Free yourself from expectation
“All suffering comes from expectation” -Buddha
Part of the second of the Buddhist Four Noble Truths posits that, while we know suffering exists (1st truth), it is our desires and attachment, our clinging and craving, that are the base causes of this suffering. Expectations, a desired and defined outcome that is often quite different from the reality we find ourselves in. The 3rd truth offers us a contingency plan for dealing with our suffering – detachment and freeing oneself from desire and expectation. So, suffering comes from a wanting, a craving and the pathway to freedom is through detachment. In the Buddhist tradition, this sought freedom is one of spiritual liberation yet it also it has a pertinent place in easing daily life and creating space for the us to inhabit our own mind and body: to evolve our awareness of our thoughts, behaviours, attachments. Simple yet hard.
Yoga offers us numerous tools for this journey to freedom, remembering that Yoga is an ancient expansive philosophy that encompasses more than mere asana. Let’s begin with the physical practice itself: Iyengar tells us that Asana is meditation in movement, requiring a union of body and mind with a depth of attention to the layering and knowledge of any given asana. His attention to detail was immaculate. A hard task master who demanded deep concentration and steely determination from his students. Detaching from expectation is not abandoning all goals, but more about being alive to the process than coveting the outcome. All Yoga asana awakens us physically and moves us through a range of movement and potential, but the faster we move, the less we feel. In the Yin and Restorative styles of practice we have time on our side, time to sharpen our acuity and discernment, unpacking the experience. In the Yin Style of yoga we practice “functional anatomy” understanding the intention of the pose, adjusting the pose to fit our unique body and, in so doing, abandoning aesthetic, freeing ourselves from expectation. As long as you feel it in the targeted area (the intended function) then you are doing the pose.
It is a powerful act of letting go and surrendering to what is, an unbounded discovery, the unwrapping of sensations and awareness. It is a mantra of its own: to truly let go is really about the freedom of presence.
Releasing yourself from a desired outcome opens the door to true listening and begins to shed light on what is, right here, right now, unfiltered. We do this working from the gross to the subtle, from noticing how you meet a pose to eventually observing your patterns of movement, of breath, temperature, and even pulsating energy flow. There is a certain discipline underpinned by curiosity in acknowledging and receiving resistance in the body and/or mind whereby leaning into the discomfort, we not only note that this too will pass all things are transient, by leaning into the discomfort there is engagement with challenges and discomfort, potentially growing our own resilience and enhancing our capacity for change. The grounds for self-compassion. How can we empathize with suffering of those we love, if we cannot be with our own suffering? A mindfulness, or bodyfulness, approach is one of tuning into the body, becoming familiar with its knowing, the thoughtless wisdom inherent within our very cells of the body. B K S Iyengar says in Light on Life “While I continually try to improve my practice, I do my best and I am contented with what I am able to attain. Even as the body ages and is able to do less, there are subtleties that reveal themselves, which would be invisible to younger or more athletic bodies. You have to create love and affection for your body, for what it can do for you. Love must be incarnated into the smallest pore of the skin, the smallest cell of the body, to make them intelligent so they can collaborate with all the other ones, in the big republic of the body”
Acquainting ourselves with our own aliveness and in culture that values mental action over feeling and productivity over being, this becomes an act of rebellion. To listen we need to be still, to sense the subtler oscillations, broadening our lens of understanding for our perceived reality is reflective of our sensory world. Interoception speaks of a coherent relationship with the self and all the body systems, enabling us to communicate and interpret a vast range of internal signals, from the accessibility of breath right down to the beating of our hearts and our sense of hunger and satiety. Disrupted awareness of sensory information is connected to emotional dysregulation since emotions are inextricably linked to our body state and causes of distress, and equally joy. Imagine getting angry without being tense or joyful without smiling. Our capacity to acknowledge and note our state is critical for self-regulation. And much like yoga and meditation itself, this too is a practice. A practice of listening inward, not turning outward (pratyahara). Heeding and receiving yourself, body, mind and state, just as it right here, right now instead of expecting and desiring it to be different. Arriving at feeling just enough, not pushing or forcing, about being enough as you are, for now, right now. It is simple, but not easy, but the more we practice letting go of expectations, the more present we become, the less we suffer.
As we find ourselves in what is still a uniquely globally challenging time, where we have had be fluid and unattached to outcome, and engage with the unknown, it is interesting how hard people (myself included) have grappled with the whirlwind of it. So this can potentially be a tool that not only creates the environment for inquiry on the mat but feeds into our daily lives as a tool for life, for regulation. Freeing yourself of expectation is not about giving up, it’s a process of easing your own suffering by simply yielding to what is.
“True happiness comes from contentment with whatever one has, not with thinking that one will be happy, when one gets all that one desires” Bryant (2009) II:32 commentary on Santosa, the second Niyama.