Suffering resides in the space between expectation and reality.
I’ll offer a few examples:
- Expectation: that my son would outlive me. Reality: He did not.
- Expectation: that cancer was something other people got. Reality: I got it.
- Expectation: that a friend would quit smoking. Reality: he hasn’t.
- Expectation: that the love story would have a happy ending. Reality: not so much.
- Expectation: that there would be non-dairy creamer for my coffee. Reality: nope.
- Expectation: that I’d get in and out of the grocery store with no delays. Reality: Ha!
As you can see, suffering comes in all sizes and shapes. Obviously, some of the expectations and doses of reality depicted above are monumental; some are incidental. And still, in that distance between expectation and reality, the “suffering” (both big and small) lives.
Let’s address expectations first.
I personally find it difficult to move through the world without creating expectations in my mind, but I’ve also come to realize that I control the outcome of VERY LITTLE. So the expectations appear and rattle around noisily in my head, but they don’t have the same power over my emotional landscape that they once held. I consciously made the shift from (a) expectations ruling powerfully over me, to (b) expectations taking a back seat.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t have expectations (or wishes or desires…kind of the same thing for the purposes of this discussion). That would make you a robot! But don’t endow them with so much influence and dominance over you. Hold them casually in the palm of your hand rather than tightly gripped.
And now, reality…
As much as I HATE this expression, “It is what it is.” To me that means: don’t fight or deny what is right in front of your face. This does not mean when you see injustice in the world, lay back and let evil have its way. No! That’s not the kind of surrender I’m talking about. What I mean is to address reality like a martial artist: rather than resisting the force (reality, pain) coming at you, absorb it and then use it to your benefit. Become a Reality Ninja.
What can we do when we are living in that suffering space between expectation and reality? How can we temper our suffering? My suggestion? Get real with the reality. Acknowledge: this is happening and it’s happening to me and it’s happening now. And then ask: how do I want to be with this reality? Do I want to keep suffering or do I want to make peace with these sucky circumstances? It’s a choice.
“It’s a WHAT?!” you may ask. “I did not choose this!” you may counter. “I never asked for this horrible thing to happen!” you may insist. True. You did not choose for tragedy, pain or frustration to show up uninvited in your life. But you have chosen (perhaps unconsciously) your response.
So I say again, finding peace in the space between expectation and reality is. a. choice. Choose wisely. Do not take up permanent residence in that nasty neighborhood of suffering. You deserve better.
Do you agree? Disagree? Do you subscribe to the idea that “pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional”? Tell us more in the comments.
Love this, Celenia – so thoroughly wise, and it’s clear it’s not just a concept for you. You have had to work hard and be pushed to extremis to get to the place where dropping the expectations and therefore the suffering was able to become real for you. Reality can be a hard place to sit, but resisting reality can be even harder…
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Cynthia, you see me! And my message. Thank you.
My expectations are usually high and reality is usually bothersome. Yet, high expectations can benefit me and keep me motivated as I seek what my heart calls for. It’s expectation up against reality, as you share here, that is often hard. Awareness and choice… Yes yes.
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