or with those who have imposed their expectations upon us.

Failure is programmed into expectation. We set ourselves up for failure by not having an open mind. Nothing can possibly live up to the ideal image we have created in our minds; everything is doomed to failure, thanks to our expectations, which are very commonly unrealistic. This failure we feel when our expectations are not met leads to disappointment in ourselves or others, despair that anything can ever live up to our idealizations, fear that perhaps we are inadequate and to blame for this failure, and emotional pain. Whether we suffer from our own expectations or others’ it is the expectation that hurts. But it doesn’t have to be this way. We do not have to live with unrealized expectations, failure, disappointment and hurt. The way to avoid this is simple in nature and in practice. It is through the spirituality of being mindful. It is loving who you are and how you are in every moment, especially those moments of rage and despair. It is accepting what is right now with an open mind and no preconceived ideas. It is softening and loving, knowing that it’s going to be ok. The spirituality of mindfulness is learning to make friends again and again with our shameful parts, our confusing parts, our wild parts, our silly parts, the whole of ourselves. We must accept that we have bodies that experience pain, either emotional or physical. Sometimes more, sometimes less, but the pain is sometimes present. That has to be ok. Cursing the pain won’t help. Softening and loving yourself does. Love your body and the pain that perhaps is there. Soften and open to the pain as the conflict stops with acceptance. There is space and equanimity. There is love.

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