Expectation and perfectionism

Sunset panorama, Southern California

Sunset panorama, Southern California

Gateway to resentment

I was at a social event where an elderly person stated that this life we were leading was hell. Her pronouncement sent shock waves through the dinner party. I felt a brief annoyance, which gave way to compassion. Her world view was such that she could justify to herself and others that we lived under a punishing God and that her eternal torture had already begun.

She, a professed devout Catholic, was surrounded by family. We had sat down at a delicious meal in a house with a huge picture window with a panoramic view of bucolic rolling hills. It was the feast celebrating the birth of her Savior, a time when people gather and good feelings abound, yet she chose suffering for herself.

Why do we do this? My initial judgement of her was not helpful. I needed to seek compassion and understanding.

She assesses herself a perfectionist. She likes to get "her way." Others sense this need and retaliate, withdrawing from her. Have I not myself been guilty of this behavior? Many times, as it turns out. This person's behavioral example was a great learning opportunity for me.

When we indulge in resentment due to dashed expectations, what is the payoff? We get to judge and separate ourselves from others and perhaps even treat them badly. That is cold comfort indeed. One trades the potential for love and unity with others for bitterness and isolation. These are the ultimate "booby" prizes, the door at the gameshow that reveals something no one wants, to a comic fanfare of trombone and tympani.

What can I do in this moment to escape such a fate?

I can accept. Expectation that others change their behavior for me dooms me to hell on earth.

I can accept her as she is and not judge her as someone who can't evolve. The truth is she can and will. Evolution is nature's way. I can show extra kindness when confronted with bad behavior, although it seems a difficult choice.

When I choose this way, I feel better. It's a "win-win."

When we meditate regularly we give ourselves the chance to feel unity with God, with nature, and with other beings. Our natural state and our birthright are bliss. Once we have this bliss, we can share it. This world, to some a living hell, can slowly evolve into heaven on earth.

Morning looking east, Los Angeles

Morning looking east, Los Angeles

Accidental openness

Bare locus branches, winter, Los Angeles

Bare locus branches, winter, Los Angeles

Call it a boon. Call it grace.

It only seems evident in retrospect. Before I found meditation, I only had the tools of self-will to power my life. Since I was only able to identify with my thoughts and feelings, I was acting only out of ego gratification. If my ego was displeased with any aspect of my life, I judged that situation to be untenable, unendurable. I was doomed to live a sad life, lonely, and angry with the universe and my fellow travelers in it.

But in spite of my warped world view, I made one or two decisions that turned out to be prescient and wise. Where was this guidance coming from? Certainly not from my ego. In spite of the negative bent of my view of the world and the culture I was born into, despite the prevalence of unhealthy examples around me, I made the choice to become vegetarian at around twenty years of age.

At age twenty five, I started practicing yoga. Los Angeles was not the overt marketplace of all things eastern that it later became, and I had to tape Richard Hittleman's yoga instruction programs off of KCET, a local PBS affiliate. I practiced alone, told no one, and managed to become more and more proficient. I later let the practice go, but I never forgot the asanas. When I resumed decades later, it all came back.

Then about ten years ago, I met the man who taught me to meditate. I knew that I did not know how to do it, and that he did. I paid him to teach me. Although it seemed like a large amount of money at that stage of my life, I know now that it was the bargain of a lifetime.

I don't feel like I made these choices. I feel these choices made me. No amount of money could dissuade me from continuing these habitual actions.

Where did I get the willingness to set aside my ego and take on these seemingly risky practices? The only answer that makes sense to me now is that I became open to a higher power's direction and ignored the pressures of the prevailing culture to conform.

In retrospect I can clearly see the guiding hand of a loving God.

This season, let's strive to not take our own emotional temperature too much. Let us look outward toward our fellows, put their happiness before our own. Let us be open to the joys of anonymous giving.

"Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.
O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life."

Francis Bernadone, (St. Francis) 1204, Italy.