Our Enslavement to Expectations


An excerpt from Pain and Suffering in Buddhism.

ISBN 978-0-9953161-0-2

Available from iBooks

Our Enslavement to Expectations

Until we start thinking about it, we are rarely aware that we live a life of almost constant disappointment. We are filled with a sense that things could and perhaps should be better than they are. Buddhists call it dukkha. But it’s only when a large disappointment – an acute disappointment – arises, that we really give our unmet expectations any thought.

I once went for a job interview with a company I really wanted to work with. It was a dream job, really. I was qualified for it, motivated, well informed. I was passionate about the cause - in this case urban parks. I had two interviews that I thought went well. Still, no job offer was forthcoming. Indeed no reply of any kind.

My disappointment around this particular unmet expectation haunted me for some weeks. I won’t say I was depressed, but a certain mental malaise overcame me and I returned to meditation in earnest. During that period, my meditation helped me see that disappointment is a daily occurrence. Everything from getting every red traffic light on the way to work (or seemingly so) to learning there are no more apple pie fritters left at Tim Hortons on a particular morning to finding out the, “New Episode,” of NCSI New Orleans is actually a repeat and, “Why are these bloody people fidgeting so much during meditation?!”

These were little and meaningless disappointments for sure. No one died or went hungry because of my unmet expectations, but they none-the-less nibbled away at the edges of my awareness, causing dissatisfaction with the day, week, month. It was as if every acute displeasure I became aware of, there were a host of minor disappointments slinking in the background, hoping to keep under the radar.

The expectations were not only about how I thought the world should have worked, but my expectations of myself as well. I didn’t leave the house early enough to get to work on time, or get that good seat by the window at the Rooster Café. I recognized that others had expectations of me, that I couldn’t possibly meet. It was almost like I was identifying with the multitude of unmet expectation and defining myself by them ...

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