Expectations & Fears

So here’s a thing that’s happening: In less than a week, I will fly from Seattle to Dallas. I will rent a car and drive to an ashram that is located in a (very) small town. I will enjoy a spiritual retreat—my first ever, actually—and speak with the guru about the possibility of becoming a monk (nun?) and living long-term at this ashram as part of their community.

This was an intuitive, gut decision I made over the course of a few days, though the idea of becoming a full-time spiritual aspirant has been with me for many months. I should probably be clear that I do not care for the notion of spending a lifetime “seeking,” and how that is not what I am seeking (hehe) to do here.

There are several reasons why this feels like the right move to me, but I’m trying to keep my expectations to a minimum. Expectations are cruel tricks of the mind. They immediately create an obstacle whereby acceptance of what is becomes impossible. When we find ourselves disappointed, we can always trace this disappointment back to an expectation that things were going to be different, better, easier, more fun, etc. The grim faces we see everyday can be traced back to expectations: I was supposed to have made something of myself; I was supposed to be married by now; I never thought life would go this way…

Nobody’s life goes the way they think it’s going to go—and that only applies to people who have plans in the first place. More often we just semi-consciously fall into some bearable rhythm charted out for us by society at large, and assume it’ll lead to satisfaction. Strangely, we are surprised to find that this non-strategy often leads to malaise of all kinds. We wake up mid-life and feel we are missing something: Life is in its autumn, and we do not feel ready for it.

It is important to remember that the cultural messages we receive lead us astray time and again, and that the confusion this creates ought to be used as a pointer into the heart. It is only the inner compass that is reliable, and this is only true once we have had some practice following it.

The hivemind never overtly says “you’re going to get the shit beat out of you by life before you even have an inkling of what fulfillment is like.” Instead it says, “you really can escape pain by achieving and acquiring and doing!” Then we get busy without much investigation of the premise. Before we know it, we’re in a trap. This is all very mechanically done, handed down from one generation to the next. We unconsciously teach one another this lie by continuing to buy into it all the time.

I do not mean that life must be endless hardship, but hardship is necessarily a part of this thing, and trying to avoid hardship—or expecting that it should not be there—only worsens our predicament as humans.

So I’m keeping an eye on my projections and expectations about this whole Texas-ashram-guru adventure. I am also keeping an eye on my fears, which are just as life-denying as expectations, though usually more insidious because we tend to keep fears buried deep.

We are all pretty open about our hopes and expectations, but usually stay very quiet around fear. This illustrates the (imagined) power of fear: It silences and suppresses and squishes us into contracted people incapable of authenticity. We don’t like to look at these things, so we just don’t. Instead, we tend to move through life simply avoiding those things that have the potential to strike a fear chord, and this is to our deep detriment. I am happy to see that “challenging fear stories” is now a common thing within personal growth circles. Less fear can only be a positive thing overall, especially because there isn’t anything to be afraid of in reality.

I will tell you my fears, because I think that bringing fear to the surface helps to show how ridiculous and small it is: I’m afraid I will be found deeply defective by the residents of this ashram, that I will be told my ego is so whacked-out and absurd and unconscious that it’s not even worth trying. I think my greatest fear has to do with being too defective even for God: That I will stand before the Ultimate and present my latent darkness (which is inexorably a part of me) and the Ultimate will reject me because of these itchy tendencies, cravings, and judgments. I know this is not even really a Thing because God is that darkness, too. All of my fears are a bunch of nonsense the mind uses because it works on my ego.

I am afraid of coming home with no idea about what to do. I am afraid of stagnating creatively, relationally, and spiritually. I am afraid of not finishing what I started. I am afraid of not living my potential full-time. Then I think, hey, maybe I’m onto something here because fear is one of the mind’s favorite weapons for keeping us in its grips. And I also think, worst case scenario: I get to take four days off of work and go deeply into myself in a place specifically designed to help me go deeply into myself. And I think, get a grip, Lish, you’ve been through it all already, and somehow you are still not only living but generally quite content.

Fear, like everything else, is just something to watch from a place of awareness. What I am describing in the above paragraph is still an illustration of egoic defenses. I am trying to soothe the ego with stories the mind finds more comforting. Ideally we can learn to just see how fear is a big lie our egos use to keep us believing we are these little powerless unhappy and uncreative things.

The trick with awareness is not to “spin” a fear story into new, different, happier-sounding story. When we do this, we are just covering sad delusion with happy delusion, and the whole point is to be free of all delusion. Perhaps this is why I’ve always had more than a little bit of disdain for “affirmations.” Give me a little credit, Louise Hay: I know when I’m lying to myself.

I’m not trying to put stories on top of stories or to cover negative with positive or even replace fear with love, even though these themes are super popular and even though I’ve probably written and/or will write something to the contrary in the future. The Truth is not a story; it is just the Truth. Truth is not love, or light, or positivity, or anything else. These metaphors may help us on certain parts of our journey, but ultimately, Truth just is what it is.

Having said that, I can keep this all very neutral and to-the-point: I’m headed to an ashram in Texas soon, and I have no idea what is going to happen there.

– Lish