Note: I originally started studying Aparigraha (non-grasping) in the month of July for this project. And now, as I finally get around to wrapping it up, it is JANUARY. Of the next year. I've been grasping so frantically at everything surrounding me that I fell off completely from this project and had to eventually put it on hold.
For nearly 6 months.
And I've missed it! It's a new year and I have a renewed excitement for diving into the Niyamas this year, as soon as I wrap up Aparigraha below.
Week 3 told me to "notice where I impose my expectations on people and things, unconsciously demanding that they give me the usual fulfillment and comfort," and to ask, "how do my expectations keep me limited and often disgruntled?"
This challenge really speaks to me, especially the "disgruntled" part. I tend to have high (or even just medium) expectations and am often left disappointed, both on a small scale specific to the experience, and on a level that grows from there and can lead me to be unfairly disappointed in the people involved, which then snowballs into being disappointed in humanity and the world in general.
But how do I curb my expectations to avoid letdown??
It's more like I just expect everything to be a high level of awesome all of the time, but I find that most things are just 'fine'. I think it's optimistic of me to expect things to be good, and that's a positive attribute, right? If I lower my expectations, or attempt to dispel them completely, aren't I taking on a pessimistic approach to everything? Is it even possible to eliminate expectations?
I had one excellent opportunity this month to try: a last-minute weekend yoga retreat.
Going into the retreat I forced myself to have zero expectations for the weekend: the yoga, people, the accommodations, ease of travel to get there, etc.. I don't know if my awesome experience was the result of consciously going into it with little or no expectations, or if I was just so f*cking stoked to be out of town and alone for the weekend. Regardless, I enjoyed myself immensely, as well as my fellow yogis, and every activity as thoroughly as I possibly could have. I was totally open, friendly, ego-checked, optimistic, positive, enthusiastic, and willing. I liked everybody and everything and left feeling satisfied and restored. My only expectation was that I would get ample alone time in a nature-y setting and I got tons of that plus so much more. So, success!
Another area in which I really struggle with expectations is concerning my sister. In fact, all of my immediate family members are unknowingly held to my unrealistic standards. If I step back, I know that these expectations are illogical and based solely on my desires, not on their past behaviors or actions. It's like expecting my dog to start speaking Spanish to me just because I need someone to practice with. People are always trying to show us who they are, whether consciously or not. It is my own fault for ignoring it. I had a very long (3+hours) conversation with my sister the other day. We hadn't spoken for months after a harsh falling out. I was able to conclude myself and explain to her that one of the causes of our recent breakdown was unrealistic and ignorant expectations of each other and our ability to have a relationship now, when it's been either non-existent or a tumultuous mess for the past two decades. It seems so easy to recognize now, but it took 6 months to realize it. It was a stark reminder that my having expectations of people--even if I'm coming from a good place of giving someone the benefit of the doubt and being hopeful--is unnecessary at best and harmful at worst.
Facing one finite experience without expectations is manageable. But what about the expectations I have of people in general? Or relationships? When I continue to expect that my family members, friends, partner, bosses, jobs, etc. will be a certain way (admittedly idealized), I am continually left disappointed in them, which isn't fair to anyone. Although I'm really not sure how to go about eradicating a lifetime of unrealistic expectations of the world, I hope I can at least remember to think about doing so the next time I have the opportunity. Which is pretty much every day for the rest of my life.
Week 4: Asks me to notice when I "cling to experiences, emotions, thoughts, habits, and beliefs," and then begin to let go of them.
I'm beginning to remember why this month's concept and challenges took on such a daunting quality.
I am totally fascinated by the science of habits and am compulsively trying to change my own--letting go of bad ones and building better ones. I definitely did that this month, particularly with coffee, booze, my yoga practice, and work.
My coffee consumption has steadily gotten out of hand over the last couple of years and months. It started when I was up at all hours nursing a baby, and then as he grew up the days at home with him were so tiring. I got into the habit of basically drinking coffee all day long, looking forward to my afternoon coffee (something I'd previously never touch at the risk of compromising my sleep) and seeing it as a treat.
There are multiple drawbacks to drinking this much coffee: I already have to pee constantly, and coffee just compounds that; it's dehydrating; it does affect my sleep; but the biggest reason I needed to cut back was that it was feeding my anxiety, something I've been battling the last few years. (Maybe not so surprisingly, right around the time I became a mom...) So I started mixing decaf into my hi-test, reducing my caffeine by about 2/3. It wasn't nearly as hard or painful as I expected (again with the extreme expectations!) Now on days that I drink full-caff, I feel the effects way too strongly--like I'm on a wicked uppper then crash horribly. Anyway, I'm happy to have been able to take control of that habit and get it in check. And although I still pee upwards of 50 times a day, my anxiety notices the difference.
I'm pretty good about questioning the easier ones, like do I believe toddlers should be allowed limited access to screens, especially when his parents are trying to have a civilized dinner out at a crowded restaurant? Yes. Easily yes for me.
And I'll occasionally delve into the deeper ones, like 'Is there a god?' while walking the dog or scrubbing the ring around the bathtub. Usually conclusion-less, but putting in the thought feels productive.
As far as beliefs I may need to get rid of...? I don't think I have an abundance of firm beliefs that I'm really that attached to. On a small scale, I believe children should have firm bedtimes and routines. My husband and his family do not believe in bedtimes. I lost this battle long ago and my son and I suffer for it. Is this even a good example? I had a belief, I still have it, but I let it go, so I must not be too attached to it. On a more meaningful level...I can't even think of a belief I have!! The challenge for this month should be to write down 20+ beliefs I have first, then examine which ones I "cling" to.
So I did that.
Then I examined the list more closely to pick out the beliefs that I am truly clinging to that I should not be.
Here are the top two:
1. That I am an unsuccessful, mediocre person
2. That when we die there is something else. We can get answers to questions, have do-overs, follow alternate paths and see how it would have played out.
I think I can work on letting go of these this year.
Thoughts & emotions I'm clinging to:
I'm trying to think about what I'm really still 'clinging' to in my life--it's not easy. Seriously, you should try it.
The possibility of ever having a normal relationship with my sister? The possibility of 'saving' her along with our relationship (and I guess her relationship with my parents, while I'm at it) and helping her live a normal life?
I think I probably cling to the possibility that my relationship with my husband will one day be deeper and different from what it is today, although I have no facts to point me toward this hope.
I cling to my youth and my physical appearance, trying to squeeze out every last second I can get away with appearing young, healthy, and fit. I am fighting the aging process as hard as I and my bank account possibly can. If I was rich would I have minor surgery to look younger? Probably. A boob lift sounds pretty good.
I cling to old desires, crushes, and fantasies. They are not helpful or productive fantasies, they're just a comfort and they help pass the time when I'm tired or bored or need an escape.
Maybe I cling to past experiences that were more satisfying than my current experiences. Maybe I need to make my current everyday existence into something enviable by my future self.
I think about my past pretty often, because I've always felt that my life peaked in my late 20s. I am aware that this sets me up for a pretty glum present and future, and maybe that belief is what I really need to change through this month's study.