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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Aware Expectations

I was just a kid, excited about going on a trip. Because the logistics of going on a trip were beyond me and depended on many factors about which I knew nothing, the anticipated fun event didn't happen. Or course, I was crestfallen. 

Fortunately, I had very wise parents who took my childish disappointment very seriously. They apologized for giving me the idea that this exciting thing was going to happen. But they also made me realize that I had built up the expectation on my own, with very little encouragement from them. They hadn't committed the family was going to go on this trip, they had stated they were going to explore making a decision about it after they researched the details. The trip was going to happen eventually, but not when and how I had expected it.

They attributed me building up my expectations to how much I like to make up stories; making me see that I had created my own disappointment because I had a talent and a passion for storytelling. They helped me to realize that I couldn't blame them for being the cause of my distasteful disappointment. If fact, I came to understand that because I liked to make up stories and explanations for many things, that I couldn't blame anyone else for that talent in me. The nature of talent is that it is irresistible. Paradoxically enough - talent can be
 almost an obsessive curse.

But still, here I was, causing my own emotions, feeling bad and how was I going to deal with it? Surely this expectation that I'd built so carefully into a blissful state of excitement wasn't a negative thing?

Even if an adult promised me who had the ability to make these things happen, was it really in my best interests to expect it and possibly make myself feel bad if it didn't happen? I realized that, so many events and factors were out of my own knowledge and influence, things could go wrong for grownups too that were unexpected. It was possible for disappointment to happen to me at any time because of what I had packed with meaning by doing this expecting. How was I going to use my irresistible ability to tell stories to make me feel good instead of bad?

Fast forward to me being thirteen years old. I had met a girl who lived a few doors down from me during the summer and we had become best friends. Although we both felt no sexual attraction, both of us sorely needed companionship because we had been isolated loners, (undoubtedly myself more than her.)

We both loved concerts. Aside from spending every minute with each other, we worked toward attending concerts in a very practical way. Being a bit older than complete children, we were better at making arrangements ourselves to make it actually happen. We planned a strategy for getting the money to pay for the tickets, arranged a ride to the event by convincing other people to accompany us, got parental permissions, a place to stay afterward, etc.

Gleefully, we gave ourselves the license to plan out everything everyone was going to say and the situations where they were going to say it as if we were assembling a movie storyboard - scene by scene. But what we did with our ability to tell stories to build anticipation 
became more than a fascination or entertainment for us. Inadvertently, we used our skill at building expectations as a sort of spiritual koan, (even though we didn't know the meanings of those words at the time.) 

Here was the magic ingredient to making the building of expectation to be a positive thing rather than becoming inevitably disappointing when reality did not match our fantasies. The magic ingredient was to completely surrender whatever our expectations were as the event began to unfold in reality. Our expectations then worked to allow us to focus and pay attention to every detail that we were, in fact, experiencing. We were lucky in that, sometimes our real-time experience was better than what we had imagined. Of course, we were also partly motivated to allow a shift in our attention by knowing we were going to be discussing every detail later.
...Something else made it work like a charm. Somehow packing our excitement into such a focused expectation put energy behind our experience in ways we could not have known. Our awareness levels expanded far beyond our dreams to make the experience more than memorable. We shifted in our ability to be present and aware. It was better than any drug.
 It was our ability to tell stories, to expect in intricate detail and then completely toss away our own expectations (and polishing all of these as a talent) that had gotten us so far. 

Later we realized that any event could take on the characteristics of what later would be defined by behavior researchers as "flow" or "peak experience."  What we had done (and would do many times following) was similar to a koan. A koan is an unanswerable question given by a guru to a spiritual seeker to focus attention and intent. We had focused our skills (storytelling) with a big investment of our energy, (building expectation through exercising a talent) and then released the energy by giving up or surrendering our investment, (allowing a shift in attention.) What we got was a shift in our ability to pay attention (called "flow" or "peak experience") that worked far beyond any of our expectations.

So, now you have another example that you could use to solve problems of what to do with your own expectations  - by using it as a spiritual practice!