"The root of suffering is attachment." ~ Buddha
"...we expect love if we're offering it to others. Since we expect it, when the time comes to offer love, we're hesitant. Because of this hesitation we fail the test to some degree. That's because we don't know the principle of love. Love can only be offered, not asked for in return." ~ Swami Kripalu
It is said in Buddhism that expectation, or attachment, is the root of all suffering, and in yogic philosophy we find many messages about the importance of nonattachment to the fruits of any and all actions we take. It may seem fallacious to think that all suffering at its core is derived from expectation, but hold experiences of pain and suffering up to close inspection and the truth is revealed. Distill disappointment, heartache, disturbances of all kinds down to their essence, and expectation will be there in some form.
I find myself chronically afflicted by expectation. Even though I have been practicing yoga for over a decade I can't seem to get a grip on this one. No matter what I throw at it, no matter how sincere my efforts are to assuage it, I find it creeping into my thoughts, fueling my actions and impacting my emotions. Releasing expectation is the most challenging of practices, the most elusive of intentions. Expectation is the opposite of yoga because it takes us out of the pure present moment and propels us into future stories and possible outcomes, which are illusions, and may or may not ever come to pass. Expectation is the sharp edge of ego, insatiable and greedy, as soon as it has what it wants, it is on to wanting more. If it doesn't get what it wants it howls and lashes out, or sulks and sinks into lethargy and hopelessness.
Expectation is a bitch.
I am a writer and artist. I dig deep into my very heart and soul to birth each creation large or small. I pour my truth and feelings into words. I used to write and keep my words to myself, for my eyes alone, but a blog is an enterprise of sharing, it requires the bravery to be vulnerable, it begs for generosity. It is a giant leap to go from withholding to generosity, and true generosity does not marry itself to expectation, they are incompatible. I aspire to be generous, but I am only human. I live in a society and culture where expectation is the norm and we learn about it in our earliest formative experiences. As small children we are rewarded and punished alternately for how we are showing up, how we are "behaving". We learn what is expected of us, and we learn that failure to meet expectations causes suffering and pain. We are born into the cult of expectation and fear, desire and aversion, and so we must be fiercely compassionate with ourselves as we begin to bring awareness to these powerful and compelling forces, and invite a new way of being into our lives.
When I write a piece and share it, I work quite intentionally to be conscious of my attachment to a result, my expectations. There are actually layers of expectation I can identify. There is what I expect of myself, what I expect from others, the different currencies I expect to receive, the level of success and validation I hope to acquire.
I put energy and emotion, love and care, into creating art that is genuine and heartfelt, and I offer it to you. The roots of suffering begin there, the moment I put my heart on the line, when I give, I almost immediately start to crave getting something back. This is a set up and it can result in elation and satisfaction, but it can also lead to disappointment and devastation, suffering. The onus of that suffering is mine and mine alone. The principle of love applies to my creativity, it can only be offered, an expected outcome or return is not guaranteed.
Anytime we expect people to be or act a certain way, when we put our happiness in the hands of external phenomenon, when we assume a debt is owed to us, or we feel we have earned certain things, we put ourselves directly in the path of potential suffering. I know this is true for me, I do it all the time. I do it in my relationships, in my parenting, it runs rampant in my quest to be seen, my efforts to be good, my perceptions of progress and achievement. Around every corner expectation is waiting. Some expectations are small and cause minimal vacillations in my energy and emotions, while others are massive, and when I fail to materialize them, can wreak havoc on me, leaving me despondent and feeling diminished.
That is not to say that reasonable expectations don't exist or that we should not stand up for ourselves in our lives. Boundaries must be held and respect must be required of ourselves and others. Expecting to make our way in our lives, have our basic needs met, to have safety and security under our roofs and in our communities is fundamental. We should reasonably expect to have opportunities to seek fulfillment, to be treated as equal beings on the planet and to walk our unique roads in the pursuit of happiness. Unfortunately, we have a long way to go in delivering these basic expectations to all.
In each of our lives, we must do the best we can with what we have in any given moment, seek ourselves and give of our love, be of service. That means to generously share our talents and brightness with the world and to be vulnerable and courageous in this showing and sharing of who we are. The question is how to maintain our own inner balance and harmony even when we are walking on rocky terrain or sailing stormy seas. How do we match effort with ease, will with surrender, desire with contentment?
How can we navigate this maze of inner and outer worlds? How to soothe our anger, how to soften our pride, how to be compassionate warriors in our lives, our relationships and in our communities? Releasing attachment and expectation is the path to true love and contentment. It is the way to peace.
I am not Buddha or a master yogi, so far from it! I can expect to dedicate the rest of my life to this practice of nonattachment and release of expectation. However, awareness is a powerful first step. Although I do not anticipate conquering expectation in this lifetime, I can consider it, I can examine it, I can soften into my breath and attempt to return to compassionate self observation when disappointment and suffering are being experienced. I can lean into the sharp point, feel it, embrace it and give love to it.
The key is love for myself. It has to start there. If I truly love myself, even my flaws, even my greed, even my dark side, all can be integrated. Wholeness is our true nature, love is the way back into our own hearts, but not selfish love, true love. Love that is given without demands or caveats. Love that is given seeking nothing in return. Perhaps this is the work of a lifetime or more, but I sense that this is the way to liberation. I think we can all agree that liberation is what we seek; to be truly free, happy and basking in the light of love, released from the bonds of fear and longing.