November 7, 2016

The Unexpected thing I learned from a Monk about Eradicating Expectations.

flowers burn let go smoke

“If it can be remedied,
why be upset about it?
If it cannot be remedied,
what is the use of being upset about it?” ~ Gautama Buddha 


When I was in Dharamshala, India, I visited the same restaurant daily for lunch.

The restaurant only had one big table with 10 seats.

On one occasion, as I was having lunch, a monk and his foreign student took the seats opposite from me. Because the ambiance was quiet and the restaurant was nearly empty, I could hear what was being discussed.

The female student was going through a breakup and she was undoubtedly disappointed in the relationship’s dismal outcome and she was upset with her ex-partner. At the end of her story, she uttered: “He disappointed me. It wasn’t what I expected.”

At that point, I could relate to her story and I was keen on hearing the monk’s response.

Silence filled the space as she spoke her last words. I stealthily looked at the monk, curious as to how he would react. He raised his eyebrows, chuckled, and asked her to repeat her previous line. As she did, he said: “It wasn’t what you expected. ‘Expected.’ Do you understand?”

His response floored me, as much as it surprised the woman.

His words—“Expected. Do you understand?”—rang in my head non-stop.

That monk inspired me to reflect on the misery that results from having too many expectations.

The truth is that letting go of expectations is quite difficult—they aren’t something that we can instantly break off.

I delved deeper into this matter by investigating the potential result of having no expectations. The times I recollected dropping my expectations, I was happier.

I shifted my perception from, “It’s people and life’s fault” to, “It’s my fault that I expected too much.” And on one occasion, I remember saying these exact words to a friend as we discussed disappointment. She responded by saying that my statement was “too dramatic and negative.”

On the contrary, I believe it was a realistic and positive outlook. I’m not putting the blame on myself to victimize myself, rather, I’m accepting the fact that occasionally, it is indeed our fault that we set the bar too high that reality fails to meet our expectations.

Expectations come in many forms. We expect a lot from ourselves, our work, our family, our friends and our partner.

Keeping our hopes up is essential. I am someone who consistently tries to find the silver lining, yet there is a thin line between keeping one’s hopes up with awareness and between setting extraordinary expectations. Personally, whenever I set realistic hopes for an outcome, I never feel disappointed.

However, when I set unrealistic expectations, I broke my own heart and turned myself miserable. Here’s why:

>> Tension.

We tend to remain tense in the process of expecting something to turn out the way we want to. We pour a lot of energy and effort when we keep thinking about the end-results and the “what-ifs.”

>> Disappointment.

If the outcome is against our wishes, we will be disappointed. It’s like building a sand castle and then watching it as the waves wash it away.

>> Nonsense worry.

If the outcome turns out to be good, we would have lost numerous hours and days worried and tense.

>> Stopping the flow of life.

Having too many expectations is walking in disharmony with life.

>> Ungratefulness.

To expect too much is, in other words, to be ungrateful for what we already have. We become greedy and selfish when we want things to go our way.

On the other hand, when I reduced my expectations, I became blessed with the following:

>> The outcome of any situations transformed into a pleasant surprise.
>> Giving the situation (or the outcome) space to let it breathe and happen.
>> Saving hours of unnecessary worry and anxiety.
>> Focusing on more important things.
>> Accepting the present moment and opening up to the natural possibility of uncertainty.
>> Being grateful and happy.

Below are six steps to help us eradicate expectations:

1. Realize that life isn’t about what we want. Life flows in a certain way and it’s absurd to try to stop it. We have no control over the outcome of things.

2. Remember the disappointments. Remembering the pain and disappointments that lofty expectations brought in the past is a helpful step toward future awareness.

3. Give without expecting anything in return. Whether you are giving something for yourself, for others or for life, give without wanting something back. Set your motivation well beforehand.

4. Shift your focus from your main object or outcome. Focus on other important things that will remind you that whatever the outcome is, it’s maybe not such a big deal in the grander scheme of things.

5. Don’t feed the thought. Having expectations results from thinking too much about the result. Try meditation, doing new activities or simple breathing exercises to lessen the intensity of thoughts.

6. Believe. Have faith that all falls into place at the right time, at the right place. Setting high expectations and wanting them to happen is a sign of little faith in what the universe has to offer us.

The omnipotent force that exists in this universe knows what’s best for us better than we do. Trust it.


Author: Elyane Youssef

Image: McKinley Law/Unsplash

Editor: Caitlin Oriel

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