Great Expectations – a Recipe for Suffering?

“If I still believed in my thoughts, I would pray for one thing first: to be spared from the desire for love. This desire causes nothing but confusion and misery. It shuts down the awareness of what you already have in reality. It’s painful to seek what you can never have outside yourself. I say ‘can never have’ because obviously you don’t understand what you’re seeking. If you understood it, the seeking would be over.” — Byron Katie, A Thousand Names for Joy

Our inner programming and conditioning are so automatic and when they’re in conflict with reality, we suffer.

Two such powerful “programs” are the need to find romantic love outside of ourselves, and then the need to attract that love, either with financial stability and status for males, and beauty and sensuality for females.

Sometimes, in the short term, these drives are fulfilled and we believe we’re living in a beer commercial or acting out the scenes of a romantic movie. Often this happens in a resort or vacation setting, until reality—job, life, kids, and our own neuroses—make us drop the masks we used to attract love from the outside—and it ends abruptly.

Inevitably this leads to pain, anger, disappointment and suffering—often with the idea that it is “the other” that is responsible for all of our grievances.

But many people today are realizing it is actually our “selves” – the very inner programming that we have adopted as our belief system—that is most responsible for our suffering.

After all, taken objectively, only the sickest and most pathological among us are actually out to hurt others.

Most conflicts are the result of each person believing they are doing the best they can, for themselves and even in many cases for the other; it’s just that they’re playing out scripts and expectations in their own minds, reflected in their heart’s desire, that go unfulfilled.

Who would we be without our stories of rejection and betrayal? And who are those stories really hurting? Would we be Mr. Spock, devoid of emotion—or perhaps the Buddha?

Is such an absence of need and seeking outside oneself even remotely attainable—and would you want it if you could have it? Would that be the end of love and romance?

These are powerful questions. Many of us are so incapable of such objectivity, and so strongly attached to our need for outside validation by the “love” of another, that we cannot see what it costs us.

Recently I anticipated the presence of a woman to whom I was strongly attracted at an event where I hoped to talk to her at length and strengthen our connection. She showed up late and throughout the event I thought about her, whether she was interested, what I might say, and so on. At the end she ended up in a conversation with someone else, and I left, frustrated and a bit upset.

Then I realized that the entire drama had played out entirely in my head, according to my own expectations and desires. She, of course, was oblivious to my interest, and her own decision to talk to someone else had nothing to do with snubbing or ignoring me—it was just how things played out.

And even if she had “rejected” me in favor of someone else—I could either succumb to my inner program of self-judgment, or recognize that it was a circumstance beyond my control, and let it go.

When I saw this clearly I realized just how often my own insecurity had clouded my assessment of reality in this area, and how any discomfort or suffering I might have was purely of my own making.

The choice to suffer or accept reality was entirely my own to make.

Just as falling doesn’t hurt you – it’s landing on the cement that does the damage, so too the circumstances of life are just what they are – it is our choice whether we accept them or allow them to threaten our peace and happiness.

This is even more important when one is already in a relationship, which is why real communication is so important. Of course the key—as the Jack Nicholson character once said to Tom Cruise—is that most people “can’t handle the truth”. They would rather deceive themselves and live in illusion than to face uncomfortable facts—like the recognition that the other person both wants to be with them (sometimes) and be alone (other times). Neither reflects on who they really are—but most people take it personally.

As Byron Katie writes above, this realization and the liberation from this compulsion is an enormous relief—and counter intuitively it leads to deeper presence and more satisfying relationships.

Why is that? Because as my friend Michael Jeffreys says, nothing feels as comfortable as being with someone without an agenda—who doesn’t want anything. Then there is nothing to be thwarted and frustrated, and energy can flow freely.

When a man wants or expects sex, and/or a woman wants or expects to bask in a man’s power, financial circumstances or status, both are playing out programs that must end in a crash—they cannot be maintained and each is dating someone in their own heads—not the other person.

This is why so many men and women are “done with dating.” Because it is an artificial dance based on conditioning and programming—not an energetic response to Life.

For one thing, how do you know how you’ll feel on Saturday night? Of course, in today’s busy world (and that’s another issue—the need for distraction and “busy-ness”) we need to schedule—but when we make “plans” to love we create more expectations—”what did you do over the weekend” is mainly a question for the validation of others, not ourselves.

The reality is that when we “awaken” and recognize the extent and damage of our inner programming, we don’t need a resort setting to trigger love – although it sure helps. By shifting our attention from our own expectations to the true needs and desires of the other, and being present instead of consumed by our delusional thoughts, we create a space for warmth, affection, and yes, even romance.

Can we remain objectively non delusional in the afterglow? That’s another tough question.

Many of our inner scripts will still expect something—a repeat performance, a phone call, a kind gesture…

Here again we can learn from Byron Katie’s wisdom—if Life grants us such a lovely experience, wonderful, but if not, perhaps we need not suffer – quite as much. After all, as she says, who would you be without that expectation or belief?

I know, easier said than done—but think of the needless suffering, all self-induced, that you can spare your “self.”

 

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