The Tyranny of Expectation

1329 Relax and Succeed - If our expectations are not met

It all happened in the foothills of the mountains, in a cold hard rain, in a tiny trailer that had a leak in the roof. The levelling jacks, the battery and the water pump all failed. Half the stalls in the campground were empty due to just the weather. It was raining so hard we had to keep the fire going or we would never get it going again, so we didn’t have enough wood.

I got really sick, so my friend had to pack up her two little wet, cold kids alone, all so she could drive an hour in each direction just to buy more firewood. The kids were pinging off the trailer walls all weekend. It was freezing outside and diapers meant the little one was in and out of her rain suit constantly. Mud was everywhere, and everything smelled like smoke and sweat and diapers. It was an awesome weekend.

If that seems unlikely or impossible, consider that the only reason that people don’t have worthwhile weekends in situations like that is due to the Tyranny of Expectation.

Rain, cold, crying kids, illness, bad smells, and yet there I was loving it (well, except when I was sickest, then I took a while to happily enjoy not loving it). My contentment in those circumstances is a good illustration of how peace occurs.

The person who gets to go on regular holidays considers time off normal, so they take that for granted and they want more. That’s how anything in nature moves forward –it gather’s more and more life as it goes.

The people with time off, who can afford to go –they’re past wanting any break. That’s assumed. Their current identity owns that reality (or so they believe). Having that, now they want a great holiday. Our ego sets that as a quiet but powerful expectation.

And it comes with strings.

If our expectations are not met we will pay an emotional price. We are disappointed. That is the feeling we get when experiencing the gap that exists between our in-that-moment expectation and our in-that-moment reality. To the contrary, due to my previous context I had it easy this weekend.

1329 Relax and Succeed - Contentment and happiness occur

Nine years of compressed care-giving and earning a living have lead me to experience the same set of rooms, the same set of painstaking and often unpleasant actions, the same frenetic, unpredictable schedule, and the same types of simple conversations and same list of dull tasks, repetitively, for years in a row with no days off. That kind of experience gets etched into anyone’s brain.

I’m not complaining, we’ve found ways to truly enjoy it. I chose it and it has its profound rewards for all three of us. They mostly visit their friends and play games, and it’s made me a better person. But it’s definitely not what one should could call easy or fun, which is why I have the routine. Much of it isn’t very motivating, so the schedule keeps me moving forward. Without it being packed to over-full, I would be even farther behind than I am.

There’s no way one person can get my entire daily to-do list done, so I have to focus on what I can get done and on keeping the biggest fires out. That’s doing well in the current context. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ . All of us will have times like this in our lives. We shouldn’t let our egos think something’s wrong.

I’m surviving that well because of the act of acceptance, but the holiday allowed me to make use of the principle that reality is relative. That’s why I had a great weekend. I had no expectations. I was too busy beforehand to even consider thinking of any. I was simply happily anticipating things being different. Otherwise, it had no parameters, so as soon as we’d left home I won.

Despite the rain and cold and challenges, we had fun playing board games and playing make believe, we covered some river safety, respect for plants and animals, and it felt good to model a positive attitude in difficult circumstances because that will be what will become the kid’s version of ‘normal’ when facing adversity.

On top of all of those benefits, the rain made things smell good, and the river was roaring. I also love the sound of a crackling fire and, thanks to the rain, that one needed to be lit all the time just to stay lit. Despite all of the smoke, I look back on the weekend as having been filled with wonderful freshness. It is a joyous thing to be in the presence of the bright spirit of little kids.

Precisely because my life is so repetitive it was easy for me to appreciate the difference and value that even crappy camping offers. But in principle, this can happen even for people living without that extreme contrast.

Disappointment for any of us will begin with anything below our ideal expectation. We are better to have never used our thoughts to create the expectation at all. Contentment and happiness occur not because our situations are ideal, but because we respond to things in a way that respects our time on this Earth. Life is short. We should enjoy as much of it as possible.

Sometimes feeling bad is what we want to do and we should let ourselves have that kind of happiness too. But when we’re ready to feel better, it’s nice knowing that a shift of focus and a dropping of our expectations can quickly convert a bad experience into a good one. It’s a skill worth practicing.

peace. s

Oprah’s Example

1325 Relax and Succeed - Oprah The Path Made Clear

I’m working on a project that lead me to be at the Oprah talk last night in Edmonton. It was me, a producer friend, 11 other guys and about 20,000 women. I can assure other men that no gym muscles or hot cars will ever get a man the sort of credit you get for just being a guy at Oprah. We were congratulated several times just for coming, which felt odd.

I’m sorry, I never remember to take photos at these things, I’m always too much in the now to think to interrupt the moment in order to try capturing the moment, and I don’t use a smartphone.

It was in general a very happy, cooperative, friendly crowd and it felt good to be there. The talk itself felt a bit more like a highlight reel featuring mixed metaphors than a one long whip cracking.

Rather than a raconteur spinning out a theme and ending it with a swell and a snap –where there’s a beginning, middle and end with a climax– this was more a collection of vignettes of poignant scenes done more like an anthology of distinct stories. It was a bit like the difference between a band performing an entire concept album, versus just their greatest hits.

Her ‘greatest hits’ included video clips that featured Gary Zukov, and she had Wild author Cheryl Nyland on stage for a very authentic-feeling section that seemed to really focus the audience’s attention. In the end, everyone we asked really enjoyed the event.

I was there for a very particular reason, but it was still very easy to notice how invested people are in their health and in caring about others. That entire show was about a generous, caring, open and accepting way to see life, and there were 20,000 disciples all saying, ‘yes, we’re on board.’

How can we see the world as ugly when that many people show up just to share space and love?

What struck me most about her talk was a particularly vulnerable section regarding her early life. For those unaware, Oprah had a half-sister given up for adoption, and she herself was not seen as a gift to either her mother or her grandmother. In short, she was almost entirely unloved throughout her childhood, and you could feel that she still carries the pain of that even today.

She spoke of forgiving her mother before her death, although I got the sense that is still unfinished business with her. She did say something beautiful and true, which is that it was the neglect of attention that Oprah suffered early in life that lead her to a life on TV, and then as a talk show host, and ultimately she became the loving person she is precisely because she had those unloving forces in her life.

1325 Relax and Succeed - How are we weaving our pain into love

Maybe what made last night work was that Oprah wasn’t some deity administering her balm to the audience’s wounds, she was there more as an equal. While the talk used phrasing about how grateful she was for the wisdom she had gained from so many wise people, it felt less like a talk from an expert, and more like another human connecting and saying, “Life is hard at times, but worth it. This is what I’ve found and it works pretty good. I’m glad we’re in it together.”

Any kid who doesn’t get love will either get super cold or they will become an expert on love, and Oprah both demonstrates love and she clearly also basks in it. It’s always a nice thing to see people who need love, openly enjoying getting it.

Considering what she’s given people, it feels appropriate that her mother’s missing, stable, narrow mile-deep love is being replaced by her audience. Maybe they can’t give her the sort of love that knows her as well and goes as deep, but regardless, it can extend across her horizons in every direction. After a tough childhood, it’s wonderful that she would have used her pain to build such a beautiful view.

I share with Oprah her sheer joy in sharing love with others, and I too cannot help but be grateful for even her grandmother and mother’s cold feelings, for without those the way would not have been paved for one of modern society’s most potent outlets of positivity. On a universal pain-to-benefit ratio, Oprah is a clear win for love.

Every person struggling with their parents will have benefits grow out of that struggle. The question isn’t so much; why didn’t Oprah’s mother openly love her, because we’d have to be her mother to fully grasp that. That means the real question is; what did Oprah do with that sad fact?

What Oprah did with that fact was to beam love through the airwaves into TVs and books across North America, and that lead to massive amounts of love flowing toward her. And that is a pretty good outcome out of two uncaring caregivers. Such is the yin and yang of life.

The final question is, how are we weaving our pain into love?

peace. s

The Laughing Buddha

1318 Relax and Succeed - Laughing Buddha

It gets mentioned often in my work because it really is important. It should be seen as a deeply spiritual act.

When did we each last laugh? Even when things are heavy, eventually we will need to lighten our emotions or we’ll be crushed. And laughter shouldn’t be something we leave to chance. We should have it as a part of our daily agenda in life.

We should all look at our weekly calendars and in them we should do our best to include some time with a funny friend, or to see a funny movie, or watch a funny show, or play, or to play some game that makes us laugh. We can even just watch comedians on YouTube.

Maybe we should even colour code times in our calendars where there is a high likelihood of laughing. Too little colour? That’s a week lacking in soul.

How and why we laugh doesn’t matter. It’s the laughing itself that we should see as being very real spiritual development. If that feels like a cheat it isn’t. Getting healthy not only can be enjoyable, to me it’s always been very weird that anyone ever thought that getting healthy needed to be painful. Why would that be? Catharsis maybe yes, but liberation feels great.

1318 Relax and Succeed - Laughter is a form

Let’s all make sure to keep our portals to joy open. Let’s laugh deeply and often and intentionally. We cannot lose touch with that part of ourselves. That version of us should be familiar.

Many times when working with someone new, I will see them react to hearing their own laugh for the first time in –sometimes years. So that ability might feel innate –and it is– but the more we do of it the better we get at finding reasons to do it. And it’s those moment by moment wins that add up to a great life.

We should considering making a category in our calendars for laughing. We need to ensure we get at least one good shot at some belly laughs every week at minimum and, if we can pull it off, we should go for one a day minimum. Everything over that is like icing on the cake. It just keeps getting better.

What a brutal spiritual guide I make, huh? Laugh more, I say. It’s because it’s a form of joyful prayer. When it is done so fully that we become the laugh –and cease for a time to be our ego-selves– that is where a state of enlightenment is discovered; a place where there is no time, and where we perceive no self to be judged or be wrong.

In that place we are always complete.

Laughing melts our egos into the energy of joy, expressed in a present moment. It’s like being in a church with walls made of light. Let’s all make sure we spend some time there on a regular basis.

peace, s