Saturday, August 2, 2014

Surrendering from Expectations


Everything except essence is fleeting and will come to an end. That was the message Alan Watts made in his book, The Wisdom of Insecurity.” The passing of some things is easier to see than others. A Galapagos Land Tortoise lives close to 200 years. Some life forms come and go in a matter of days. The parasitic wasp, for example, lives as an adult for 3 days or less. As far as we know the universe, since the Big Bang has lasted 13.7 billion years but it too will end at some point.

Holding on to fleeting form invites suffering. The book of Ecclesiastes begins and ends with:

“Meaningless! Meaningless! Says the teacher. Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless”.

Chapter 2 of the Mahaparinirvana Sutra says,

“In all the world, whatever is born must die.
Life looks long, but by nature an end there must be.
Whatever flourishes always wanes; met, one must part.
The prime of manhood is not long;
Luxuriance meets with illness.
Life is swallowed by death; nothing exists eternally.”

The message is the same. These forms of vapor are easier to see than mental fixations, but the rule still applies. Take for example the mental fixation of expectations. We start each day with a set of expectations. We expect clear skies so we don’t take an umbrella. We expect it will take a particular amount of time to travel from our homes to our destinations. We expect certain acceptable conditions pertaining to our environment. Any one of these expectations may or may not come about. If they do, we are pleased. If they don’t we become upset. Our emotions and repose, balance on the razor’s edge of outcomes to expectations. Nobody can predict exactly what will happen in the future so we walk a fine line and hope for the best.

Often times when things don’t turn out the way we want, we try to force a different outcome. If that fails we may increase the heat and intensity believing that we can dominate and prevail. What is not noticed is the interdependent connection to this forcing. From one side there is shoving. From the other side there is being shoved, which simply invites a responsive shove. What started with our shoving turns into being shoved back which then invites more back-and-forth shoving. Some nations and people have been shoving back-and-forth for so long nobody can remember who made the first shove.

It is impossible to function without making predictions, having hopes and expecting certain conditions. The problem is what happens when our predictions go South. Becoming attached to the outcome is the problem. The secret of emotional stability and release from self-righteousness is to surrender from outcomes. In truth results are not the product of our isolated actions. Both Krishna and the Buddha said: the greatest effort is not concerned with results.We just do our best and release from success or failure

There is, however, a most subtle difference between having no expectations (and possibly no action) of attempting to shape outcomes. I have written concerning this delicate balance in a post In the world: enlightened social responsibility. The story of John Chapman (known as Johnny Appleseed) is instructive in this regard. You can read about what this means in another post: Cleaning house.

It is of vital importance to work for the common good and not withdraw. Ultimately the outcome of any action is not exclusively our own. Our ideas may last an instant or as long as the universe but they will always be approximate—just reflections on the surface of shimmering water.  
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