I doubt that I’m the only one around who has had conflicting feelings and thoughts about expectations. When Serge exhorts us to “expect the best” I have been torn. On the one hand, I have recognized the power of expectations in bringing things to pass. But on the other hand, expectations can lead to disappointment and problems. Expecting someone to do something that doesn’t happen often leads to huge conflicts. Relationships, for example, are often filled with such unfulfilled expectations. Personal expectations of how the future will work out often leave one let down. The results range from mild disappointment to fierce anger and great pain.
Even so, we all have expectations and we pretty much have them all the time. We expect the road to be there when we drive over the hill. We expect our bodies to be able to do what they “always” have been able to do. We expect the police, the fire department, the pizza delivery man to be there when we call. And when these expectations are not met, part of our world seems to fall apart. It is easy to fix the responsibility for these failed expectations on other people or forces outside of ourselves. But, clearly, we created these expectations. They are a product of our own thoughts, long held as beliefs or newly-minted in the moment.
We almost never think about events that come out as we expected. After all, we expected that. Consequently, we often fail to see how much of our lives happens in accordance with our expectations. We live in a sea of unconscious expectations that carry us along in everything we do. In fact, our whole world view is a mass of mostly unconscious expectations.
Everything from the water coming out of the faucet to the buttons fastening our coats happen pretty much as we expect. And whose expectations are they anyway? I never doubted as a child that I would go to college because that was the family expectation. We are told to expect, and we do, that our money will be safe in the bank, we will get excellent service in a 5-star hotel, that our plane will arrive safely at our destination (luggage is a different matter). From whatever source, once we make it our own, the expectations clearly have a momentum of their own that carries great power. Wonderful, majestic things happen when we maintain expectations of wonderful, majestic outcomes. For the most part the world seems to be our garden, ready to harvest. Without these expectations we would have to sort everything out from scratch. But what happens when these expectations seem to fail? Our belief in a certain “reality” crumbles and even our own identities get disturbed by failed expectations. For myself, I have spent a lot of time trying to limit my expectations so that I would not have to deal with the misery of disappointment. In fact, I took some pride in living as free as possible of expectations and found Serge’s exhortation to “expect the best” quite disturbing.
So I had to look at what an expectation is. First off, it is not a promise. It is not a guarantee of a specific outcome. It is not a demand made to the Universe that our desires be met. As I looked more deeply I saw that it is simply how we are framing both the present and the future for ourselves. It is a creative act, based on past experience, energized by emotions and feelings, and modified by our imagination and desires. As such our own personal energies are being focused on the creation of that which is “expected”. Thus, if I wander into a seafood restaurant and order salmon fillet medium-rare, I am creating a situation that I imagine will be one of culinary delight for myself. There are, of course, other factors involved here – the quality of the fish, the skill of the chef, the prompt delivery of the dish to name a few. No telling what I will actually get, but without my expectations I would have very little chance of getting what I want. I have often experienced disappointment verging on anger at getting a poorly prepared meal (the curse of an ex-chef). It has been a real challenge to me to look at my expectations and to take responsibility for them. I had to learn to accept that my expectations are my creation, focusing my energies on what I want and only that; that there was no blame to be spread because my expectations were unfulfilled; and that it was only disappointment that I was experiencing – the end of the world would come later.
This is all leading to my awareness of the necessity for taking responsibility for our expectations and for using them creatively. As an adventurer I often delight in not knowing what happens next. I make the choice to not have expectations of what situations I may encounter. However, I also make the choice to expect that I will be clever enough to handle whatever arises and to expect that when it’s all over everything will have worked out for the best. By treating expectation as a valuable tool when used consciously instead of as a compact with the gods, often betrayed, we can put the magic of expectation to use.
It seems to me that consciously chosen expectation is a notch higher than intention in the realm of focusing energies. It has a way of locking out debilitating doubt that other high-focus mental techniques, like faith and hope, do not have. When used consciously, expectation is a way of focusing one’s own energies in the most powerful, forceful way towards a desired result. We have to remember that it is not the only influence in any given situation. It may not even be the most influential. But it is our way of being the most effectual.