The Dalai Lama has made many wise suggestions over the years, but one of my favourites involves his affirmation for productive self-empowerment. He stated, "I am open to the guidance of synchronicity, and do not let expectations hinder my path". Here, the great man is referring to the self-limitation involved in expectations.
If life is about maximising peace and happiness, then expectations are a major negative. We have effectively lost control of our own lives when our happiness is dependent on the behavior of others. When we allow the words "should" and "shouldn't" to determine our state of mind, we have not only compromised our peace potential, we are also living in a false reality.
Our "story" of how others should behave is simply not real. We are not accepting people for who they truly are, but are instead imposing our own fantasy about who we think they are. It is commonsense that we are destined to be disappointed, because fantasy is not reality.
If we analyse the dynamics of divorce, for example, it becomes rapidly apparent that expectations dominate the destructive behavior patterns that drive lovers apart. Invariably, the fantasy wears thin when expected behavior falls short of the mark. Each partner begins to withdraw, in response to their recognition that "he or she did not make me happy", and very soon we have an energy system with no energy inputs. The wheels fall off shortly after!
The very simple understanding here is that no one can make you happy, except you – but you can never be happy when expectations rule. It is no small task, but the way forward involves analysing the thousands of thoughts you have each day and identifying and removing those that involve expectation. The words "should" and "shouldn't" will feature in this dissection but, if they can be exorcised, the path to peace is much less precarious. Here are four suggestions that may help facilitate this cleansing:
When we judge others, it invariably involves imposing our standards upon them. Judging something as unacceptable and focusing on that negativity ensures an increasingly destructive influence. Tidiness, for example, may be one's obsession, but when every crumb-dropping misdemeanor becomes a major crime, the downward spiral has begun. The solution here is to work towards the holy grail of successful relationships – non-judgmentalism. We are not compromising our own values here but simply recognising that expecting others to conform to our standards is not productive or realistic. If our goal is a happy relationship, then we become our own saboteur. Accept perceived weakness, and the battle is half won. Recognise that the "weakness" is often not real, and the battle is over.
The second "awareness" that can facilitate productive change involves the recognition that, subconsciously, our subjective judgements are often based upon our drive to satisfy our own hidden needs or insecurities. We might push our children to be more assertive because of our own social ineptness. We might demand an uncluttered home because our obsessive compulsive parents created a nightmare childhood involving the opposite. When we recognise the root cause of our requirements, we cease to be a victim of our social inheritance and life changes. We can accept our loved ones for who they are, rather than who we need them to be.
There is often a need to differentiate between tolerance of differences and essential respect of core values. For example, if you believe that monogamy is a prerequisite of a trusting, loving relationship, then there is no place for unconditional acceptance of unfaithfulness. It will never work because you are messing with your essence, and this is non-negotiable.
Finally, we might re-examine the term "dis-appointment". Often we find we have "appointed" a pattern of behaviors as paramount to our approval. When these behaviors are judged to be substandard, disapproval reigns and happiness becomes much less likely. We need to revise these requirements in terms of our likelihood to achieve happiness, versus the remote chance that we can satisfy expectations of perfection. In this context, it becomes clear that the most productive path involves abandoning expectations in favour of peace and happiness.
These were just some of my thoughts during one of my many long flights this year. Hopefully they might prove to be of benefit to someone out there.