Purposeful Wanderings – Bradford L. Glass – October 2022
“To control your cow, give it a bigger pasture.” – Zen Master Suzuki Roshi
She should. He’s supposed to. They expect. We deserve. I’m entitled. We hear these words everywhere … oftentimes spoken with such conviction it’s tempting to believe them. But as a student of both consciousness and language, I’m intrigued not so much by the words, for all are “opinion only,” but by the force behind them. This energy is almost always a sign they’re not getting … what they should, or expect, or deserve or are entitled to. Why so?
All five of these ways of speaking share an evidence-free assumption or belief: a judgment … that the way things [already] are is somehow not OK … which leads to an implication that things need to be different, and then that some other person (or perhaps “life”) must change … to make them OK again. All involve a belief in, and need to, control what happens. What differentiates them is their growing level of perceived entitlement to the outcome.
We’ll never accept how life is if we’re in the middle of trying to control it. But perhaps, right now, in these moments of quiet reading, you might try an experiment: imagine all of life’s shoulds, expectations and entitlements as subtle forms of revenge. Here’s how it goes: you start by inventing a mental picture of “how things are supposed to be.” You name someone else, or “life,” to blame for why it’s not that way now, then hold them accountable for making it turn out. When they invariably fail (and they will, because you never asked and they never agreed), you then believe you have the right to be resentful of how they let you down because things didn’t turn out. This explains the “extra energy” in your conviction: even if only unconsciously, you know your conviction was made up in your head, so you need to keep it alive by pushing it – often with force. (By contrast, truth never needs to scream.)
I recall an idea from The Shack, by William Young: there’s a big difference between expectation – something has to happen a certain way, and expectancy – anything is possible. The self-centeredness of expectation makes your world small by justifying your resentment and revengefulness. The openness of expectancy actually creates new potential, filling you with curiosity about the next moment. The difference between the two – releasing judgment.
It’s easy to talk about releasing judgment and it’s obvious how peaceful life might be if we did it, but we need more than “knowing” in order to change. What’s required is the felt experience of knowing, a way for our “knowing” to get inside us, so it affects us deeply, thereby altering our ways of seeing and thinking.
The exercise that follows was transformative for me many years back; it formed one of the stones in the path to peace and freedom I walk (and still keep paving) today. It helped me find that “other voice” inside me – a calmer, quieter, yet more confident voice (remember, truth doesn’t need to scream). That voice reminds me:
· the way life is, right now, is just the way it is; neither my opinion about it, my dislike of it, nor my belief that it should be different have any impact whatsoever on what is already true.
· I’m entitled to nothing; there are no shoulds; moreover, expectations lead to resentment.
· while I may deserve nothing, I have everything – curiosity, creative genius, compassion, acceptance
· how I respond to what’s true is therefore a choice; I can choose judgment, blame and complaint for what I think should be, or I can choose creativity for what I envision could be.
· today is a gift – for me to honor my creative genius, open to new possibilities, create a life that represents my inner truth (maybe even discover more of what my truth is), and live in gratitude for who I am and all I have.
· tomorrow is a place of limitless potential, a world not yet invented, a world willing to shape itself to match the greatest thoughts and dreams I hold about myself and my life.
It’s a simple, but significant, choice: If your energy goes into finding what’s wrong (with others, life, even yourself), you’ll never find what’s possible. Your own authentic truth is waiting for you – waiting for you to discover it, to listen to it, to honor it, and to express it through how you live your life. This, perhaps, is life’s “big choice.”
Exercise: Think about your many experiences of expectations. Who’s expecting something of you that holds you prisoner? Is it working? Exactly what happens inside you that holds this prison intact? What are you expecting of others that holds them prisoner, and makes you resentful? How does that work – for you, for them? How does this make you feel? Try letting go (either in your mind for now, or in real life). What happens to your energy? And to the relationship?
Here are a few deeper questions that can accelerate your journey. What if you could learn to see the world (maybe even yourself) with curiosity instead of judgment? What if you didn’t have your mind already made up? What if you were willing to have your questions change you? What if you actually had to think forward, to understand the implication of opinions you hold so strongly? What if you had to think backward, to understand the thinking that brought you to those opinions in the first place? Would you still think as you do? Do you have the courage to explore these ideas more deeply (rather than just read about them), and discover how they may impact your ways of seeing and thinking and being? Unlike judgment-based thinking, curiosity-based thinking leads, in the external world, to relatedness and compassion, and in your internal world, to learning and self-love. It sounds peaceful already, even before trying it out! Imagine the potential here.
Life Lessons from Nature: Rivers don’t “expect” anything from us. And we generally don’t “expect” anything of rivers either. Yet here they are – constant, even in their infinite change and variety, seemingly content to be rivers. Rather than expecting something of the land they traverse, rivers adapt to their environment, accepting what’s there, controlling nothing, and “finding a way” past any obstacles. (You may even think of your “expectations” as obstacles in your river!) Instead of adopting the notion that they must look a certain way, rivers take what’s available, and work with it as it is. A young mountain stream pushes its way down the slope, carving a straight but chaotic channel. This suits the land it encounters. A “braided stream” has many channels, complexly interwoven, and traverses a broad, level valley; it is at the same time one river and many rivers. And this suits the land it encounters. Both are rivers; both “work;” both make it to the sea. Neither expects anything from the land; neither gets resentful that it has to take this turn or that turn; neither takes it out on the land for what the land did or didn’t provide. The land and the river act as a system, in a rhythmic dance where both flourish in a symbiotic oneness that shows up for us as the beauty of nature. Rivers change the shape of everything they encounter, while judging or competing with nothing. What if the river of your life could expect nothing of its surroundings?
Book of the month: Embers: One Ojibway’s Meditations, by Richard Wagamese. Perhaps a perfect antidote to our obsession with a world outside ourselves, Embers offers a path back to the world inside ourselves. As do I, you may find his words evokinga truth uniquely your own. “I am a traveler on a sacred journey through this one shining day. I keep what’s true in front of me (my heart and my silence). I won’t get lost that way. I pack light. I don’t tire myself with unnecessary stuff, like my head, my talk. To live in ceremony is the greatest and truest gift I can give to myself. All we have are moments. Live them as though not one can be wasted. Inhabit them, fill them with the light of your best good intention, honor them with your full presence, find the joy, calm, assuredness that allows the hours and the days to take care of themselves. If we can do that, we will have lived.” And if you’re on Cape Cod, you’ll find this book at the Market Street Bookshop in Mashpee Commons; 508-539-6985.