Someone told me that we really can’t expect anything from anyone and it is kinda blowing my mind.
When I first heard this, I loved it, but I also thought it impossible. In order to survive, we need things from other people. Plus, we have all of these unspoken agreements with people, sometimes even promises that we make out loud, to do things for each other. Aren’t expectations part of the territory? We come to expect and depend on certain behavior from family, friends and even strangers who are supposed to be complicit in these laws and social order things that would have us behave in certain ways. We greet each other and wear appropriate clothing and say please and thank you. Our partners are supposed to help with the housework and we expect the government to provide healthcare. Or do we not? The list of expectations is lengthy, I’m sure. When other people don’t do the things that we expect, we can be thrown off or angry or disappointed. Sometimes it goes the other way and people exceed our expectations and delight us. Challenging expectations can also make for some hilarious comedy. But let’s be honest. Much of the time, expecting things from other people causes a lot of angst. Plus, there is a butt-load of presumption that goes along with expectations. (Yeah, I just said “butt-load.”) “I thought he loved me and that he was going to stay with me forever.” or, “She said that she wanted to have lunch this week, but she didn’t ever call to make a plan. “ Or, “He should have known that would hurt my feelings. Isn’t it obvious?” Expecting things from other people is often a set-up for disappointment.
Another thing…Expectations give a lot of power to other people. If we’ve been on this planet for more than 5 seconds, we know from experience that we really don’t have any control over what other people think, say or do. And I can tell you right here, trying to manipulate people into doing what we want rarely works well for anyone. So when we believe that the only way that things can turn out well is when someone else does what we expect them to, no es bueno.
In the last few weeks, I’ve been experimenting with having no expectations of people. I’m sure that I’m not actually practicing a pure version of this because I’m probably going around with all sorts of unspoken and low grade-expectations, but whatever. At least I’m thinking about it. And I’ll tell you what… I feel lighter. There is so much less to worry about when I arrange my day so that I only expect myself to meet my responsibilities. I have found that I’m more reasonable in how much I schedule into my day. I also like people more. I’m not going around thinking that all these people I encounter owe me something. Instead I think, “no one has to do anything for me at all.” As a result of this alone, when I do receive something, it is a gift — a gift of someone’s time or energy or knowledge or kindness. And I feel grateful for it.
The Heart of Yoga, my number one favorite book on the practice of yoga, speaks to this expectation thing in the discussion of ishvarapranidhana, often interpreted as “love of God.” Mr. Desikachar says that the term also describes a certain quality of action.
All [the things we do as a part of normal life] should be done as well as possible. Yet we can never be sure of the fruit of our actions. That is why it is better to become slightly detached from our expectations and to pay more attention to the actions themselves.
The fruit of our actions = expectations of how things are going to turn out in the end. Or maybe it can be extended to how someone will behave or what they will do for us if we act in some way first. We just can’t predict the future. We certainly can’t know what someone else is going to do. All we can do is take care with our own actions.
Mr. Desikachar goes on to say, “Yoga is not passive. We have to participate in life. To do this well we can work on ourselves.” This is what we’ve got people. We have our own very special selves to come to know, to work on, to keep healthy and to encourage. We can improve our clarity and understanding of ourselves and we can act in ways that support and align with that understanding. If it’s all starting to sound like “every man is an island,” then consider this: Knowing ourselves allows us to know and understand other people, too. Part of that is understanding that we can’t know all the events and circumstances at work in others’ lives, their motivations, nor the emotional needs or struggles. No matter what we’ve come to believe, no one owes us anything, really. So we act. We do our best. We admit that we can’t know the outcome of any event with complete certainty. We celebrate with others when they do well and we appreciate when someone offers us the gift of kindness or help or time. No expectations. I’m pretty sure that’s where it’s at.