So, I was out for a run a few days ago (and trust me, when I say those words - I was out for a run- it’s like a miracle, no matter how many times I say it, because I really heavily and intensely avoided anything to do with running for a good 3 decades).
Anyways, I was out for a run and there was a small portion of it that had a really big impact on me. I thought it would probably be helpful for you too. Here’s what happened.
There’s this beautiful route that I run on next to the Elbow River in Calgary. We’re talking scenic rapids, sunlight glinting on water, Canada Geese and Mallard ducks bobbing through the waves. There was even a beaver last week! Gorgeous. (Not the beaver… it looked suspiciously like an R.O.U.S. from the Princess Bride and it felt highly likely that it could attack at any moment.) The route is what’s gorgeous.
Along this river trail, there’s a long stretch of pathway that’s broken up by an intersection. I’ve done the run enough times to have a fairly good idea of whether I’ll get a little break if the light is red by the time I get to it, or if I’ll be truckin’ along if it’s green.
On this particular day, when the traffic lights came into view, the countdown timer on the pedestrian crosswalk was already ticking down, and so my mind set the great expectation that I would get a little break because I thought it would be red by the time I got there.
I don’t know if something changed with the intersection timing, but as I got closer, it became evident that I could make the light and keep on going. The countdown timer finished but the light stayed green and it stayed green and it stayed green. By the time I got to the curb, it was still green, no yellow in sight and I felt compelled to speed up a little and cross the road.
(And, by the way, traffic light people… what is the point of having countdown timers on the pedestrian crosswalk if it gets to 0 and then there’s another 20 seconds of green light? I don’t get it.)
All in all, this moment could seem pretty minor, but in my mind, I noticed something major going on, not too mention in my body as well.
When I saw the traffic light timer ticking down, I made an assumption that I would get a little break. I was fine to keep going, which is what happens most times, but since I set the expectation that there would be a little reprieve coming up, all sorts of physiological changes started to cascade throughout my body.
My mind also got very quickly attached to “break time”. Then, when there was no reason to stop because the light stayed green, both my mind and body kind of objected. There was a little bit of a victim moment like “Oh no, I don’t get to stop after all and I really could have used that minute to catch my breath.”
Which is total baloney, because my breath rate was perfectly fine and I was feeling completely energized prior to thinking I would get a break.
I also noticed that for a full 2 blocks afterwards, it was like my mind and body had to recover from my expectation not being met. It took extra energy to adjust my expectations.
The whole experience seemed interesting in the moment and I pondered it for a little while and then the whole thing kind of fell out of my head. Until…
Something surprisingly similar happened at home. I had thought that someone else was responsible for the dinner dishes and then I ended up being the one to do them. Again, there was a period of inner grumbling, along with energy required to adjust to what ended up being different from my expectations.
Then I noticed the same thing happening with my son, Oakley. He had an expectation, it didn’t go how he anticipated, and then it took some recovery time. (His experience was much more dramatic, vocal and external than mine were. He is 12, after all.)
And then it happened, yet again, when I had to adjust my expectations around our Mother’s Day plans. 4 times in one week. Something is definitely up, don’t you think?
What’s the takeaway then?
Here’s what I’ve noticed. In the Buddhist tradition, it’s stated that all suffering comes from attachment. For the longest time, I thought that it meant being attached to things and people. However, I discovered in the last few months that the attachment really refers to being attached to your thoughts.
It seems like that’s what’s going on here. When I get attached to a way I think things are going to turn out and then the outcome is different, there’s a little bit of suffering that’s happening.
Do you get attached to outcomes too? If you do, not to worry, it’s totally normal human behaviour to get attached to the mind’s stories. And the great news is that we don’t have to continue to suffer.
I’ve only had a week of practicing, and already I’ve noticed that I can shift that inner victim to at least a neutral experience when I have an awareness that my mind has set an expectation.
For example, the next time I went running, I didn’t get attached to the possibility of having a break if the light turned red. In fact, I told my mind that I would be running for the rest of my life (a little trick I picked up from an adventure racer that dramatically reduces suffering… I don’t know why it works, but it totally does).
Low and behold, when the light stayed green, I was totally ready for it and just kept running without any inner dialogue or attachment.
If we were to put this new outlook into a helpful sequence so you can try it out too, it might look something like this:
>get curious about what your mind is telling you
>notice any expectations that your mind makes up
>when you notice that you don’t like an outcome, see where your expectations got attached to said outcome
>celebrate that you noticed! Say something like “Yay Me! I’m becoming so aware of my mind’s stories!”
>as you practice this awareness, you’ll become more adept at noticing when your mind is getting attached to a story which will reduce your suffering
>be kind and gentle with yourself along the way
I think the most important thing here is to really cultivate an understanding that, although we may think we’re doing something because we want a certain outcome, what we’re really doing from the bird’s eye view is becoming the next best version of ourselves, regardless of what the outcome looks like.
That idea can be tricky to grasp as a human, but as a spiritual being, that’s what you’re all about; embracing and expressing your brilliant, magnificent self, no matter what happens as a result. That’s the only Great Expectation you need to hold close to your heart.
Sending out an extra squeeze to all the mamas out there (whether you’re the mama of kids, fur-babies, nieces and nephews, praying mantises, grandchildren, or of an incredible project…) whatever you’ve created, I celebrate you!
With endless cycles of love and unexpected courage,
Creator of Courageous Self-Care
Mother of 2 exceptional kids and readjusted expectations for Mother’s Day