26. Better Than You Expected

Good morning and welcome to your twenty-sixth meditation. Today we’re going to talk about expectations. One of the mixed blessings of being human is our ability to think abstractly. We can go beyond what is concretely before us to a world of imagination, of the theoretical and the hypothetical. This skill serves us remarkably well in countless respects. It allows us to conceptualize potential risks and so steer clear of harm’s way; it allows us to make plans and to conceive of elaborate projects that can be realized based on those plans; and it allows us to hold on to past experience, analyze it, and build upon it so that we are always growing. And of course, abstract thinking allows us to moralize, to say this is right and that’s wrong, and to imagine how we think the world should be. This is all fine and good. Constructing one’s own moral compass is an important part of being human. The trouble arises when we expect the world to be as we feel it should be. This is a recipe for disappointment, frustration, and even bitterness. And, as well-intentioned as those expectations may be, more often than not they don’t actually help anyone. On the contrary, they can easily lead to resentment on the part of others who feel as though you are imposing standards on them that don’t or shouldn’t apply to them. It is important to remember that there is no one moral conception of how the world should be. So whatever the moral tenets are that we have arrived at through our own life experience, we have to be careful about applying them to others who have cultivated a different moral system that has been informed by their unique experience.But how do we curb something as natural as having expectations? It may help here, rather than focussing your energy on not expecting, to focus on trying to be more present. Acknowledge how you feel in response to a person or a situation in that moment. Pay attention to, and focus on, what is happening, instead of what you think should or shouldn’t be happening. In this receptive state you will be much more able to derive joy from all the little things that we tend to take for granted when we are distracted by the hypothetical. Remember that how another person thinks, feels, or behaves is beyond your control, and the same is true of the outside world in general. Simply agonizing over all the things in the world that are not as you feel they should be will only come at great cost to you, and likely render you still less capable of realizing your vision of how they should be. Rather if you concentrate on what you can control – working toward your goals, being receptive to the world,  honing your own values, and responding to people and situations according to those values – you will make an example of yourself, influence those around you, and have the positive impact that before you were only wishing to see in the world. No longer will you only be theorizing about what the world ought to be, but you will be making your world what you want it to be. So try it out! The results will likely be better than you ever could have expected. Keep it up. You’re doing great. Have a wonderful day.

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