“Want little and know how to be satisfied.”
When I was first trying to curb my conspicuous consumption I made a bracelet with that line printed on it. I hoped the words encompassing my wrist would be a constant reminder, willing me to be satisfied with what I had. At the time I was thinking only of things, material possessions. Of course now, entrenched in motherhood, I’m realizing that there are so many other things I want… uninterrupted sleep, quiet personal time, someone to clean my house, to go out with friends or my husband, more quality time with my daughter. Sometimes I feel like all I do is want. And the land of wanting is not a satisfying world to inhabit.
Buddhism teaches that your expectation govern your sense of fulfillment. The greater your expectations, the greater the probability that they will not be met. When expectations are not realized, you are unhappy. This makes sense. If you want to experience certain things while on vacation (like warm, sunny weather or quiet, relaxing evenings), and they don’t materialize, you will be disappointed. You may be so upset that you don’t get appreciate the things you are enjoying, like good food or the company of friends or family.
As a mother who works out of the home, I’m constantly wanting things that I probably am not going to get. I can maintain these expectations and continue suffering, or I can change them. It’s as simple as that. I’ve noticed that a general theme of parenthood is feeling out of control. It’s easy to feel like your basic expectations are not being met. It can be overwhelming. Realizing that your own expectations are actually holding you hostage and creating your unhappy state can set you free.
Of course, we will always have wants and needs. No one would recommend attempting to abolishing all expectations without proper guidance and years of training (although if you were able to do this, genuinely, you would achieve enlightenment). The reality is, it wouldn’t be possible for 99.99% of people. And of course some expectations are necessary, like the expectation of being treated with respect for one’s emotional and physical well being. But most of our unmet expectations are more about what we want than what we physically need. Human beings have desires, and they always will. Luckily, just being aware of them can help us alleviate their grasp on us and our happiness.
I wrote recently about how hard parenthood has been on our relationship. Mi.Vida and I have really struggled recently. This week he is going to Austin for the SXSW music festival. I’m very excited for him to get this time with his friends doing his absolute favorite thing, listening to live music. When we discussed having children going to concerts was the one thing he was terrified to lose and I’m truly thankful that he gets this opportunity. I know it will make him genuinely happy.
I’m also a little jealous he gets five days away from responsibilities both at home and at work. It should also be noted that I’m going to miss the living shit out of him.
With all of this on my mind, I suddenly found myself overwhelmed this weekend by the desire to go out on a date with my man. I wanted to reconnect with him away from home, sans the constant distractions.
I also really wanted to see a movie, in a theater, with popcorn and a huge well of Diet Coke. I wanted that really, really badly.
We went round and round trying to figure it out but it just wasn’t going to work. Seeing a movie takes too much time and would have us out too late for either set of parents to watch Isa. So I had to give up my expectations of a movie date. And I decided I’d only be willing to do that with much petulant fan fare and a general attitude of depravity. Let’s just say I was moping around the house being a right pouty little biotch.
Then I found my bracelet under the table (where Isa had casually discarded it during a meal) and I read those words for what felt like the first time.
Want little and know how to be satisfied.
Picking my sullen frown off the floor along with my bracelet, I stopped for a minute to figure out what I really wanted. Did I really want to go to the movies? Well yes, but that wasn’t a good idea for this date for a number of reasons. I could easily see a movie with a friend some other time, when Mi.Vida could watch Isa and I wouldn’t have to feel rushed (he doesn’t really like seeing movies anyway). What I wanted, what I really needed was to just be with Mi.Vida. And we could pull that off at home. We could put away our smart phones and computers and order in (or even cook) and clean off the table and light some candles and open a bottle of wine and have the experience I really wanted, while at home.
Of course Isa might wake up and we’d have to deal with that, but it wouldn’t be so bad. We could have what I felt like I needed without it being a big deal. And I certainly didn’t need to mourn not going to the movies of ruminate on how I never get to do what I want. Because that is not true, I get to do what I want all the time, and I’ll always get to do what I want if I have realistic expectations.
In the end, Mi.Vida and I did get to go out for dinner. My folks were able to come by and see Isa and stay for an extra hour and a half so we could go out. We had a lovely dinner and spend the entire time talking about non-parenthood related things (well almost the entire time) and we shared a bottle of wine and scooped tastes of each others meals into our mouths and had a really. nice. date.
The whole time I kept thinking, this is so nice, this is so much better than I expected. I simply reveled in it, savoring each and every minute.
And the next time I want to do something that motherhood seems to render impossible, I hope I can remember to want little and learn how to be satisfied, and make the best out of whatever presents itself.
In what area of your life do you feel your expectations are not being met? Do you think you could change your expectations in any way? If you did, do you think you’d be happier?