I recently saw The Band's Visit, a musical about an Egyptian band who accidentally goes to the wrong town in Israel and stays the night there with the locals.
After the show, my friend said, "If I described the plot, it would sound like nothing happened, but the entire experience was so emotional." (Sometimes how life feels, no?)
My other friend said, "That show is like a poem."
My friends are more articulate theater critics than me. My take: they mention Rumi in a song lyric (!), what more do you need?
Now, I fully realize there is possibly no one else on the entire planet who'd get as excited as I did when the beautiful actress sang, "Is this a hymn? Is this a love song? Something ancient by a poet, maybe Hafiz, maybe Rumi?"
It was a moment when two things I love—musical theater and Rumi—converged. I realize now that the true joy stemmed from it being entirely unexpected. I would've never expected to go to a Broadway show and hear someone sing about Rumi; it was a possibility my mind never entertained.
Later in the song (called Something Different) she sings:
"Nothing is as beautiful as something that you don't expect."
I've been contemplating expectations. In May, my meditation retreat leader said:
"Expectations are like drinking rat poison and thinking it will kill the rat."
Still, most of us can't help but envision our lives working out a certain way. We think things should happen and that we should do certain things. We carry these expectations for the world (outer) and for ourselves (inner) around on our shoulders and, over time, they become terrible burdens.
I think we get so caught up in expectations because we believe:
a.) It's "easier" to live in the future than the present and
b.) We "enjoy" prolonging the illusion that we have control
Yet, ultimately, it is not easy and less enjoyable living with the heavy weight of expectations. It's kind of like working a job that's tearing your soul apart—yet it somehow feels easier to stay. It's likely not actually easier to stay, not in the long run, but inertia is powerful. Similarly, we've been drenched in expectations since birth—it's difficult to imagine life without them.
I wrote about clinging and practicing aparigraha—the Sanskrit word for non-clinging, non-possessiveness, non-attachment. Aparigraha has been applicable in many aspects of life, including releasing expectations.
You likely carry more expectations than you consciously realize (I know I do). For example: We think if we work hard, we should get financial security. We think we should find someone to marry. We think our partner should meet our every need. We think the baby in the seat next to us on the airplane shouldn't cry.
I mean, we actually think (consciously or subconsciously): a baby shouldn't cry. Then get upset and annoyed when a baby cries. Consider how absurd it is to even allow your mind to entertain the thought: a baby shouldn't cry.
Drinking rat poison, you guys. Drinking rat poison.
Equally ridiculous are the inner expectations we have for ourselves. E.g.: I should work out more, I shouldn't have bought that, I should have texted her back sooner, I should've emailed him, I should call my mom, I should drink 8 cups of water everyday for my entire life, I should stop swearing, I should learn Spanish, I should go to the dentist at some point as an adult, etc., etc., etc.
An expression for this common phenomenon: Should-ing all over yourself.
There's likely some religious basis to this obsession with should-ing. The church is clearly super into the Ten Commandments; sermons often feel like long lists of "Thou shalls" and "Thou shall nots."
Well, no offense to Moses, but I'm working on cutting the word "should" from my speech (and thought) entirely, because I view "should" as a form of resistance. We are either resisting others (She shouldn't have said that!) or resisting ourselves (I shouldn't have eaten that entire pint of Ample Hills Ooey Gooey Butter Cake ice cream!) or resisting reality (It shouldn't rain!).
Resisting, to me, is a form of not loving. Not loving someone as they are, not loving yourself as you are, not loving the present moment as it is.One of my favorite spiritual adages is this: What you resist, persists.
So when you drop the expectations, it can be (counterintuitively) transformative. For example, you may find you no longer eat the whole pint of ice cream, not because you think you shouldn't but because you'd rather eat in a more nourishing, loving way.
Love and acceptance can be transformative forces with others as well. I know when I say "drop expectations for others" it can sound like I'm saying "lower your standards." I am not. I am suggesting, though, you stop pretending you can control other people. You can control other people about as effectively as you can control the random baby on a plane. That is, not at all. But why would you want to? Mother Teresa says:
"When you're busy judging people, you have no time to love them."
And when it comes to dropping inner expectations, I'm not suggesting you abandon any "moral code." Should you steal, murder, or lie? Probably not. But when you operate from a place of Love, you won't steal, murder, or lie—not because someone told you "You shouldn't!" but because Love, in its natural state (which I believe is your natural state), doesn't do those things.
[Aside: Not stealing from someone because you feel you shouldn't is a fear-based action. (You fear getting caught.) Not stealing from someone because you care about them is a love-based action. The end result is the same, yet I'm beginning to believe in the underrated importance of underlying intentions.]
Ram Dass says:
"It is important to expect nothing, to take every experience, including the negative ones, as merely steps on the path, and to proceed."
Maybe the point of the story of the Ten Commandments, of Moses climbing Mount Sinai and hearing God's voice, is not that we need to fill our heads with "shoulds" and "should nots"—but that we need to climb mountains and listen to the sky.
When you drop expectations, you create space for beauty, space for the divine. You don't need to live in the future when you can feel how beautiful the present is.
Nothing is as beautiful as something that you don't expect.
with Love and with Light,
p.s. Rumi's take on poems and music (and musicals like poems?): "Poems are rough notations for the music we are."
p.p.s. "What you resist, persists" stems from psychologist Carl Jung's work. Jung takes it up a notch and says: "What you resist not only persists, but will grow in size."
p.p.p.s. My favorite book on shedding expectations is Byron Katie's Loving What Is. And when Eckhart Tolle had his spiritual awakening, described at the beginning of The Power of Now, the two words he heard were: “Resist nothing.”