I recently had an opportunity to experience suffering. The kind where you sometimes sit on your shower floor and cry, hoping the constant stream of water from above will somehow dilute the salty rivers on your face (and where nobody can hear you or see the snot that has also formed some sort of waterfall over your lip). Yeah, that kind of sadness. Suffering.
So much has been said in recent years about how expectations are the root cause of suffering. Hmmm. I’d always agreed with that. (Well, accepted it without challenging it is probably more accurate.) But these bouts in the shower gave me cause to pause. And guess what? I disagree. (Not that that should come as a surprise to most of you. lol)
My new thought:
I don’t think it’s wrong to have expectations.
Actually, I think it’s hope for humanity’s future to hold expectations of one another. I expect people to be kind, respectful, and compassionate, and act in a way that is in accordance with that. For me, these are some of the highest values of basic humanity. To expect less than these basics almost feels like I’m letting my fellow humans down – like I’m saying: “I don’t believe in you.”
So why is there a plethora of writing linking expectations and suffering? Well, suffering comes when I form an emotional attachment to the outcome of my expectations, to the decisions and/or actions of others. Attachment is quite different than expectation, because it involves control. And, if we’re honest, attachments, in their essence, are actually judgments. (And we all know about judgments, right? – if you don’t know what I’m saying, check out my spooky Halloween post.)
What, then, are attachments? Bottom line:
Attachments are attempts at control based in fear, and they’re unhealthy.
In my opinion, they are the root cause of emotional suffering. So many things can grow out of attachment that you probably don’t realize. Things like: low self-worth, low self-esteem, anger, frustration, disappointment, despair, disregard, are all products of attachment. If I were to attach an emotional investment (my happiness) in a fellow human behaving a certain way, boy would I be in trouble!
Trying to control things that are not mine will ALWAYS create opportunities for suffering, and control is a form of attachment. (Not to mention being a sign of disrespect toward someone else.)
Healthy expectations are an integral part of any relationship. They allow us to hold one another in high esteem, and challenge ourselves and each other to be the best we can be. Expectations are like little pompoms of encouragement waving wildly on the sidelines of the game of life. They help us identify what’s possible and feel supported in getting there. Attachments, meanwhile, derail us from our own truth and knowing, like the really loud fans from an opposing team trying to distract us from our purpose.
Expectations, therefore, are an expression of hope. And hope is always a good thing.