Our entire life’s drama revolves around this: expectations versus reality.
I came to this conclusion after a lot of contemplation of events in my life. Every time I analyzed different experiences—especially the “negative” ones—it became clear that the root cause of my suffering was that the outcome did not match up with my expectations.
This applies to any outcome of any particular activity or interaction with a fellow human being. I guess it does not apply to nonhuman beings, as they don’t respond to us, or rather, I would say, we are not capable of understanding their responses. Hence, we are always happy to talk to our pets, flowers, or things around us.
So, does that mean we should not have expectations? Or can we ensure that expectations always match reality?
I think it’s neither. It is natural for us to have expectations from events or people—but we don’t always have control over all the factors that contribute to an outcome occurring in sync with our expectations. So, what is the solution?
One of the famous ancient texts, the Bhagavad Gita, talks beautifully about this. It introduces us to the concept of Karma Yoga.
कर्मण्येवाधिकारस्ते मा फलेषु कदाचन।
मा कर्मफलहेतुर्भूर्मा ते सङ्गोऽस्त्वकर्मणि॥ २-४७
“Karmanyevadhikaraste Ma Phaleshu Kadachana,
Ma Karmaphalaheturbhurma Te Sangostvakarmani.” (Chapter 2, verse 47)
Meaning: “You have the right to work only but never to its fruits. Let not the fruits of action be your motive, nor let your attachment be to inaction.”
Through this verse, Lord Krishna is saying that one has the right only to perform one’s duty to the best of one’s ability. But one does not have any right to the fruits of actions. This also does not mean that one should escape from performing one’s duty giving this as a reason.
When I first learned about this concept, I could not accept it, as I felt it was advocating something against human nature. I tried applying it as well with the faith that if an ancient scripture is talking about it, then there must be some truth to it—or maybe a hidden meaning that I wasn’t unable to comprehend at the time.
But all I ended up doing was suppressing my thoughts about expectations, leading me to bitterness, sadness, loss, and other negative emotions.
And then an interesting twist happened. During a lecture series by one of my teachers, they explained that it is okay for us to have expectations without being attached to them.
Misery happens when a specific outcome is different from our attachment to an expected outcome. This shift in perspective made a huge impact on me and opened up a completely new way of applying the Karma Yoga concept in my daily life. It has ever since remained in my memory.
I do continue to have expectations, but I’m not attached to them. It takes a lot of self-training and rewiring in our thought process to do this. But once we get there, we can experience a lot of peace within, without internal turmoil, stress, or tension over things we can’t really control. Isn’t it ironic that we spend so much of our energy and time on matters that we have absolutely no control over?
You may ask, it is easier to implement this concept with tasks or activities, but how do we handle it in our relationships? Well, I realized this is the most important key factor in relationships than in any other area of our lives because we are never in control of how another person perceives, processes, or responds to our interactions with them.
In relationships, reality is always different from expectation. The only thing we can do is give our best and hold the space for any possible outcome. This kind of mindset and attitude takes tremendous amount of effort to rewire the old hard-wired thought patterns.
But all our efforts are worth it when we experience freedom and peace within. Words are not enough to explain this state of being. One needs to experience it personally to understand this.
Below are two examples that may help shed some light on what I am trying to convey:
1. Whenever we plan to visit a place, we tend to do some research about the must-visit spots or restaurants to explore. I did the same and had everything planned out.
One time, at the last moment, I decided to dump my plan for the day and explore without having any “expectations.” As I allowed the day to unfold, the places I got to see and the experiences I had were truly amazing, and it turned out to the best day of my entire trip.
This was an eye-opening example for me to understand that it is okay to have expectations without being attached to them. I definitely enjoyed the days I had planned; however, holding the space for “openness” for something other than my expectations made my day even more interesting and filled with fun.
2. A friend recently introduced me to someone. After a few interactions, I made up my own set of expectations about that person, which we all usually tend to do with people after meeting them.
Then, something happened and that person reacted in a way that was completely different from my “set of expectations.” After that incident, I went through my own loop of emotions and learned that the cause of my suffering was my attachment to the expectations I had about them.
When I rewired my thoughts to let go of that “attachment,” their actions stopped impacting me negatively, and I was free within myself without any self-induced stress.
A word of caution here, though. Understanding this concept and applying it in relationships is more complicated and multilayered. There is no one right or wrong method. It is extremely subjective and many other factors may be involved. The above example is a simple event that I shared to give an idea on how we get ourselves entangled into this endless loop of expectations.
To sum it up, I’ve realized that the more I function from the space of Karma Yoga, the more I am at peace within myself, irrespective of the end result. I am aware that I have control over my actions only in a given scenario, never anything else. I ensure that I give my 100 percent, and that’s all there is to it!
The icing on the cake is that when we practice Karma Yoga in every small way possible, the universe has its own way of making our reality much more beautiful than our limited mind’s expectations.
The only trick is to move out of our own path and let life unfold in its own mysterious ways.
I admit that I have not mastered this technique yet and have a long way to go; however, I can vouch for its effectiveness based on the little glimpses of freedom I get to feel once in a while. Such moments of glimpses push me to keep moving forward in this eternal ebb of life’s ups and downs.
They say that the proof is in the pudding. One gets to know whether this technique works or not only when one experiments with it.