Expectations, the Thief of Joy

It seems that I am constantly at odds with myself over the expectations I have. Does this happen to you too?

I set them up in my mind and then when they don’t come true as I expected, it creates a cascade of emotions. There is sadness, anger, disappointment, frustration, and confusion. All of them, thieves of joy.

I don’t like this part of my earthly adventure.

The obvious question I need to ask myself is, ‘why do I continue this thoroughly unenjoyable experience?’

There must be a better way.

Perhaps if I chose not to have any expectations about anything, maybe that would solve the problem. But how likely is that?

For me, not likely at all. I’ve tried this repeatedly without success. It ends with the same result. Even though I say to myself that I’m not going to care about the outcome of something, some part of me ignores this ‘suggestion’. It has already recorded my expectation and won’t let it go. So, when it becomes obvious that my expectation is unmet, it repeats the cascade.

I know this doesn’t make sense, but it is what happens. At least, most of the time.

I do believe that experiences, such as this, will continue to arrive in my life because they bear messages for me. They hint at things I would benefit from and that would improve my life. They come to offer me gifts.

So far, I’ve missed their value. And because of this, I continue to suffer. I realize this is my choice and that if I opened myself up, I might be able to see more possibilities and maybe some real answers.

How is this to happen?

I know there are numerous excellent self-help books that probably address this issue. They no doubt have many valuable suggestions to make and have provided a great deal of assistance to those prepared to try them. I sincerely congratulate those who read them and adopt their recommendations. It would be wise if I would join them, but something stops me.

It may not be the wisest approach for me to take, but it appears that I like to struggle. That may sound foolish, but I know it is the case with me. I have to personally confront whatever issue stands before me. I have to feel the weight of it. And, I have to wrestle with it until it breaks apart and shows me some truth.

So, I lay myself open and I ask for divine guidance to enter and assist me with finding a way forward.

And, what comes is this, I want joy. I want it as a centerpiece in my life. Joy goes far beyond happiness. Happiness is fleeting, but joy is truth. I believe each of us came here to earth filled with joy. It is a part of our natural state and a reflection of love.

I see how setting expectations puts limits on joy. It declares there is only one right solution and when it is not met, there is a price to pay. I see how setting expectations is looking for value outside of me. And my sense of satisfaction with life becomes dependent on what happens outside of me. Is there anything more fragile than this?

And so here is the message I’ve been waiting for. It is always about what is ‘inside’ of me. I can never reliably find what I’m looking for outside of me. This is at the heart of all my expectations, a desire to be fulfilled by what lies beyond me.

This will never happen because it is what is inside of me that matters. The wonderful news is that this is where all the good stuff is. We came here with all of it. If I close my eyes and slow my breathing and look inside and remember who I truly am, a part of the divine, I can awake to the knowing that I am made of love. I am whole and complete, just as I am. No outward fulfilled expectations will make me more than I already am.

So, when the next one comes, I will remind myself of this truth and release the expectation and in remembering to do this, will center on the joy inside of me.

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Benefit of the Doubt

My six-year-old grandson, Evan, was playing with Legos on the floor and was searching for a particular figure. He described it to me, so I could help him locate it, by saying that it was the one with the smiley face, not the mad face. To him, smiley face equaled, ‘happy’ and mad face equaled, ‘angry’. He wanted the happy one.

I can’t help myself. I asked him, “what do you think the mad faced Lego figure is angry about?

He stared up at me and said, “huh?”

I know it was silly of me to ask, but I wanted to see what he might say. Now I knew for sure. He ought to know better by now that I ask ‘dumb’ questions.

This little episode got me thinking. Do I gauge someone by their facial expression?

Of course, I do. If I see a person with a smiley face, I imagine they are happy. And, if I spot someone with a mad face, I’d assume they are angry. I wonder, how much of the time this is the truth?

There are no doubt a million reasons why someone is displaying one face or another. Then, there is the fact that everyone’s facial expressions change all the time. That makes it even more unlikely that I could make any accurate assumptions about what’s going on inside of them.

I recognize that what they’re experiencing is completely about them, but I also know that I let others emotional states impact me. I let their faces influence me and, if I’m not aware enough, I make some judgements about them or come to conclusions that may be totally incorrect. Once I do this, it becomes all about me.

I try to guard against this tendency by reminding myself that, even on my best days, I can’t possibly know what’s going on inside another person.

And, I ask myself whether I am prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt. To hold in my mind that they are doing the best they can under whatever circumstances they’re facing. And, to offer them whatever support I can for their journey.

I’ve come to realize how powerful it is to give someone, ‘the benefit of the doubt’ and how wonderful it is to receive the same. I sometimes think to myself, what would my life would be like if I did this more often? Or better yet, if I set this as one of my defaults, so that when I initially reacted negatively (with a mad face) to something, I stopped and told myself that there is probably a very good reason for whatever was happening, (shifting to a smiley face).

I grant you this takes practice. From my recent attempts, I’ve come to the conclusion that the practice is well worth the time and effort.

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Joyful

Do you know the TV and magazine ads that promise to help you deal with physical issues you might be experiencing? No matter what problem you have, there’s a drug or treatment that offers you help in managing your symptoms or condition. I’m very glad that this type of assistance exists and it’s wonderful to know that when you need support, it’s available to you.

The last time I saw one of these ads I wondered, is there some kind of pill or treatment for ‘conditional happiness’?

You may be wondering what this is.

Here are some of the symptoms. Do you create certain criteria that must be met BEFORE you can be happy? A list of items to check off, otherwise you think happiness can’t be experienced. Do you find yourself feeling happy and then wonder how long it can possibly last? And then, sure enough, it falls away. Do you wonder how it is even conceivable to be happy, given the state of the world? You want to be happy, but you feel so much stands in your way.

I’d like to propose a radical idea for you to consider.

What if we shifted our perspective? What if we all were designed to be happy? Suppose your core nature contained everything you need to be happy, and that buried deep within you, there is a place of perfect peace. A place you can draw from any time you need or want to.

While I’m thinking about this, I’m considering my choice of words. Maybe ‘happiness’ isn’t the right word. Perhaps, ‘contentment’ would be better. No, contentment feels limited, sort of like settling for something.

How about ‘joyful’? Yes, I like that word. I like opening it up to see that it means, filled with joy. What an awesome concept. I want to be filled with joy.

So, let me start over.

What if we all were full of joy by design? What if we came here to this earth with the capacity to feel joy no matter what we encountered. What if we believed that joy was our very nature. I love the way that feels.

Is this possible for you to conceive? I hope so.

Imagine what the world would be like if we believed that joy is a fundamental part of us, centered deep within each of us.

How would this change things?

Ahhhh, isn’t that the real question?

One important thought comes to me. If I truly believed that I am filled with joy, and that it is always accessible to me, I could see things from a very different perspective. I could allow joy to flow through me and embrace it with delight.

On seeing a person by the side of the road asking for money because they are homeless, I could open my heart and spirit and let my joy overflow. I could open my window and share from my abundance and watch as my joy spread into another person’s world.

I could look around and see the beautiful turn of colors in the leaves. I could get lost in the aroma of fresh baked cookies coming out of the oven. I could glory in the connection with others who share this world with me, like you. I could reveal joy wherever I looked.

Rather than living according to what I see outside of me, I could live from my center of joy. What a wonderful choice to have.

Expectations

I still find it upsetting when my expectations are not met. It doesn’t seem to matter what size they are, the unsatisfied feelings I get are pretty much the same. Some part of me knows there is a wealth of value in every experience of my life, but, when I’m in the moment, I often can’t see that.

Here’s a real-life example.

Despite all of my best efforts, my first website post wasn’t visible on Sunday, October 4, 2020 at 7:30am as I’d promised and I’d expected.

I confess, I panicked. I sat in front of my computer, frustrated, unhappy and frankly more than a little angry. And, I had no idea how to fix the problem. I believe I might even have said a bad word or two. Okay, I did say a bad word of two.

Even though I eventually found a work-around, I realized I had many more changes that needed to be made so that you could navigate more easily. And, so that you can share your comments and read those which others have written. I’m still working on these.

Looking back, I understand that I reacted very emotionally. Nothing specifically wrong with that, after all, I am human. But, were my reactions helpful and what might have served be better?

Well for one thing, I could have stopped and allowed myself to sit in stillness. I could have breathed in and out slowly until my emotions came to a halt. And, I could have allowed a part of me to stand at a distance and observe what was going on inside of me. From this place I could have acknowledged my feelings, encouraged them to speak to me and embraced them. If I had, I might have understood what was beneath the surface. I might have realized that each feeling came to serve me and offer me a message.

Many years ago, my wonderful friend and Unity minister, Jim Fuller, shared in one of his sermons that it is very important to ‘feel your feelings’. This idea was a foreign concept to me and had not been a part of my cultural training. And yet, I sensed how significant and necessary it could be for me.

So, I began expressing my feelings in a daily journal. It’s been almost six years and I’m still writing every day and discovering truths hidden beneath the surface.

And now, back to my opening paragraph about my unmet expectations. When I stood still and gently breathed in and out and let my intense emotions drain away, I found that my fear of failure sat directly on top of me. Fear that I could not manage the technology necessary to communicate with you. Fear, that despite my deep desire, I could not keep my promises to you and share my thoughts based on when I said I would.

So, I turned to Lia, one of my names for (god), which stands for ‘love in action’, and asked for her wisdom.

She reminded me of a simple, yet powerful message she’s offered me in the past, “just show love”. These words sunk into me and allowed the power of my expectations, and the fears underneath them, to fade away, replaced by a marvelous sense of love.

I hope to remember this wisdom sooner next time.