After a certain age, you get to know yourself. For example, I know the following:
- If I open a box of peanut butter Puffins cereal, it will be empty within 24 hours
- From daylight savings time to the Winter Solstice, my ursine hibernation instinct prevails and I need a crane to get my ass out of bed
- I will punctuate any and every emotionally charged statement that I make with “you know what I mean?”
I can’t really claim be surprised by these events after they happen for the 10th, 20th, or 1000th time, right? And yet, every Christmastime I find myself filling up a mental sac as big as Santa’s with expectations: My family will get along perfectly! I’ll stick to my diet! I’ll finally recapture the feeling I got at the age of 8 while watching my Dad put together our fake Christmas tree without having one of his legendary Christmas light-induced meltdowns (picture Alex Trebek turning beet red and throwing the fully decorated and lit tree out on the sidewalk).
And every Christmastime, I feel disappointed. Of course my family didn’t get along perfectly; we’re not the Waltons after all (and God only knows what happened after everyone said goodnight in that family!). I managed to eat one of each of the 37 cookie varieties my mom baked…for breakfast. Dad still freaked out when the lights started blinking. And that feeling, that sense of wonder and warmth and potential I remember from so long ago, seems to have eluded me once again.
Maybe next year. Or maybe not.
Maybe the disappointment doesn’t come from unmet expectations? Maybe it comes from having expectations at all. Expectations, after all, don’t really exist. They are fabrications made up from external sources, the word “should,” and possibly too many romantic comedies. How can we therefore experience a sense of loss when our expectations do not materialize? And what might we be missing by distracting ourselves with such imaginings?
These are tough times. The holidays are upon us. Kids are writing letters to Santa Claus to ask not for toys but jobs for their parents and a few necessities like socks. And we have a Speaker-elect who can’t stop crying.
My goal for this holiday season is to just be where I am, with the people I’m with, without trying to retrofit the situation to some imagined ideal that has utterly no relevance to my reality.
Before practicing yoga, we often set an intention. Today mine was “no expectations.” And I meant it. Whether I can stick to it remains to be seen. Perhaps this is where “one day at a time” comes in.
Happy Holidays everyone!
I’ve heard that an expectation is a premeditated resentment. Powerful stuff and the more I think about it, it makes perfect sense. So living “in the moment” seems appropriate, but hard work for sure.
@Kristin: I love the concept of expectation as premeditated resentment. How many times do we need to experience the negative effects of expectations before we drop them and just let things unfold? Thank you so much for your thoughtful and insightful comment!
Ah, expectations. My constant enemy and constant companion. I heard one of my favorite authors, Brennan Manning, say: “I will not ‘should’ on myself today.”
[...] Like many people, I have goals for 2011 – one might even call them resolutions. I want to go into the office more (rather than give in to the daily temptation of staying in my pajamas and working from my couch). I want to meditate more, specifically in the morning, when not only is it more restorative but also more likely to happen at all. And I hope to keep previous resolutions – worry less, do more yoga, eat fewer peanut butter Puffins. [...]