Why You Should Release Your Expectations

Published on: September 13, 2014

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“The best things in life are unexpected – because there were no expectations.” – Eli Khamarov

A Limited Experience

There is a Zen story which demonstrates how expectations limit one’s experience of reality:

Zen master Baizhang was walking with Mazu and saw a wild duck fly by.

Mazu said, “What is that?” Baizhang replied, “A wild duck.”

To which Mazu asked, “Where is it going?” Baizhang said, “It is flying away.”

Mazu twisted Baizhang’s nose and said, “When did it ever fly away?”

Baizhang assumed the duck flying away from him was central to his encounter of it. He attached meaning to his experience, rather than assume the duck was flying over him toward its destination.

The kõan is a familiar riddle which offers us a lesson regarding our willingness to release expectations. Baizhang mistakenly related his experience of observing the duck in flight as central to his universe, i.e. flying away from “ME.”

Expectations have the same effect by limiting the flow of the experience. We add layers to our experience of life to rationalise the world, albeit at a cost of a limited perspective. In his first interview with Oprah Winfrey, Brazilian author Paulo Coelho who wrote The Alchemist, attributes his success to being open and receptive to uncertainty. He reminds us to flow through life – allowing it to carry you where it needs to devoid of expectations, anxiety or frustration.

As we gain trust in the rhythm of life, we acquire confidence through our attentiveness to the signs life bestows us.

Undertaking quiet time for reflection will allow you to reconnect with purpose. Are your expectations valid? Why is it important that circumstances transpire as you expect? These questions will highlight the principal motivation driving your expectations. Oftentimes if we surrender to universal intelligence, an even better result than we had anticipated will emerge into our experience.

There is a Chinese axiom echoed by the following tale, which states our cups (minds) are overflowing with concepts limiting our experience of life. “You are like this cup; you are full of ideas. You come and ask for teaching, but your cup is full; I can’t put anything in. Before I can teach you, you’ll have to empty your cup.” In order to see past our expectations, we must become empty vessels so life may pour herself into us.

This allows us to get past the story in our minds and appreciate life for what it really is. Most people’s perception of life is obscured by subconscious programs – they maintain a distorted view of reality which discolours their experience. It should be said that no two people share the same experience, not even twins.

Anthony De Mello, a Jesuit priest and psychotherapist wrote a delightful book titled, Awareness: The Perils and Opportunities of Reality. He outlines how our experience of the world is tied to our awareness or lack of it. Every encounter stems from our perception of reality – not reality itself. He affirms we must look past the veil of illusion created by the mind. Moreover your expectations are mind-made illusions which you hope to create “out there.”

“When one’s expectations are reduced to zero, one really appreciates everything one does have.” – Stephen Hawking

Navigating Expectations

How can we liberate ourselves from expectations while fulfilling our human needs? Firstly, experience the world through the eyes of a child. Surrender all expectations and remain fascinated by uncertainty and ambiguity, which are the birthplace of creation.

Secondly, stay grounded and present – this allows you to let go of future expectations and the need to recycle the past in to the present moment. Remaining present invites you to embody life’s experiences with fullness. As an illustration of a distorted reality, when you view the sun you are seeing it where it was eight and a half minutes ago given the Earth’s approximate distance from it.

You are not seeing the sun where it is NOW, since it has moved. Therefore everything in life is transient – if we miss the opportunity to stay grounded and present, life will instantly pass us by.

A timely quote by Krishna Sagaar reaffirms our position of a subjective reality, “You don’t see the world as it is, you see it, as you are.” Thus we do not experience reality as we believe, but through a self-made filter of our accumulated beliefs, thoughts and emotions carried with us over time.

In addition, seek to get out of your head and into your heart. Abandon your fantasies about what life owes you. Life does not serve to fulfil your every request like an online order catalogue. The moment you engage life with purpose and passion, your expectations no longer dominate your thought landscape – all your needs will arrive precisely at the right time, when you least expect it.

In closing, reaffirm silently that everything you need is available to you right now. Trust and release the desire to know it all. Be open to infinite possibilities by being patient and trust that your needs have always been met and will continue to do so in the future.

Surrender the need to control life’s outcomes – for seeking to control life is like struggling to clutch at water with your hands open.

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