Navigating Our Expectations
By Jessica Burnham
In light of the holiday season, I was thinking about the technique of navigating our lives through such a busy time, when expectations are at their highest all around. Each year, as Halloween concludes trick-or-treat fun in the US of A, everything begins in the retail world. You start to see the holiday schedules of your local communities publicized. A buzz begins to fill the air as we approach Thanksgiving. Once Santa goes by on the float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade- “Christmas” officially begins- so they say. And with that holiday, a whole slew of other magically spiritual holidays as well. My favorite addition was St. Nicholas Day- being Polish, this always reminded me of the humility of old gift giving. As we put out our shoes the evening before, we knew we would awaken with shoes overflowing with oranges and nuts.
In an age where Christmas always represented huge gift giving, this particular tradition always gave me a remembrance of a time when plastic didn’t exist, and people gave sweet goodies grown from the natural world as a gift. An orange! Or try the great gift of limes in Little Women. Exotic!! As our society has moved on into the 21st Century, the expectations of what the holidays will provide have grown in such dramatic ways. There is the expectation of family gatherings, perhaps family dysfunction- whatever your life’s flavor has grown or evolved into- there is always something to expect. I really notice this with my soon to be step-daughter. No matter how overwhelmed I am, I notice that there is an expectation being communicated- what we need to do next, or how she can’t wait for the next traditional happening to take place.
So how does it play in our life, and what does it mean? Tradition is fun. It is also safe. There is a great scene in the movie Memphis Belle, where one of the World War II pilots is getting ready to fly on his last mission on a team for the plane, Memphis Belle. His dream is to open up a chain of hamburger restaurants, so if you travel to another city- you can still have the comfort of the same, reliable food you have back home. I loved this character’s dream. It always made me laugh, because it touches on our desire for ‘no surprises’ in our daily life.
Apparently, this trait seems to become stronger as we grow up. My Father never wants to try a new restaurant, because he is so afraid of how far he may be stretched into trying something new- which comes with the risk of it not tasting so good, or being exactly what he wants. How does this relate to the depth of the human spirit? And, can we remember to have compassion not only for ourselves, but for others, when life seems to be taking an unexpected turn? When we have an expectation, we have the challenge of seeing how our attachment to the outcome of a situation can really take us backwards.
Without the attachment to how an event will turn out- let alone an entire season- we can be free to experience new, beautiful aspects of our being. This usually begins within our own self perception. How often do we have great expectations of ourselves and how our life will turn out? How do these expectations imprison us with feelings of disappointment, hurtfulness, and entrapment? A lot of the time, when you really look at your expectations, they either come from a place of wanting to please someone else, or please your ego. But if we can go into a situation with the attitude that the present moment and all its gifts is much more powerful than what is going to happen in the future, we don’t waste so much energy on trying to control the world around us, including other people.
Can we really love ourselves even in the midst of our expectations of what we are “supposed” to be like? Can we really love others, when we imprison them with all our expectations of what a mother, father, sibling, husband or friend is supposed to be like? There are times in our life, where we will be challenged by our expectations. They come and they go in waves, depending on our openness and state of mind. I guess a big question we could ask ourselves- what kind of structure could we put into place for ourselves that would assist us in seeing when our ‘great expectations’ are holding us back, rather than propelling us forward into the deepest, spiritual beings we are capable of being- our selves. To be our self, to remember who we really are, comes from letting go of what we believe we are supposed to be, and just being present with what we are at all times.
In the greatest existential circles, we can view our selves as everyone around us. But when we are struggling, and really can’t see our oneness, conflict will certainly be there. If we can utilize our compassion for others around us and within us, we can begin to transform that struggle into something much more magical, without attachment and without expectations. Happy Holidays, and in the spirit of the season- Namaste!