A Shift of Mind

Rethinking the way we live.

The Paradox of Expectations

The Paradox of Expectations

Beginning a new year often brings forth a review of our expectations and I thought it might be a good idea to briefly examine this topic.  As with many concepts in our culture, we tend to fall well short of fully appreciating what these terms truly suggest and at times, the apparent contradictions that they may evoke. This is certainly the case with the word expectations. Are they to be valued and embraced or do they impede us and distort our life experiences? The answer depends on a host of things.

One size doesn't typically fit all and we need to look at how we employ the word expectations. From the perspective of some spiritual traditions we should be disinclined to attach to expectations as they may block our direct experience of life and impose a bondage of belief upon us. Traditional western values that inculcate and reward achievement honor high expectations, for they drive our culture and our economy.

Some people suffer from a lack of healthy expectations and thus limit their potential and others set unattainably high expectations for themselves and thus assure their frustration and unhappiness. Often, expectations get in the way of our being present as our mind distorts our current experience through the filter of our needs. In this case, we are confronted with a paradox. Are expectations good or bad? The zen answer to this questions is simply, yes. The seeming paradox around this term that may lead to much confusion. A good starting point is to ask if your expectations--or lack thereof---enhance your life experience? Do they assist you in the unfolding of your life or do they justify your unhappiness?

The paradox of expectation shouldn't be resolved by simply saying that they are good or bad. They are neither and they are both. They are what me make them and what we make of them. The responsibility lies within us. As the architects of our lives, we need to be the master of our expectations, rather than be ruled by them. If after a thorough examination, we conclude that our expectations are authentic and self-generated and yet we still struggle in their attainment, we have an opportunity to look at why that is so. On the other hand, if these wishes are not of our own making but merely imposed upon us, we can unshackle ourselves from this burden.

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Mel Schwartz, L.C.S.W., is a psychotherapist and marriage counselor who works toward creating resilient relationships and fostering authentic communication. His website is Melschwartz.com.

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