Most mornings, I open the inner door that leads to our deck, then I open the storm door, and then I stick my head outside. Is it chilly, is it windy, is it damp? I want to tell my girls how they should dress, and to know how many layers I will need for my run.
Recently, John started locking the storm door. For a few mornings, I opened the inside door, and then went to open the storm door, only to meet resistance. With my hand on the door handle, my body kept moving forward expecting the door to move with it, as I banged into the glass. I let out some sort of sound, got aggravated, and unlocked the door with great drama. UGH. Why is this bloody door locked? Why does he have to lock this door?
Then last night at dinner, he told me that there has been a rash of burglaries in town, and so he has been locking the storm door as an extra security measure. I told him I had noticed that. I didn’t tell him how much it had been aggravating me. In my mind it was just a nuisance, another thing to do. Though really, it is not a big deal at all. It’s such a very small thing.
So, why does this tiny little thing get me aggravated? It is all about my expectations. I expect to open one door, and then fluidly open the other door, since it has always been that way. The door being locked isn’t really a bad thing at all. But my reaction to it, may have been.
This morning, I opened the inner door, stopped for a second to unlock the storm door, and then opened it. Pleased that I had remembered that it was locked, like one of Pavlov’s dogs. And it had only taken me a few days of banging into the door to learn! I stuck my head out into a cool, dry day. Two layers should be good.
After I walked the girls to school, I started my run down the hill to the park. I began to think about the door. I wasn’t angry with John for locking it, although the words in my head may have suggested that. I was just surprised by the situation. Surprised that the door wasn’t unlocked as it always had been. I had an expectation that had been established through daily ritual, and it was no longer being met.
I didn’t even know I had that expectation until it wasn’t met. This led me to wonder, how many other things do I expect and not even realize? Am I expecting things from other people without knowing it? And if I don’t know it, how can they possibly know it?
In my life, I can think of a few people who have been frustrated with me, disappointed in me, even angry with me, because I did not meet their expectations. But I can’t be responsible for what they expected of me. I can’t own that, they have to own that. I don’t know what someone expects from me unless they tell me (and even then, I may not completely get it). I can’t do what anyone wants me to unless they communicate that to me clearly.
Just like I can’t think people should meet my expectations, whatever they may be. How could John possibly know that locking this door would frustrate me for a week (maybe I’m not such a fast learner)? How much of my aggravation and disappointment and anger comes from something as simple as my own expectations not being met?
I seem to get annoyed by the little things. And I’m realizing they all have something to do with my own expectations. Of course, I don’t think they are unreasonable. I expect there will be milk in the fridge in the morning for my coffee. I really expect that no one drank the last drop with her cookies the night before. I expect that there will be a bar of soap in the shower when I get in there, I don’t expect to be standing there under the stream of water when I see that someone has used the last of it.
We are expecting things every moment of the day. We expect things from inanimate objects. The alarm clock will sound at 7:00 am. If it doesn’t everything will be thrown off for the whole day. We expect things from strangers. The woman in front of us should drive at least 60 miles per hour. If she doesn’t, it’s early morning road rage for sure.
We especially expect things from those we spend the most time with; our partner, our parents, our children. We have seen their behavior over and over, so we think we know them, and how they will act and react. The have spent a lot of time with us, so they think they can predict our actions and reactions. We put a lot of pressure on each other based on those expectations. Whether we realize it or not we are always expecting them to act in a certain way. And they are always expecting us to act in a certain way. This can be frustrating for everyone involved. It is especially frustrating when someone is trying to make changes in themselves, their behaviors, their lives.
I started to think about my girls, and the pressure I may be putting on them because of my expectations. We put so much pressure on our children nowadays. Their world is full of pressure and expectation. My mind drifted to all of the special needs children that I know, probably because of the article I read yesterday about the current Autism rates. The chances of having an autistic child are now 1 in 88. You expect to have a healthy non-autistic child, but your chances are now 1 in 88. That is just amazing to me.
We all know children with special needs, and we know that autism lives on a spectrum. But I started to wonder… Don’t non-autistic people live on a spectrum too? Doesn’t every person have their own special needs? When a child who has been “classified” as special needs accomplishes things, we celebrate. The (seemingly) littlest thing, like making eye contact, buttoning their own shirt, saying “I love You” are cause for great celebration! And rightly so! But it is usually because they have surpassed our learned expectations.
We expect our unclassified kids to do things a certain way as well. When they don’t pick up after themselves, don’t get a B on a test, don’t sit still and behave, we get frustrated, mad, or disappointed. I think that we have to learn from those special people in our lives, that everyone is special, everyone is different, and everyone is the same. We should celebrate the amazing little things that everyone does. We should not project our own expectations onto anyone.
Expecting something to happen is a matter of control. It is another way our minds trick us into believing that we have control over things, believing that things, and people, are a certain way and will always be. It is the illusion of order and permanence. When we set expectations, we attempt to exercise some sort of control over our future. We become attached to the outcome of our actions, instead of simply being present in the moment. While we may believe that setting expectations is a good thing, it really is quite the opposite of mindfulness.
And so now I bring this all with me, back to the yoga mat. In a yoga class the instructor tells us to inhale our arms up over head and then exhale down to a forward fold. We expect them to then tell us to inhale to the flat back. A learned expectation. If we are asked to come up to chair pose, or go down to squat in malasana instead, it may rock our yoga worlds, and disturb the flow in our own heads. Expectations. Looking ahead. Anticipating that the next thing will be what we thought it would be. If this happens, we are not really in the moment, simply being, and breathing.
So why not expect nothing at all? Just be open to whatever may or may not come next. Good, bad, indifferent, living in the constant flow of things. Letting go of all expectation is a difficult thing to do. It is like the first step of a 12 step program: admit that you are powerless. Admit that it is possible that nothing will ever meet your expectations.
As I ran and thought more about it, I realized that everything in this world is based on expectation. I expect to go on vacation next month. I expect to be here in this house tomorrow. I expect to be breathing two seconds from now. I was expecting to run my three-mile loop this morning. But after only a short distance, I realized that the Achilles-tendon-ankle-thing I’ve been dealing with was not going to let me. I could have gotten frustrated, aggravated, mad at my body, my sore and aging body. Instead, I slowed my pace, and altered my course.
I started to think about the way we used to travel before we had kids. Get in the car and pick a direction. North? South? Let’s go West this weekend. No reservations. No itinerary. No expectations. Anything we did was just another part of the adventure. I want to live my life like that. Like I am on an adventure. No itinerary. Letting go of all of my expectations, one by one, as I come to know what each one is.
I expect it won’t be easy.