Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Expectation to Aspiration

Summit Achieved
I've always had pretty high expectations, which means I'm easily disappointed, and sometimes, easily discouraged when it seems that the realistic solution falls short of what I expect. It's not a helpful pattern. The output is disappointment, and the follow-on processes can be destructive to happiness.

I realize that expectations are the root of suffering, and yet, for me, for a long time, they were the sun that beckoned seeds to grow from soil. Meeting and exceeding expectations felt rewarding, providing feelings of worth and accomplishment, pride in measuring up well to standards. I guess it's easy to mistake those feelings for happiness. It's easy to spend so much of one's mindshare on expectations that deeper forms of happiness, like relationships, body-care, and pursuit of purpose, grow shallow roots.

My work is from Expectation to Aspiration. I'm about a dozen years in, and still so far from my Aspirations that I tend to disparage myself, forget how far I've come. Or maybe, I feel embarrassed at how far I've come, and what that means about where I was if this is where I am. You see, still I turn my aspirations into expectations, so they grown thorns instead of flowers.

What is the difference between expectation and aspiration, then? Expectation implies failure if not met in full as defined. Aspiration implies work, experiments, and time to accomplish, allowing some fluidity in definition. A subtle but profound shift of the lens I use to see the world, to judge what's happening, to choose my actions.

Where Expectation demands to be met and judges failure, Aspiration floats above, forgiving us for not meeting her impossible desires while constantly beckoning towards them. Aspiration lets Now be perfect in its imperfection. Aspiration allows What Is to be a starting point, rather than an intolerable state to be corrected. To me, this feels more hopeful, less demanding; more inspiring, less driving. I like to feel hopeful and inspired better than demanded-on and driven. Less adrenaline. More calm curiosity. I choose this way to live. But where does that leave me for earning in the expectation-driven world?

I aspire to shine my light brightly enough that the people who need it, see it. Now, I look for ways to meet and exceed expectations that people are willing to pay for, as a natural consequence of pursuing this aspiration in particular directions. It's a careful balancing act, and I'm fairly clumsy. Also, my imagination has PTSD.

It's not an easy path. Expectations were clearer, especially when other people set them for me, and the rewards were more immediate. The consensus view of reality might say I was happier then. But my view of reality has a whole different understanding of happiness, not as a feeling but a state, and isn't that really the ultimate Aspiration? Happiness as a state?

Focus work this week: detach from expectations about how things should be, by watching for instances where my expectations are causing me suffering

1. notice suffering and remember that it's caused by expectation
2. assess the priority of the expectation in the context of an aspiration
3. remember that everything is exactly as it must be for anything to exist (and that even if that's not true, it doesn't really matter, because reality just IS)
4. decide to allow "what is" to be fine
5. Calmly take action that supports my aspiration