Expectations = Sorrow

Yesterday I finally made it to yoga. It had been over a month.

This was my first class at what I hope will be my new studio. We started with some chanting. I have to admit, I was getting kind antsy, I just wanted to start moving my body so badly, when we came to the last mantra. Expectations are the root of all sorrow.

I knew this. I mean, I had read it before and I understood it and believed it to be true. And yet hearing it yesterday was like turning on a light switch I forgot was there. Suddenly the room was so bright, I didn’t realize how dim it had gotten until I could see with a renewed clarity.

There are some aspects of life for which this teaching is painfully obvious. It is my expectation to have another child that makes failing to create one so painful. It is my expectation that my family will look a certain way that makes the fact that it doesn’t so hard for me to bear. And I think other people’s success at family building is so hard for me because it reinforces my expectations: people all around me have the same expectations I have, and their expectations are actually met.

In other parts of my life, it feels harder to apply this teaching, at least at first glance. Work is really hard right now, really, really hard. I feel like the whole thing is a relay race except there is never anyone there to pass the baton off to and I have to keep running round and round all by myself, as I get ever more exhausted and fall ever farther behind.

I cry a lot at work. Suddenly the enormity of all I have to do is staring me right in the face and I don’t have the cojones to stare back at it, so I just break down into massive, heaping sobs.

I was trying to figure out how this teaching, that of expectations being the root of all worry, applied to my work situation. How could I use this teaching to lighten my load. I mean, my work situation is truly challenging, surely this simple yet profound truth can’t change that fact?

But it can. The reason my work load feels so difficult to manage is that I expect it to be easier to manage. The reason I put so much pressure on myself to do a good job is because I expect I will do a really good job. If I let go of my expectation that work will be easy and that I’ll always do a good job of it, my burden will be lighter.

This doesn’t mean I get to spend my school days with movies playing on the projector. But it does mean I can do my best and let go of any expectations of what that might look like. It means I won’t beat myself up so bad when I’m welcoming my students with puffy red eyes and a blotchy complexion.

Today, my daughter executed an incredible feat; she sustained a two hour marathon tantrum during which she literally did not stop crying/screaming for more than a minute at a time. She screamed because we weren’t going to meet our friends at the park, and then she screamed for the entire 45 minutes of their impromptu visit (which they made to make up for not meeting us at the park) and then she screamed while I made dinner, and while she ate dinner, and when her daddy came home and when he left again. She screamed for so long, I didn’t know how she had any scream left in her. Tonight was definitely up there in my Worst Parenting Nights Hall of Fame. It was a massive, epic, all around FAIL.

But you know what, it wasn’t all that bad, at least not for me, because early into the tantrum I just let go of any expectation that it would stop. I did my best to comfort my daughter, to give her what I thought she needed, but when she continued to cry, I didn’t turn against myself. I just accepted how she was feeling without making it about anything else. And honestly, I did a pretty good job weathering that massive storm.

I hope I can hold on to this teaching, especially as we embark on our seventh attempt to get pregnant. The only way a BFN can destroy me is if I expect something else instead. Now I just need to remember that…

6 responses

  1. good for you with the epic tantrum. my daughter being fussy makes me insane unless I know she’s just starving or exhausted. I need to get to the root of what bothers me about that. surely it’s not reasonable to expect toddlers to be sane all the time 🙂

  2. This is a really great post. It’s so hard to get rid of expectations. Increasingly, I just want to live on a desert island where there is not the constant comparisons and the non-stop relay races. (For me, it’s my husband being out of town for 2 out of every 3 weeks, the fact we have no help when everyone else does and everyone is annoyed with me for not being social when I can’t do anything.) oh, and all three of us are sick again. I guess this is why all the Buddhists live in monasteries away from the world at large? Makes it easy to get rid of expectations there…

  3. I love the story about Isa, especially … good for you, for allowing her to be where she needed to be, but also giving yourself the space to be where YOU needed to be. In the long run, your calm will help HER to be more calm, too.

    Harder to do at work, I think, especially because doing a good job there is a judgement that someone else also makes … but perhaps the expectations of success can look different without being “less” … if that makes any sense?

  4. Great lesson that we can/should all internalize. I’m impressed you weathered that tantrum. It’s truly putting into play the idea of yoga, of bringing together all facets of the being and forming union.

  5. This is a great reminder. We build up our expectations till sometimes the only option is disappointment. We can’t control the outcome, but we can control our expectations. Actually, interestingly, I teach this in terms of client relationships. I’d never really thought about applying it to my own expectations. So thank you.

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