In practicing mindfulness in daily life, it’s worth watching out for small experiences that lead to tension, stress, or anger.
I noticed several months ago that I’d start feeling resentful as I walked toward a pedestrian crossing with the intention, of course, of crossing the road. The resentment is connected with the number of drivers who don’t stop when they see someone — well, me! — about to cross the road.
But I’d actually start getting resentful before I even reached the side of the road, long before drivers could possibly realize that it was my intention to cross in front of them.
What’s important is that I recognized that this was a source of suffering for me. It wasn’t one of these things that ruined my day, but it created an unpleasant experience that would color at least part of my day.
And it’s completely unnecessary. I was pushing my own stress buttons.
So I got into the habit of saying to myself, as I walked along the sidewalk toward the crossing, “No expectations.” It was just a little reminder that I couldn’t expect drivers to psychically know that it was my intention to cross, and that even once it should be clear that that was my intention, it was pointless having expectations that they would stop. After all, we all have times when we’re a little distracted and don’t respond promptly to things around us. What’s the point of taking these things personally?
The interesting thing is that saying “no expectations” has not just prevented frustration, tension, and anger from arising — when I say those words I find myself relaxing more deeply and enjoying my present-moment experience.
It’s a small thing, but then our lives are made out of the small things.
To apply this approach, we first have to notice that we’re causing ourselves frustration. Noticing this isn’t necessarily easy to do if our habits are longstanding. And in any event, we often tend to think of these petty frustrations as just a normal part of our experience.
And we often externalize our feelings, by which I mean that we blame the outside world for what we’re feeling. We might see it as those drivers are the problem and they’re making me frustrated rather than it’s my frustration toward those drivers that’s the problem. So we have to remember that people do not push our buttons. Our buttons are inside our heads, and we do our own button-pushing.
I can think of other circumstances in which this could be useful for me. When I log in to Wildmind’s Facebook page, for example, I often feel some disappointment when I see that an article we’ve posted a link to has received a small number of “likes.” The link to the article may have been viewed by 2,000 people (Facebook helpfully displays this information) and perhaps only 12 have clicked “like.” Now there’s a side to this where I can perhaps learn to craft better Facebook posts or to find the best times of day to post, but as long as I cling to expectations, I’m going to suffer.
I wonder what circumstances the mantra of “no expectations” could help you in your life?