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The Weight of Expectations

I'm watching the tiny shoots emerge in my garden, and I've become worried because they are too early. Last year we had a huge snow in March and if that happens again, I can see that I will lose so many little plants who have emerged, really before they should. It got me reflecting on how we sometimes do that in our lives.

So many dreams and hopes are placed on things that aren't ready to take the load of the expectations we place on them.

We tend to do this when we take on a new hobby or try a new habit. Let's imagine we would like to lose 20 pounds, or learn to play an instrument. We tend to imagine our lives as fundamentally different to how they currently are. Somehow this new thing is going to change our whole lives. I want to say right up front, it really isn't! If anything it will add a layer of complexity that we don't currently have.

I am not for a minute saying that we should never try something new or try to make changes, but I am suggesting that we don't add quite so much weight or expectation on how this new behaviour will change our lives. If we start from a place of accepting and loving ourselves exactly as we are, we are far more likely to give something new a try with a more experimental, less judgemental attitude.

If we approach something new or a change of habit with an experimental attitude, we are far less likely to label ourselves as failures. We don't label a plant, we move it, or give it nourishment, or provide some structure to help it along. We deem that the current placement or soil isn't quite right, and so we make adjustments.

We could take some lessons from the life a a tulip:

Before there is any flower, the tulip is simply a dry bulb. It has very little inherent beauty, and it looks nothing like its beautiful flower. It spends most of its time buried or in a dark place, but without this time, there would be no flower. While it is buried, it begins the process of growing roots. These can be likened to the small beginning changes we start to make: those first few chords or scales you learn, or those aching muscles after your first run/walk. Possibly the hunger pangs from not reaching for that mid-morning snack. There is still nothing to see, but you are growing roots!

This is the time when we mistakenly tell everyone what our flower is going to look like! That would be akin to asking someone to step on top of the nicely turned soil to see if anything is growing. It compacts the soil and makes is harder for the shoot to push through. Or this is the time when our own self-judgement comes knocking: you miss one day of exercise or you mess up a practice and suddenly you are hopeless, no good and will never amount to anything. You may as well put a rock on top of your bulb - it has the same effect - blocking the sun warmth and blocking the growth path. It really doesn't help.

Adopting an experimental, curious stance, we might give this new habit or change a chance to grow slowly, in its own time, and not expect too much from it too soon. We certainly don't judge or label the efforts from this stance, we simply notice and adjust.

When plants are new we make every effort to give them the right environment (soft soil, nutrients, water, placement) and then when they emerge, we protect them with cloches or snail bait until they are robust enough to stand on their own.

I often wonder why we don't do that with all the new and fledgling things in our lives. I wonder how much more change would be affected if we started from a place of loving acceptance of what is and allowed the change to emerge organically from that place.

The tulip has other lessons to teach us. Not all habits, hobbies or changes are meant to be forever. They all have a natural life-cycle and can (if we care for them well) allow for the creation of many new ones. We have to allow things to die a natural death before the new can emerge. Perhaps you have knitted for years, or have been runner. Things happen - you get arthritis or your knee goes. Perhaps your parenting role has come to an end. Perhaps your job is no longer fulfilling.

This is sometimes the time when life is offering you a chance to let go of the old, allow it to die naturally, thereby giving space for something new to emerge. Too often we cling to old habits or hobbies or careers as if they can hold our lives together. That flower cannot sustain itself for that long. They need to be refreshed, and to do that sometimes they need to be allowed to die down. And then there will be a period where it feels like you have nothing, are nothing.

This is when you stance of self-love and acceptance will protect you. It will protect you from the judgement of others and from your own critical voice. In those dark moments when it feels as if you are buried you have to remember that being buried is also being planted: it is the only way that newness and freshness and beauty can emerge.

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