Letting Go of Expectations

This morning, I selected a guided meditation on gratitude from the meditation app that I use. I wasn’t looking for a gratitude meditation, I was looking for a Bodhisattva meditation but this was the closest I could find.

At first, I was put off by the style of the recording. It felt overproduced, with that synthesizer that sounds like chanting, waves, the occasional birdsong, and the voice felt over-soothing, like my mother’s voice when she answered the phone in the middle of chewing us out: too calm. I’ve abandoned guided meditations for less.

Then I reminded myself that I am trying to study Bodhisattva and that this judgmental attitude was contrary to the practice. I was reminded of Jack Kornfield’s teaching that sometimes in meditation, your mind fights meditation by insisting that it can’t be here now: you have too much to do, the room’s too cold, your meditation pillow is too hard. I let myself go and let go of expectations.

And it turned out to be a great meditation.

Sometimes you have to let go of expectations.

Right now, my husband is struggling with expectations of his aging parents. He expects them to listen to reason – a huge expectation that many of us put on our parents, at all ages, theirs and ours. Toddlers expect parents to listen to reason about why they should be allowed to do all sorts of crazy things, but those foolish parents just don’t listen to reason. My nephew who is into Lego expects his parents to listen to reason and let him take over the living room with his creations (totally reasonable because his room is full from floor to ceiling, with a path carved out to the bed), but his unreasonable mother and father insist that the living room be Lego-free by dinner time. My teenaged niece expects her parents to listen to reason about why she should not get a driver’s license and they should continue to carry her wherever she wants to go, but her parents are so unreasonable! When he was younger, my husband expected his parents to listen to reason and pay for him to go to cooking school instead of college, but his parents unreasonably wanted him to get a degree — parents! – which I totally sympathized with: my own parents insisted that I get a college degree instead of just going to acting school, which was clearly the more practical choice.

Although now we are adults – older than when our parents were when we were children – our parents refuse to listen to reason: my father-in-law obsesses about his legacy, will his children fight over money after he and his wife are gone. My husband reassures him, tells him everything will be okay. Or tells him to stop worrying about it because it’s not something he can control. My sister in law draws up elaborate charts for her father, illustrating exactly how things work and why he should not worry. His father, of course, refuses to listen to reason. The same way that his mother, almost 10 years ago, refused to listen to reason about how she needed to get up out of her chair and move around, do physical therapy so that her physical condition would not deteriorate further, leaving her chairbound, unable to do anything for herself… with everyone at her beck and call… And, for some reason, she refused to listen to reason.

I am reminded of the pivotal scene from one of my favorite movies: Inside Out. One of the characters is weeping because his favorite possession – something he considers a part of him, part of who he is, what makes him special – has just been suddenly and irrevocably lost. The character Joy tries to reassure him: it will be okay, keep your chin up, you know what would be fun? Pursuing our goal! But he refuses to listen to reason and continues weeping. The character Sadness, who has been so annoying and unsympathetic until this point, sits down beside him and says, I’m sorry you lost your wagon. It was important to you. You had a lot of good times in that wagon. Joy – afraid Sadness is making things worse and he will never pull himself together and help them with their goal – tries to wave Sadness off, but she won’t be dissuaded. She persists until he opens up, and only then he pulls himself together and they return to their quest.

Sometimes this is all you can do, with an unreasonable child or an unreasonable parent or an unreasonable anyone. Reflect back what they are saying – or, almost as importantly, what they are not saying – and stay with them. Your family is your legacy, it’s important to you that they are taken care of, that they take care of each other. You worry because you’ve seen so many families that fall apart after the death of their parents, turn on each other over money. It’s confusing now, so complicated, and you’re struggling to understand it all because it’s important to you that it’s taken care of. It’s the only job you feel like you have left. It’s the one thing you can hang onto amidst the chaos that is the world right now.

Of course, with very elderly parents, it’s very much like reasoning with a toddler. You can say it, they can hear it. But they don’t retain it.

Luckily, life provides so many opportunities to practice patience.

With others, and with ourselves.

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