Releasing Our Expectations

Sutra 1.8 A few unexpected events have happened in my week of parenting duties with my children that have fallen short of my "expectations".  They've led me to think about what expectations are and how they play out in our perception of how events unfold and whether we can move on from an event or carry resentment and suffering with us long after the event is over.


Meeting expectations.

Falling short of expectations.

Managing expectations.

Expectations of ourselves and others, at home in our relationships and with peers and workmates.  It's always there.  Expectations are around whenever we are navigating human relationships.

Today my daughter was to receive an award at her school assembly.  Many things happened to lead us to this expectation that we would go to school and see her walk up on stage and receive an award.  She had told us she was getting her award and she was listed in the school newsletter as one of the students to receive this award.  In expectation of this event we organised a late start to work, put braids and extra ribbons in my daughter's hair, she got herself ready so fast in all the excitement, we packed the whole family off with our cameras, super early, plenty of time to settle into our front row seats.

So we sat through all the motions of the school assembly, we were pleased with ourselves that we had a two-for-one assembly deal today with our other child playing in the string ensemble this morning.  Cameras at the ready we filmed all the children walking up to collect their awards.  I could see my girl sitting up a little straighter in anticipation.  We watched as people in her class were called up, as others in her grade were called up, as the grade above was called up.  Why wasn't my daughter's name called?  I expected her to get her award!  She is expecting her award!  My husband is here getting later and later for work!

The assembly missed our expectations.  We were confused and deflated.  This was the state of our mind.

Patanjali says in the Yoga Sutras that five activities of the mind are:

1.6 pramana viparyaya vikalpa nidra smrtayah

These activities are accurate knowledge from direct experience (pramana), incorrect knowledge due to presumptions (viparyaya), fantasy inference and perhaps expectation (vikalpa), deep sleep (nidra) and memory (smrti).

It's worth thinking about how our presumptions based on incomplete knowledge (viparyaya) and how we make inferences about a situation (vikalpa) play into our expectations in situations like the one above and in our relationships with others.

1.8 viparyayah mithya jnanam atad rupa pratistham

Incorrect knowledge is confused understanding [because] it is not based on the real nature of the object

1.9 sabda jnana anupati vastu sunyah vikalpah

Imagination comes from knowledge derived from words, [while] the object itself is absent

While there were many things that pointed to us expecting that my daughter was going to receive her award, our knowledge of the situation was incomplete.  There were things that had to happen behind the scenes involving our teacher and the administration for our expectations to be met.  We are operating from a misunderstanding and incorrect information (viparyaya) and as a result we filled in the gaps in our knowledge to created the picture that we expected (vikalpa).

So why does all of this matter?  Because we were confused and we felt that feeling, of annoyance.  In that moment we were disappointed for our girl and upset for ourselves because our expectations for our morning weren't met.  This is the feeling of mental unrest and discomfort that is referred to through the Yoga Sutras as duhkha.  Suffering.

In the yoga tradition and other traditions, most notably Buddhism, there is much discussion about suffering in our lives.  The Yoga Sutras talk about the fact that suffering is a part of our existence and offers us ways to become aware of when suffering crops up in our lives.  This awareness of suffering and its roots are what can help us untangle ourselves from it.

So what do we do about our mismanaged expectations?  Do we get mad?  Demand answers?  Fume about it afterwards then hold onto the incident for days?  Or do we just drop it, walk away none the wiser, still confused?

Here's the thing, on the other side of falling short of expectations is resilience.  We prepare ourselves for events in our lives the best we can from the information we have at hand.  We prepare for what is expected of us.  We never know the outcome of any situation for sure.  Will it go this way or that way?  Will it be in our favour or won't it?  We prepare ourselves, then we let go of the outcome.  It is in the holding on of the expectations where the suffering occurs.

We prepare ourselves for action based on what we foresee in the future.  Then we should release the expectations. We let life unfold as it will, without our pushing and grasping to mould it into the image of what we expect it to be.  In this process we begin to teach ourselves to let go of the feelings of angst when things don't work out as planned, as is often the case in both parenting and in life.  We also teach our children about resilience in the face of life's constantly shifting landscape.

In the example of my daughter's assembly, I took the opportunity to check in with my own feelings of sadness and disappointment for my daughter to talk to her about her feelings.  We were able to discuss how we had misunderstood the situation (viparyaya) and came to an incorrect conclusion about how the day was going to go (vikalpa).  Then we were able to discuss with our teacher what had happened and fill in some of the gaps in our knowledge about the situation and prepare ourselves for the next assembly.  Without holding onto our expectations, we can approach each situation in a clearer and more equanimous state of mind, then move on without being bound by any suffering that any past event has caused us.

Is there a place where your unmet expectations of how your day will go has caused you angst?  How did you "hold on" to this event and can you release your expectations while being comfortable with the effort you put into making the day go as planned?

© 2015 Sandra Wang