A while ago, I heard a teacher ask a group of students to consider four conditions that can bring about greater happiness in our lives. They included:
- Building up our tolerance for ‘what is’ and becoming more aware of our resistance in that moment.
- Building our capacity to re-center ourselves in the midst of difficult or unexpected situations
- Having a big enough story to hold all of life.
- And…gently holding our expectations
Each of these can be a very rich topic of discussion. The one that caught my attention the most was how we hold our expectations. It’s certainly a relevant topic for this time of year, but I find it an important discussion for anyone who is setting new goals and intentions as they build a new business, transition into a new career, or take on new responsibilities at work.
The very act of setting goals can bring about greater stress, anger or frustration in our lives, particularly if we don’t ‘see’ them manifest quickly enough or in a way that we had originally expected. Ironically, this feeling runs contrary to the very end results we were intending to create — greater peace, joy, freedom, or <plug in your favorite state of being>.
So how do we work with the expectations that inevitably show up?
For many years I’ve explored ideas around the power of our thought energy and the conditions needed to apply it more effectively in our lives. I would find myself wondering why some people seemed better at manifesting their intentions than others. I would even notice the judgment within myself when I couldn’t manifest something quickly enough, or even at all. Wasn’t it just a matter of putting my thought energy on and visualizing the desired outcomes? Why did some intentions seem to work and others didn’t? Over the years I’ve been asked similar questions from many of my clients as well.
There are many ideas, spiritual insights, and even scientific data now to help us understand what makes a conscious intention eventually take root and manifest as reality. I may, in fact, save some of these discussions for another blog topic. For now, I’d like to offer a different approach to thinking about it, one that may lead to greater happiness overall.
In exploring this I find the practice of “gently holding our expectations” to be an important ingredient. What is it that could bring about this ‘field of gentleness’? How could we build the capacities within ourselves to do this? What practices could help us to cultivate this?
Over time I’ve developed three helpful practices for myself and many of my clients. The practices have certainly required focus, diligence and patience, but the results have proven quite helpful and often times unexpected in their impact.
Additionally, these practices haven’t lessened the enthusiasm for bringing about the intended outcomes or the energetic power behind expressing them. It’s just that the outcomes, and expectations around them, haven’t played such a dominant role as they once did. And ironically, the state of being that we were intending to create — peace, joy, a greater sense of meaning and fulfillment — occurred from the cultivation of that quality of gentleness.
Here are three practices that I’ve found helpful.
1. Being grateful for ‘what is’
The first practice is about being grateful for everything, even for the painful moments in our lives. It’s all these little moments that are often the gatekeepers to a new reality waiting to be experienced. When we acknowledge their existence, feel their presence (without attaching to the story surrounding them), and yet understand their importance, new insights and experiences can open up for us.
I recently re-read a book called “The 12 Conditions of a Miracle” by Dr. Michael Abrams. In it he describes the concept of gratitude. You’ll notice in his language many connections to the power of our thought energy.
“Affirmations channel the power of positive thought forms from the confines of the mind into the world where they can set real changes into motion. It all comes back to the great law: Like attracts like. When you focus on the good, letting your thoughts dwell on all the great things in your life, you will attract even greater good. When you lift your thoughts to a higher level of solidarity by putting them into words and verbally affirming your good, you greatly facilitate the process. The mindset that underlies this process is called gratitude.”
Abrams then asks us to think about a gift we recently gave to someone who really appreciated it. And then think about a gift we gave to a different person who took the gift for granted. Which person would you want to give more to? He equated this to the Universe as well. Why would we expect the Universe, God, Spirit to feel any differently about its gifts to us? As he states,
“Divine intelligence generally won’t go too far out of its way to provide for you in a miraculous way if you are negative and complacent about the gifts you have already received.”
There may be some magic behind the scenes when this Law is applied, but there’s certainly no magic to actually doing this as a practice. Just a lot of focus and commitment. There are a lot of ways to develop this practice which are well known to us all – gratitude journals, sending hand-written thank you notes, giving thanks before dinner…the list goes on. I find that choosing something on a daily basis, particularly right before or after we set our intentions, can soften the field of expectations around us and help us to be open to all that we receive.
2. Being kind towards ourselves
I recently heard the phrase, “The secret of the heart energy is that it performs miracles not with force or will, but with ease and kindness to ourselves.”
After putting forth new intentions it’s common to feel emotionally invested in the outcome. It’s easy to try and “force” or “will” something to come true, even in very subtle ways we’re not always conscious of. The idea of “gently holding our expectations” can sound like a nice theory as we become frustrated or angry that things aren’t turning out the way we had originally intended.
An ongoing practice of being kind towards ourselves can be a powerful way to create a softening, or gentleness, around our expectations. There’s a number of practices that can help with this. I find that using some type of mantra, prayer, or self-love journal on a consistent basis can be quite powerful.
One practice, for example, is called a loving kindness prayer, which is a Buddhist meditation. You can generally do this for about 5 minutes in the morning or anytime throughout the day when you’re feeling the need. Here’s an example you can say to yourself over and over again for a short period of time.
May I be filled with loving kindness
May I be well
May I be peaceful and at ease
May I be happy
If you want to do the complete meditation you can then say it for other people in your life and then for all beings on the planet. There are a number of versions of it that you can find online.
If you haven’t used this meditation before it can initially seem a bit overly simplistic at first. That was certainly my first reaction — how can four little phrases change the way I feel about myself and my perception of others and the world? Over time, though, I gave it a try every day and saw a difference. When I integrated it into my intention setting practice, it took a life of its own. If you’re curious, give it a go for a few months and see what comes up for you. The results are often subtle but profound.
3. Cultivating qualities that accompany our intentions
What if all the DOING in our lives was actually secondary? Even the outcomes themselves. What if the most important thing was how we went about BEING? And the most important part of setting intentions was actually cultivating qualities that we brought into the very experiences we were setting out to create?
I’m posing this question for a number of reasons. The first has to do with what can naturally happen when we do put thought energy into motion. It can be very easy to get so focused on the exact experience we want to create that our minds go into hyper-drive. Thoughts can easily come in like, “Everyone knows that I’m trying to build this business now. What if what I’m setting out to do doesn’t work?” or “Will I really be able to launch this project successfully?” This mind chatter doesn’t indicate that there’s anything wrong with us. It just means that we’re human and this is a part of what our minds currently do. And part of that human experience is to get attached to some degree to the outcome we’d like to create. With this attachment comes an element of control which actually makes the intention setting process more fraught with expectations and thus becomes less effective.
When this happens, and I’d say that it happens more than we’d like to admit, or are consciously aware of in the moment, I recommend thinking about the qualities we’d like to cultivate in ourselves along the way. If your intention is about cultivating qualities in the first place then even better.
Do you want to cultivate a quality of ease in your body, confidence and strength as you’re getting out there and promoting your business, or trust in your own innate wisdom as you’re taking on greater leadership responsibility at work? What one or two qualities would you bring into your life to create the changes you’d like to see?
Ghandi certainly didn’t say “Do the change you want to see happen in the world.” He was very explicit in saying “Be that change.” This takes a lot of practice and patience. And like a plant, you never quite know when it’s going to start growing. But it needs a lot of tender loving care along the way to get it going.