The silent destroyer of inner peace
It’s 10:00 on a Saturday morning. I’m sitting in a cell phone store on the phone with customer service.
We’re switching to a new service and our current company has to unlock our phones for the transfer to be complete.
I’m prepared for a long and tedious process, having previously called several other times about the same issue and been put through a gauntlet of bureaucracy.
I expect to have to run the gauntlet one more time, at which point they’ll flip the switch and make the transfer and I’ll be on my way.
Just as expected, I’m transferred to several different departments, with long holds between each transfer.
I pull up a chair and sit and meditate during the holds.
I focus on gratitude. I look around me and marvel at the abundance and convenience that surround me. These are first world problems, I tell myself. I can do this.
Stay present. Be in the moment. Accept reality as it is. Arguing with reality just creates suffering.
I’m in a good place mentally. What’s more, I’m proud of myself for staying calm and present.
Five department transfers and an hour and a half later.
The customer service agent finally tells me that everything is complete. Except for one little detail: the transfer won’t be finished for two business days. I won’t have a phone until the following Tuesday.
And that’s when I lose it. My inner peace is shattered. I fight angrily with the customer service agent and demand that she make the transfer happen immediately. She can do nothing, obviously.
I storm up to the front counter and argue with the rep. There’s nothing he can do for me either.
Defeated, I stalk out the door. I drive away stewing, mad and frustrated.
But through the anger something nags at me. I follow the nagging to see where it leads. Slowly, the anger dissolves into curiosity and I ponder on what just happened.
How could I do such a great job of managing my peace of mind for an hour and a half, and then lose it so easily?
The light bulb turns on: I lost it the moment my expectations were violated.
I had created a bubble, or a zone of expectations. My peace of mind was safe inside that zone. Yes, I expected a hassle. I expected to deal with annoying bureaucracy. I was prepared for a long phone call.
But that was the limit of my zone of expectations. When reality strayed outside of that preconceived zone as I learned the situation would be much worse than what I expected it to be, my peace of mind went with it.
The silent and ever so subtle destroyer of inner peace, I realized, is simply this: expectations.
Expectations are our unseen and unspoken assumptions about how life should and shouldn’t be. About how people should and shouldn’t behave. About how things are supposed to be.
“Traffic should move faster.”
“I shouldn’t have to put up with incompetence or laziness from coworkers.”
“My wife shouldn’t be so emotionally needy.”
“My husband should be more considerate.”
“I’m not supposed to have a flat tire on the way to work.”
“My children will be obedient.”
We never analyze these assumptions. Rarely do we even see them; they’re buried subconsciously.
They are revealed in our frustration, disappointment, anxiety, depression, anger, and envy.
Any time we feel these types of emotions, we can know with certainty that our expectations have been violated. And the basis of those expectations are unquestioned assumptions about the way things ought to be.
Of course, we all hope everything will go our way. We all hope to avoid traffic jams and reckless drivers, bad bosses and broken bones, disease and divorce. We all hope to be free from pain and heartache.
Hope, properly understood and applied, can be a beautiful, uplifting thing. But when hope crosses the line and becomes its counterfeit — expectation — we set ourselves up for endless suffering.
As I realized in myself, our assumptions create a specified zone of expectations. As we mature emotionally, we tend to expand that zone. We’re able to handle more potentially frustrating situations without losing our inner peace.
But simply expanding the boundaries of our zone of expectations doesn’t make us immune to inner suffering. It can give us a little more freedom, but not total freedom.
The only way to create total freedom is to relinquish our attachment to any expectations entirely. Completely give up any preconceived notions of the way life is supposed to be. Utterly surrender to the reality of what is in any given moment.
This is not easy to do. In fact, it’s perhaps the hardest thing we can ever do. But that’s precisely why it’s also the most rewarding.
At some point, we have to choose what we value more: our expectations about how life is supposed to be, or our inner peace. Because we can’t have both.