letting go of expectations – a ritual practice
Let’s start with a piece of paper and something to write with. You can do this on your digital device if you want to, but you might prefer to take the analogue option for this one.
Consider the concept of expectation as separate from commitment. In this context, we will refer to expectations as “the anticipation of future results”. For example, an employer expecting their employees to work longer hours than they’re contracted for, or a child expecting everyone else to feel the same significance about their birthday. Often, unrealistic expectations lead to disappointment or resentment, such as when an employee stands their ground on their working hours, or a new friend doesn’t magically know the child’s birthday.
When we carry expectations around with us that don’t serve us or contribute vitally to the wellbeing of those around us, things can get noisy in our heads and our souls. It can feel like we’re dragging a sled or have a fly buzzing around our ears. It can bring us down and spoil our appreciation for our true blessings, whether that’s having a place to call home, people to call friends or family, a digital device with which to connect with the entire planet, clean water, or fresh air.
Off the top of your head, write a list of 5-10 expectations that either others have of you or you have of yourself. Take a moment to reflect on each one:
- How does it make you feel?
- Do you think it’s reasonable of them/yourself?
- Does it feel realistic?
- What will happen if you don’t meet it?
- Is it important to you?
- What would happen if you let go of it?
You may have some expectations on that list that serve you, such as an expectation you have of yourself to get out of bed each day with enough time to prepare yourself for other obligations (which are in themselves commitments rather than expectations). You may have some expectations on the list that are vital for others, such as your young children’s expectation that you’ll celebrate their birthdays (contrast this expectation with your commitment to keep your children safe). Cross these expectations off the list, or place a check box next to them to show that you’re affirming they serve you or others close to you more than they harm you.
On the other hand, you may find expectations high on your list that are not serving you nor are vital to others, such as your partner’s expectation that you will dress or wear your hair a certain way because it’s their preference rather than yours (or an issue of safety). Maybe you have expectations that your home should look Instagrammable but your schedule or living situation makes that difficult to achieve, so the frustration you feel at the clutter or overdue repairs ruins your gratitude for having a sanctuary of your own. Depending on how these expectations make you feel, you may wish to release these. If that’s the case, you can underline them or emphasize them in some way. These are the expectations we want to focus on today. These are the expectations we want to release.
If none of the initial expectations you’ve listed look like this, maybe you can think of one you didn’t list but really fits the bill… or maybe you have nothing to release today. We don’t need everything we encounter, but maybe some time in the future you will have a need for this process and your future self will recall this.
For those expectations still on the list, we’re going to release them by saying to ourselves (either out loud or, depending on who you have around you, in a quiet whisper or hearing your own voice saying it inside your head)
“Today I commit to my emotional hygiene and release these expectations that do not serve me. I have begun the process of letting go.”
And with that, you can symbolically destroy the piece of paper or dispose of it. You can toss it in the trash, shred it, burn it, whatever works for you. (NOTE: it should go without saying that if you choose to burn it, please practice fire safety.) If this ritual pulls up any strong feelings within you, you may want to explore this 8-minute meditation with Barbara Faison to explore the Ho’oponopono practice.
Even if you can just let go of one expectation today, you are signalling to yourself that you can discern. You are deciding that the expectations you’ve chosen to keep serve enough of a purpose for you or others that you’re prepared to walk with them and even see them through. This may be the beginning of a longer process of letting go, or it might be the emotional detox you need. Either way, I hope you find some peace through this, and feel your burden lightened in some way as you go about your day.