Taken from a series of three meditation evenings on thought and its many guises:
Thoughts - there is nothing wrong with the activity of thinking. In fact when used wisely the thinking process is a unique gift. But we need to recognise thought – the unhelpful, the destructive, the general chit-chat and running commentary – for what it is: fleeting, transient, and most certainly not who we are. We learn to not attach to them, not run away from them, simply notice them.
Have you ever walked through the shallows of the ocean and noticed the seaweed? It drifts in and out on the tide, coming and going, washing around the feet, the toes and then suddenly, a piece snags around the ankles, between the toes. We can either be aware of it, perhaps lift our foot to let it disentangle itself and watch it float away or we can let it catch our attention, worry about how it caught, be agitated by its presence – how it got there, when it will go.
Which of these responses is going to bring us peace in the moment?
So many of our thoughts are very much the same – they snag, they catch our attention then take us on a journey of worrying, questioning, agitation.
Expectation is simply thought in one of its many guises.
When we first come to mindfulness and meditation it can be with expectation. We may expect it to solve our problems, fill a hole, instantly make us feel better. Soon we discover this isn’t the case because it is not the objective. In meditation, as in our lives, when we allow and recognise all aspects of our lives as being as they are, we are behaving naturally - being of our nature – and over time this brings its own rewards.
Sometimes in meditation, as in life, we will feel relaxed, happy and other times we won’t. There will be pain, discomfort, irritation. We are not trying to rid ourselves of anything, we want to just be with whatever is present, irrespective of labels of ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Recently, I sat waiting to see a consultant to get some test results. I sat, feeling the fear, the anticipation and realised there was a deliciousness about the unknown and in the same moment a knowing that whatever the result was I was going to be ok.
Now that wasn’t something I would have expected but hey life isn’t interested in what we expect. You may have had some expectations of what you might read here. Sometimes our expectations are obvious, sometimes subtle. We may not even realise it was an expectation until someone/something says/does something and we feel a reaction against it.
Having an open approach to meditation, our lives, prevents these events from upsetting us. We build a resilience to life. Willingness to allow life to be, to see what happens is one of the kindest, self-compassionate things we can do. The more aware we are, tuned into now, the less likely we are to respond in anything other than a kind, loving, way.
Expectation causes us so much suffering in life, without us even realising it. All of life is about relationships – relationships with one another, with our environment, and with our own thoughts and feelings.
Often, we expect people to behave in a certain way because of our beliefs, thoughts, experiences and our desire to have life go the way we want it to.
How many times have we felt hurt or disappointed because we expected someone to say something, do something the way we wanted them to?
Why should they? It’s laughable when we say it like that. Most of the time we don’t recognise what is going on with our own thoughts so how can we expect to know how someone else is going to behave? We dream up whole scenes - rehearsing what will be said, what responses will be made as though infiltrating someone else’s thoughts – and not just that but then manipulating what they say/do to fit in with our view of what is wanted - and always me, me. me at the centre of the story.
That is why watching our thoughts, acknowledging them for what they are and letting them be, is so important. We learn to understand the power we hand over to thoughts. The pressure we put on ourselves and others when they come as expectations. Through journaling or talking to a friend – or a counsellor/therapist in some cases - we can understand where some of the more stubborn expectations come from and in this knowledge finally release them. Often though, just the understanding that expectation, like any thought, isn’t who we are - is fleeting, transient – this knowledge is enough.
It doesn't mean we go through life without preferences, but it is the relationship with the preferences that is important as is living a life of What is and not What if.
Expectation is all part of the cause of suffering – wanting things to be different to how they are. What's wrong with 'let's see what happens?' As I said in one of my poems “Feel it from the start” –
“the day will be what it will be
it’s our awareness that determines what we see”
This was followed by a formal meditation and rounded off with the following poem:
One more illusion
Footsteps on the deserted pavement tap out the rhythm of the night
as a shower of autumn rain leaves a glistening dew on its surface
Street lights highlight miniature pools, an accumulation of tiny droplets
awaiting dispersement, as the footsteps approach - kicking, flicking into the space of night
Her smoky eyes watch him from her elevated position
the broken silence of life drawing her out
she ponders his existence, his mood, his gait
the lone figure - an air of peace and ease – hand in hand with the present
As if to prove her right, he stops,
tilts his head, looks into the dark depths of the road
smiling wistfully as he watches the reflection of traffic lights changing unbidden,
their colours dancing, sparkling - actors on the screen of tarmac
She can see how far he is from the angry man of a year ago
his thoughts then full of shoulds and coulds
weights and measures, assumptions of what would be
searching for those assurances of life, in guises of hope and expectancy
He walks on, picks up his pace, now aware of the onset of tiredness
- reminding him of the hour –
a feeling made up of sensations, like his anger, to be acknowledged, felt
no story-telling with its victims and recriminations
She knows he senses her, on the periphery of his awareness
there was a time he would welcome her in an open embrace
take her to heart. It would be her hand he held
Always fun – well for her, at least
As he reaches for his garden gate, anticipating the touch of cool wet wood beneath his fingers
he turns, her desire penetrating the air around
knocking hard at the door of his resolve
He wishes her next conquest well
She too smiles ruefully
in his knowing he is lost to her,
it’s time for her to take her leave
Her short dark wings unfurl behind her
Tuning into the chatter of the next mind to stir,
delivery of disappointment in her sights
one more illusion in a life of what if
the Daemon of Expectation takes flight
Let me know if you would like to join the next monthly meditation evening on the last Tuesday of each month.
Author: Samantha Hall
Artwork also produced by me.
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