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We all have expectations about the world around us. If you’re going on vacation this summer, you might expect good weather at the beach. You might be looking to evaluate your work and expect your boss to talk about a promotion. You might expect your friend to call you when they settle down after their long journey.
Now, imagine you’re snorkeling and there’s a group of fish heading straight towards you (or if you’ve gone into an aquarium and stood in front of those big tanks and seen the same thing), it’s what it’s like navigating through life. According to duality and other traditions, our daily life consists of navigating through a sea of experiences and events – we walk with eyes – which, like fish, we cannot control. What we can do is notice, and sometimes, appreciate, that bright yellow fish as it passes by.
When we get into trouble is when we have expectations about how life is supposed to be. We create our own reality around the beach, the race, and the friend. When life does not meet our expectations, we get upset – anxious, angry, frustrated, uncomfortable. But life is not designed for us. It fits life.
What do we do? We try to change it and do our best to bring the world into line with our reality. We try to get others to do what we think they should do. We make a story about how the world is out for us. We try to eliminate the feeling – disappointment, anger – by acting seriously, using drugs, etc.
The bad news is that you can’t control the fish coming at you. The good news is that instead of trying to change the world, you can learn to control yourself, the one thing you can always control. Heres how to do it:
Stuck in the rain on the beach, don’t talk about promotion, your friend doesn’t call. You are frustrated, angry, anxious. Life does not match your expectations, your reality. Take a few deep breaths – lower your shoulders.
#2. Be careful
There is your always-working mind—thoughts, thoughts, ideas—and your awareness, the awareness that your mind is working. You want to practice stepping back enough to see what your mind is doing. It’s a scramble, likely telling you all sorts of things to do to get the world to match your forecast – triple checking the weather report, texting your friend, and grabbing your promotion.
#3. Watch, don’t fix
Studies of patients with chronic pain have shown that the best way to reduce pain is to watch and be passionate about how you feel, but don’t try to change it or make up a story about it. When we try to change our experience — when we listen to our terrifying mind and text, scrutinize, and obsess — it often only gets worse. Once you adopt the inquisitive awareness – let’s see where this experience, this experience – often changes; The fish are swimming next to it.
#4. Keep perspective
Here you are telling yourself that the world is not built around me, that this is a first world problem, and that I cannot control others.
#5. Appreciate the experience
If life revolves around a sea of experiences and events beyond your control, instead of fighting and getting upset over it, learn to appreciate it. appreciate that bright yellow fish swim; Notice the trees waving in the breeze as you sit on that red light. Be curious about what life serves today. Understand what is happening around you, because this is not only the best thing you can do, but it can help you learn to appreciate everything that is going on around us in every moment.
#6. Have goals
All this being said, it has goals. Targets help you to avoid all these traps. Yes, goals relate to the future but are independent of others; They come from you. And yes, there is an outcome – getting to the goal or not – but the focus is process oriented, getting there step by step. Goals have a built-in awareness that lacks expectations. Your goal may be to move into management and out of direct service, but it doesn’t depend on whether or not your boss will retire or whether she likes you.
Goals are about challenges and desires, and what you ultimately want to become or do, while expectations go into the herbs of privacy, about events or emotions you can’t control.
Thinking this way is something that takes practice, and rewiring your brain, but it becomes easier, and more automatic, over time.
Set goals, exceed expectations, practice awareness. As Buddhists say, “If you live without expectations, you are a happy person.”