To be at Peace, Let go of your Expectations

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The Buddha taught that our desires are the causes of our suffering. Our expectations are the manifestation of our suffering. As I look into my own suffering, I find that the causes of my suffering often come back to my expectations of how things or other people should be.

If we were to live without electricity or running water, we would be miserable. But our ancestors lived in a time when they do not have such facilities and yet, they could find happiness. We are happy with our car…until our neighbour buys a bigger car. A friend once complaint to me that there is so much pressure in her life because her friends kept upgrading their lifestyle; and she could not keep up. My jaws dropped when I heard it. How could the lifestyle of her friends affect her own comfort? If her friends have more money, how does that benefit or harm her? They are not going to give her their money and their wealth does not reduce her wealth in any way.

Perhaps teenagers are more vulnerable to the suffering caused by expectations or desires. They may be happy with what they have one day and feel inadequate the next day because their friends bought something better. My friend has a swimming pool at his house and his children were happy with it until they attended a classmate’s birthday party. Her swimming pool was bigger! So, his children started complaining that their swimming pool is too small. Suddenly, he felt that he should get a bigger house. He is no longer contented. With just a snap of his finger, his mind brought him suffering.

Osho said that we cannot be happy if our mind is our master. We can only find happiness when we take the power away from our mind and make it into a tool we use to live in this world. The Dalai Lama said that granted, external circumstances may bring us suffering but in the majority of cases, it is our mind that bring us suffering.

In fact, our mind can make our suffering worse or prolong it. When we lose a loved one, it is okay to grief but we should also celebrate the joy and happiness that we had with them. If they have suffered through an illness, we can be happy that they are no longer suffering physically.

To find happiness, we need to learn to let go of our expectations. The motivational gurus will probably laugh at me for making this statement. They will say, “No, no, no, you need to set passionate goals, only then you will feel motivated and happy”. Does this mean that we cannot be happy until we reach our goal? When we reach the goal, we will only set new ones and defer our happiness further. When then can we be happy? Feeling proud about the material things that we have accumulated do not equate to happiness. We may have a false feeling of security and even that is not happiness. I am not saying that we should not have career goals or goals for our loved ones. By all means, keep them, but we need to let go of those expectations that bring us unnecessary suffering.

ExpectationsIn my book, ‘We are Here to Celebrate’ I wrote that unreasonable expectations of our children can pollute the love that we have for them. We want them to be the top student in their school or at least ace all their subjects. We ignore or become blind to whatever strengths they have and this makes them feel unloved and inadequate. It is like wanting a duckling to run fast but not being able to see its ability to swim. Similarly, our expectations of our spouse, friends, parents, job etc can take away the joy that we could have had with them.

The question then is how do we let go of our expectations? Sogyal Rinpoche breaks the mind into two aspects; the ‘appearance of the mind’ and the ‘nature of the mind’. We are caught in the ‘appearance of the mind’ when we are absorbed in our thoughts and other sense distractions. We are so caught up that we confuse the ‘appearance of the mind’ to a living entity; it becomes the ego. The ‘nature of the mind’ is the silent witness that observes the external phenomena. We experience the nature of the mind when we meditate. In between our thoughts there are brief gaps of silence. When we observe those gaps, we are actually resting in the nature of the mind. As we rest there, the gap becomes wider and wider and we become enveloped in peace and bliss.

When we are caught up in distractions or the ‘appearance of the mind’, it is difficult to see how our expectations are bringing us suffering. We may not be aware that we are having expectations or worse still, we are not aware that we are suffering. My friend in the story above is not aware that his children’s expectation has become his own and he is not aware of his discontentment as the result. He is just too focused on his new goal of getting a bigger house so that his children can feel proud. Sogyal Rinpoche said, “We want happiness but we run away from the causes of happiness as if we are running away from the devil. We do not want suffering but yet we run after the causes of suffering”. Such is the sorry state that we are in.

But when we sit and rest in the nature of the mind we may be able to see those expectations that are downright unnecessary for our happiness. When we shine the light of wisdom and awareness on those expectations and see that they are bringing us suffering, we start to let go of those expectations effortlessly. That is how we let go of our expectations. That is why all spiritual masters say that we need to walk the spiritual paths ourselves. No one can carry us towards self-realisation. We have a million expectations within us. We gathered them ourselves and now, it is our responsibility to let go of them ourselves.

This is also the reason why we need to balance our spiritual efforts between reading and practice. Reading can sometimes point out certain expectations but we still need to practice in order to finally let them go.

In Kriya Yoga, we are taught a technique to move prana (life-force or ‘chi’) through the Sushumna Nadi, the main energy channel in our spine. When we do so, the prana passes through our chakras and this purify certain karmas that are retained there. As we purify our karma, certain memories related to the karma may arise. This gives us the opportunity to observe them and let go of the negative thoughts and expectations that brought about that karma. When we do so, we are freed from that karmic tendency because the negative thoughts and expectations will no longer have a strong hold on us. We no longer ‘react’ to them and are able to act with wisdom.

Similarly, when we meditate, these thoughts or memories may arise. Do not push them away but observe them because only through these memories are we able to understand ourselves. We need to understand the expectations that bring us suffering in order to let go of them. There is no other way. As we practice and our awareness becomes stronger, we will be able to pick up on our expectations as and when they arise. At that point, we can move into the witness state and let go of the expectation there and then. As we do so, our periods of inner peace and ease will become longer and longer. Happiness is inevitable.

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