Writer: Erin Lee
When we feel excited or motivated about one thing or person, anticipation towards what that thing or person could bring for us arises.
Consequently, we form expectations based on the belief that something good is bound to happen.
We wait for that something good to happen, usually with impatience and chimerical certainty.
And when these expectations fall short or fail us, we sink into depths of disappointment. We conclude that we were just being naive, or we decide to swear off what had originally brought us much hope.
The eagerness of practicing mindfulness as a form of self-improvement invites expectations that, if left unscrutinised, may bring disappointment and ultimately reservations towards truly adopting it as a way of life.
My experience with supporting people in practicing mindfulness has offered me the opportunity to observe some common expectations we form that may be holding us back from living mindfully.
"I should feel relaxed."
Relaxation is often deemed a must-have experience when we are practicing mindfulness meditation.
But not all of us feel relaxed when we are meditating, and even if we do, the feelings of relaxation will certainly change.
Relaxation is just one of many different experiences that arise for us during practice - we may encounter other kinds of experiences such as tension in the mind or restlessness in the body.
When we hold on to the expectation that we should be relaxed, our attention narrows to only anticipate or look out for these feelings of enjoyment during meditation.
We end up feeling frustrated when the practice doesn't go the way we want. We are also shortchanging ourselves of opportunities to work with each moment as it comes and cultivate the skills of responding to the more difficult experiences.
It helps to remind ourselves that relaxation is not the key intention or end goal of mindfulness. So we do not need to feel relaxed when we are practicing mindfulness, and certainly not all the time.
"I should be healed."
We live in a world that covets pills we can pop to magically make our problems go away.
Given all the benefits we have heard about practicing mindfulness, we hold high hopes for some kind of transformation to happen just by sitting down to meditate.
And when we don't see the change we want happening, we lose interest and perhaps impatiently move on to the next "wellness trend" that comes our way.
But healing can be a lifelong journey, and mindfulness is not (and should not be marketed as) a quick fix.
We practice mindfulness as a set of skills that helps us find ease with where we are and bring to awareness the deepest internal resources within that can support us in becoming better.
Mindfulness is a practice and way of life that takes time, and requires patience as well as trust in both its potential and our capacity to feel well and whole again.
So don't feel like you are wasting your time when nothing seems to different after a week or a month of sitting with the breath.
Every moment of practice counts and will eventually culminate in the ability to establish a better relationship with life - as long as you give it time and space.
"Everything should fall into place."
Just as we gravitate towards quick fixes, we tend to have the expectation that as long as we put in effort to practice mindfulness, life will certainly go the way we want now, and everything will be smooth-sailing from here on.
We may observe that things have improved, but the benefits don't seem to last or stay constant.
Sometimes we are still faced with situations we don't like; we still don't get what we would prefer to have all the time.
While mindfulness helps us navigate life more skillfully, it does not prevent life from bringing difficulties and people from throwing sticks and stones at us. There will always be conditions that are outside of our realm of control.
So with the skills we have acquired from practicing mindfulness, we do not hope that everything will wondrously fall into place, but endeavour to meet the reality of each moment with greater ease and wisdom.
We may have learned how to practice mindfulness, and tried all the mindfulness meditations that are available out there.
And then we ask, "What now? Where do I go from here?"
We wonder if there is a level two to mindfulness - a more advanced stage of the practice that we can progress to. This instinctive need to get somewhere or achieve a certain state with mindfulness can actually prevent our practice from deepening.
Very often, we are so focused on attaining higher levels of mastery, that we don't realise we have yet to get a good grasp of the most fundamental skills and attitudes.
Rather than an undertaking to achieve one goal after another, mindfulness is a way of being, that with patience and perseverance, leads the way to wiser decision-making and healthier living.
There is no end point with mindfulness. It is but a lifelong practice.
If you resonate with one or more of the above expectations, know that it can be helpful to remind ourselves that with mindfulness practice, we are right where we need to be, in each moment of our journey.
See if you can gradually let these expectations go, and just keep practicing.