A waking dream experience of a very, very bad day: what happens when one lives in the narrow world of expectations.

 

a_chair_in_an_empty_room_by_ondrejzapletal-dbfnsa5.jpgI couldn’t get a break today. But I should have “expected” it because I was in a bad mood from the start of when my feet hit the floor from a fitful nights sleep of very odd and incoherent dreams. At every turn of events I felt thwarted, frustrated, impatient, and intolerant. What…in my dream or in my waking life? Precisely!

In the morning my wife and I thought we’d take a pleasant bike ride to breakfast. But we kept taking different routes that lead away from each other, and when we eventually met up her cautiousness on the busy streets caused her to frequently dismount from her bike and walk, which according to my expectation made us late (not that we had reservations mind you). To add to my frustration a cross walk light chose that morning to malfunction. After three cycles of malfunction it dawned on us that it wasn’t going to light, so we walked across, keeping a wary eye on the traffic.

My frustration built up like an ungoverned steam engine until it needed to find something, or in this case someone, to vent on. I mumbled, fumed, blamed in my head, and struggled mightily not to take it out on the nearest person at hand, poor Fran. I had made the reality of the ride an unhappy burden in my imagination. Once again my imaginary expectations made a mess in the reality. Breakfast, however, was quite pleasant and I started to relax a little.

Later in the day, a granddaughter came over and we went out to Starbucks at the mall for treats and grandpa/granddaughter time, but I couldn’t find a parking space, “ah there’s one!” I’d say and I’d step on the gas arriving just as someone else would pull in to the empty space. Damn! I said in my head again and again as around and around we went until my patience wore thin and the veiled expletives became less shrouded, “There’s one, oh fu…, funny, how “fu…nny” I choked so as to not upset the innocence in the back seat as yet another car slipped in before I arrived and I took yet another round of frustration. “I can’t get a break today!” I exclaimed. “Poor grandpa! We could go to the one near our house.” She said helpfully, probably sensing that grandpa was not a happy rider on this not-so-merry-go-round.

Finally, on a side street a lone parking space appeared out of nowhere, far from our destination, “but it’ll have to do,” I thought resignedly. After a long wait in line at the coffee shop the clerk didn’t seem to understand my order, “A large non-fat hot chocolate.” I said wearily, but somehow she heard, “A chai latte, please.” I don’t even know what that is, but on discovering the mistake after waiting for several orders that had been taken after mine, they put the correction in the queue several more orders behind that. Then the difference in cost had to be worked out and that took several more minutes and signatures on a reimbursement chit only to receive a 30 cent refund and the wrong sized hot chocolate.

A simple trip to the coffee shop started to feel as though it had taken most of the afternoon. Not wanting to prolong my self-induced agony I took the smaller cup, grunted a not so sincere, “thank you,” and numbly walked out the door and plopped into an outside chair to stare at the passers-by and sip my now cold hot chocolate.

For a moment I felt dead inside, kind of numb, then I forced my self to chuckle. This was definitely not my day! I mused. But my granddaughter was happy as a lark with her chocolate milk, a pumpkin scone and some other little girl to befriend on the nearby play-scape. I couldn’t help but smile and this tamed the weary beast inside me.

My older granddaughter called from her cellphone and asked me to pick her up at a friend’s house and to take her home. This of course was located several miles from our current position. “Where’s your Mom?” I croaked. “Out with Grandmother.” She said as though I were being just too stupid for asking. So I wrote down the directions on a slightly damp napkin (you ever try to do that?). Of course the directions of a thirteen year old were less than ideal and forced me to consult a map at every stop light while she amused herself in texting me every five minutes or so with a “Where are U?” This of course buoyed my spirits, NOT.

I finally picked her up and dropped her at her front door. Out she bolted and disappeared into the house, no goodbye, no thank you. I left the younger one with her mother who had barely escaped being knocked over by the thirteen year old bent on texting while running toward her room without once looking up, lost somewhere between narrow focus and complete obliviousness. “How do they do that?” I wondered silently. Also the six year old had in mind that she and I were going watch the Barbie at Princess Charm School video, but when Mommy showed up early there were tears of disappointment (hers, not mine)–yet another thwarted expectation.

Soon it was dinner and my wife was off playing bridge at the church so I thought I’d try a rib place I hadn’t been to before. Inside and sitting next to the window I looked out on the traffic moving down the Avenue. Something disturbing intruded– A rumble that I could feel in my chest and inside my head. The ground felt unstable here as it shook with each car that passed, the guy behind me made odd grunting noises, and the ribs smelled dead, uninviting. Nothing seemed in balance. Everything was off just a bit, nothing was quite right. Even the air felt as though it were heavier than usual and pressed down around me. Nothing seemed fully real. Perhaps, I pondered, it was the Paulo Coelho book I was reading? No, this had been going on all day, before I’d had a chance to even read the first page.

As though this day were partly within a dream, some aspect of me wasn’t fully here, but lost in some expectation, and I paid the price–perturbation, unbalance, alienation and a strong sense of separation all of which conspired to leave me rootless and not feeling quite welcome in the world. So, where was I? The truth is that I wasn’t fully there because I was mired in the way I “wanted it to be” rather than in the here and now of the way it was.

It seems to me that expectations, like my granddaughters cell phone texting, tend to narrow ones focus i.e. our vision of reality tends to narrow. It’s like sitting in the middle a room and looking out its one small window and assuming that everything within its frame is all that there is. I could get up from the chair and approach the window and stick my head outside which would of course expand that reality, but, no, I sit, fixed in my point-of-view, depending on the world to bring reality into that limited frame and disappointed when it isn’t what I wanted.

I used to tell my oldest daughter when she was much younger and talking about her image of God, “Be careful how you describe him, for if he is that leaf that just blew by and your image doesn’t include that, then you’ve missed him.”

I often complain that things aren’t the way I think they ought to be and then whine, sometimes bitterly, that someone ought to change the reality so as to better align with my expectations. No that’s not how I say it, it’s more like, “Why do they do that? They should do it like this.” Or some form of “I’m right, they’re wrong.” You’d be amazed at the lengths I’ll go to feel better about their being wrong.

For some people right now it may look as if I’ve wandered from expectancy into another restricting trait, point-of-view. But isn’t an expectation just another point-of-view and vice versa? Both require a vision of what is and a narrow vision at that. Both affect what is seen aka reality e.g. experienced and thus inform our actions, or how we feel about them.

In our waking life I think that many of us are standing in the room with the small, framed window. It isn’t until we enter the world of the dream that our frame widens, even disappears, and holds the potential of infinite possibilities. What would happen if we treated our waking lives in the same manner e.g. as a frame with infinite possibility? What would happen if we let go of what we think our life should be and embraced what it is?

What would happen if we were to get up off our tuchus and walk over to the window and stick our head out to get a broader and clearer view?

Well, there’s always tomorrow.

Great Expectations: The unconscious influence on perception and action

 

2016-02-05-1454716504-9750705-expectationvsrealitytumblr_m60u61r61j1r9in54o1_500_largefromweheartitcom.jpg
Line drawings of our expectations on the left with reality on the right. Note that anywhere along the line on the right one could compare progress with the expectation on the left and be disappointed and/or angry even though the outcome is exactly as hoped for.

 

Last night I had a dream. In the dream things that I expected did not happen and I started to get upset, then angry, with how things weren’t happening the way I thought they should. In the dream I found myself yelling, “Stop doing that, that’s not the way you’re supposed to do it!” When I awoke I realized that this was a reflection of my unexamined feelings associated with being disappointed with something someone had done. I had been chewing on my judgments of them all the day preceding the dream so it was only natural that the issue should show up in a dream.

The issue wasn’t really about the unexplored feelings however, they were important but something else was affecting those feelings. The issue was really about my expectations for their behavior and it was these that were coloring my inner dialogue. And it was my expectations that were affecting what I was feeling about them.

So what about an unmet expectation was causing trouble in my mind or to put it another way when someone or something doesn’t live up to my expectation of the way they should be, why do I find that upsetting? Whoa, the onus of the problem just shifted radically from “it’s their fault” to “It’s mine”. My expectations are affecting how I see the world and then how I react to it.

There have been many studies about the effects of expectations in fields as varied as science, teaching, marketing, and politics. Expectations affect not only the findings of a scientist but on what they choose to study. They affect a journalist, a jury and a judge on what facts or non facts they choose to believe in and they also affect how a teacher perceives a student that can cause the teacher to either not expect much from a student or to expect more. Our expectations affect how we vote, listen to talk show hosts on T.V. / radio, and the products we buy and all of this opens us to manipulation the kind marketers and politicians use to get us to think their way instead of for ourselves. These real world perceptions also affect the decisions and pronouncements that a politician makes once in office and even affect when a policeman chooses to make an arrest or pull his weapon from its holster.

When I was a Freshman in High School we read Charles Dickens’ book “Great Expectations”. I loved the story but don’t think I really understood how the expectations of both the protagonist of the story, Pip, and the adults and others around him were affected by their expectations and how these judgments of the way life should or had to be ran their lives.

And behind every expectation there lays a judgment, a judgment that anything other than ones expectation is less– less important, valuable, honorable, patriotic, or correct… well you get the idea.

But let me narrow the field a little. In my dream as well as in my waking life I tend to let my judgments get in the way of what I am seeing. All too often I let my labels of what something is or should be affect what it actually is. All too often I will let my labels get in the way of my love for someone or something. This is true for not only how I see others and treat them, but for how I see myself that then will often lead to how I treat myself.

But I will always have judgments, I am like most people a “judgment machine” either judging something “good” (meaning it agrees with my point-of-view) or that it is “bad” (meaning that it doesn’t agree with my point-of-view)– yes I can choose to be tolerant of the so-called “bad” but often that’s just a personal expectation that I hold for myself because I judge myself to be a “good” and tolerant person. See? I’m a judgment machine!

One way that I deal with my judgments that affect my expectations, that affect how I feel about and how I interact with others, is to first become aware that that’s what I’m doing. For example, if I were to have the judgment that what someone is doing is stupid I just say to myself, “I’m having that “stupid judgment” thought again. What this does is to take the thought out of the automatic mode of perceiving the world and allows me then to shift my perspective and to look at myself to see what of myself that I may be projecting onto the event or the person.

Sometimes my judgments lead me to evil thoughts where I play a game in my head of tit-for-tat or an eye for an eye and I spiral down into negativity. What has helped me here is another expectation for myself i.e. that when I notice that I’m playing this negative scenario in my head that I will notice and never meet or counter evil with evil, negativity only breeds more negativity. I can use this negative energy to protest the evil in such a way that it makes some people stop and think about their actions or the actions of others.

But mostly I find that I just make these automatic judgments, expectations and decisions without assessing them and that of course doesn’t allow me to be at choice with either the perception or the response to them. This begs the question as to what degree am I really at choice with anything in my life, especially if I’ve allowed most of it to be run by my unconscious points-of-view – those unconscious points-of-view that the sleeping brain presents to us in our dreams in an attempt at trying to bring consciousness to our choices?

Ah, “free choice”, real choice, of what to think, what to feel, or how to act, how much do we really have? That’s a topic for another time.