Expectations versus Reality


Image credit: Jeff Wysaski

Today is Saturday, May 11, 2013.

Expectation is the root of all heartache.  –William Shakespeare

I wonder if Shakespeare ever heard about Buddhism.  Buddha said that desire was the root of suffering.  In the Sanskrit and Pali texts, the word “desire” is used interchangeably with “greed,” so the word “desire” isn’t quite the same as what we mean by “expectation” in English.  Nevertheless, the thoughts of Gautama Buddha and Shakespeare are similar  Expectation, per se, is not a bad thing.  It’s when expectation is not rooted in reality, when we expect more than we have earned, that our hopes are dashed by outcomes.   Not only that, but when we continue to invest energy in our unrealistic expectations and allow ourselves to feel entitled to them, that’s when they cause the most suffering.

Take these “Cookie Monster” cookies, for example.  If you have never had a baking disaster like this, maybe you are just lucky, but most of us who have tried our luck in the kitchen have had at least one disaster.  When I was in junior high school, my best friend, Carol, and I bought a box of cherry-flavored frosting mix from a grocery store one summer afternoon.  The box was dusty and it had probably been sitting there on the shelf for a good long while.  We thought it looked delicious, and besides, they had a contest advertised on the back of the box.  There was a recipe for cherry-flavored fudge, to be made with this frosting mix, and the contest was to see who could think up the best name.  With the enthusiasm of youth and the thread of imminent boredom if we didn’t find something to do that day, we decided to make the fudge and take up the naming challenge.  We even had some names thought out in advance, but decided to taste the fudge before choosing one of our names to send in.  In the event, however, the fudge failed miserably, so we gave up the effort.

Or how about the time I decided to make peanut brittle with a Japanese friend of mine when I lived in Osaka?  I bought a candy thermometer and all the ingredients, and we went to her place to make the candy.  We were planning to give some peanut brittle to some people as gifts, as I recall.  The first couple of batches were OK, we thought, although the rapidly cooling mixture was really hard to flatten out into the pan.   I clipped the candy thermometer to the pan for the third batch and we turned up the heat to let it boil to “hard-ball” stage.  I thought it was taking an awfully long time, this time, for the mercury to go up to the “hard-ball” line. I unclipped the thermometer from the pan and lifted it up, only to find that the bottom of the glass thermometer had melted, and all the mercury had run out into the candy.  Needless to say, we threw that batch out.  Then we had an argument about whether the second batch had mercury in it, too.  We finally decided to throw out all the candy, and the thermometer, and the pan.

Then there was the time I bragged to some of my students of English that we had “real apple pie” in America.  Not like that junk they make in Japan.  They went home and tole their mother, who immediately disconnected her gas oven and carried it to my place.  She told me that I was to make an apple pie for her daughter.  Since I had painted myself into this particular corner, I accepted the gas oven and had my husband hook it up.  Then I went to the “American” grocery store in Osaka for ingredients.  (No, they don’t sell flour and shortening in Japanese grocery stories the way they do here.)  It took a whole day to get all the ingredients together.  Then I set about finding and following a recipe for apple pie from one of my many cookbooks, which I do not use very often.  I baked the pie and invited the students over for a taste.  I just happened to have another visitor that day, a Japanese friend of ours from Tokyo, who was in Osaka on business.  I cut the pie for them and waited for their verdict.

“Mmmm…. very nice,” they said, through puckered lips.  I tasted the pie.  I had completely forgotten the sugar.  Tsk…

I wouldn’t say I suffered from any of the above, though.  I was just mildly disappointed.

There have been more serious cases of expectations not matching reality in my life, however.  I expected that my marriage would last my entire adult life, but in fact it only lasted seven years.   I had expected to have kids, but never had any.  I expected to remarry after my divorce, but I haven’t even had a relationship.  I expected to save money for retirement, but I only managed to get out of debt before I retired, which was something, but I didn’t have any sort of savings.   Not having had any children of my own has caused the most grief, but I have to say that when I finally accepted the situation, I began to relax and enjoy the experience I was having, rather than pining for the experiences that I was not having.

My spiritual leader says, “Your state of consciousness is your level of acceptance.”   In other words, if you can accept reality with grace and dignity, even though it doesn’t match your expectations, you are showing a higher state of consciousness.  When we realize that everything that happens in our lives is designed to teach us something or give us the opportunity to manifest a certain quality that we need to add to our repertoire, it makes our disappointments a little easier to bear.  When we give life our best shot, then accept the outcome with as much grace as we can muster, we can avoid experiencing the frustration and grief that can render us helpless to move forward.  When we let go of our expectations, we release feelings of bitterness and frustration.  We can move forward in life and enjoy whatever blessings we have earned. 🙂


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