There’s an idea in Buddhism that basically says, “expectation is the filter through which reality becomes suffering.”
An easy way to elucidate that point is to just think about your phone for a minute; I think that technology is actually the material embodiment of expectation itself – and when it fails us, we lose our shit.
Let me explain what I mean – when you press a key on a computer, or click a button on a screen, you expect a certain result. When the result doesn’t match your expectation, it’s annoying (infuriating). How many times have you wanted to throw your phone across the room when the fucking swipe doesn’t swipe or the app won’t refresh?
Our dependence on technology performing to our expectations, and the resulting fury when it doesn’t do what we want is just an acute (and perpetual) example of a greater psychological phenomena that permeates our lives.
I’ve been training for Nationals for 10 weeks – I started at 71kg and now I weigh 62kg. I’ve got muscles on top of muscles inside muscles and I don’t think I’ve ever been this fit – but after 2 rounds last night in training I felt like giving up. My whole body burned, my hips ached, my hands kept dropping and I couldn’t breathe. I felt my body drooping and my limbs going sloppy. The more it hurt the worse I felt about myself and I couldn’t understand why I felt so tired if I was so fit.
I have a certain expectation now, from people telling me that I look strong, from being able to lift more weight, finishing harder workouts, faster hill sprints and longer runs; but why is it that when I start hitting pads, my muscles start to ache? If I’m so goddamn fit, then why am I tired?
The answer is, of course, that I’m working way harder because I’m way stronger. The stronger I get, the harder my punches get, the harder my kicks get, and the harder my trainers push me. They match my pace, and I go faster.
It’s chasing the horizon – no matter how strong I get, I will always get pushed to my limit – the limit is just getting further away.
The frustration occurs only because I can’t feel the difference in speed or strength, I just feel tired and think I shouldn’t.
I realised this morning that it’s the same thing as experiencing a self inside my body – I am still “me” no matter how old I get. I don’t feel any different than I felt when I was 10 or 19, I just know different stuff and look different, but my essential consciousness feels exactly the same. I just am.
It’s incredible how hard it is to see the changes in your self from the inside out. I can’t appreciate how hard I’ve worked to get to this point, because I can’t see myself from the outside. When I watch videos and see photos, all I see is my mistakes.
I’ve spent 2 and a half months training 8-10 times a week, lost 9 kg and gained a small child worth of muscle mass in order to fight potentially 3 fights in 2 days for a National Championship…and I’m not the only one. There’s 9 of us from my gym, all going through the very same shit, and I somehow still feel the pressure completely alone.
So last night, after 5 incredibly challenging rounds I crumpled to the mat and cried and sweated and tried to remember how to breathe. Melina was crying too – she said she was so proud of me for how hard I worked, and Blair said I did incredibly well.
Now I was totally confused.
I was crying because I thought I was useless, and she was crying because I was strong. He wasn’t crying (but he does sometimes I’m sure) – but both of their experiences of me were drastically different to how I felt.
My expectations of myself made me feel small, useless and tired but my physical exertion and willpower was a totally different story. I will win or lose these fights this weekend because of my MIND, not my body. My body has 10 weeks (plus 2 years) of incredibly hard training and discipline inside it, and it’s up to me to remember to trust it.
I can focus on the burning in my muscles, or I can focus on my breath and my will to achieve something greater than myself.
I made myself a promise one night on a rooftop that I would never abandon myself again. I promised that I would be on my own side, no matter what happens, and I forgot that last night.
I put so much pressure on myself to be perfect that I forgot that it’s ok to just be.
We are all working so hard to be something – happier, better, smarter, more successful, whatever, and we always view our experiences of our lives through a filter of expectation. If your expectations are causing you anger or sadness, are they helping you get what you need to get done? Are you going to win that fight slumped over like a cooked prawn? Not likely.
My trainer said to me this morning that this is no time to doubt – I can beat myself up (and let someone else do it worse) or I can stand strong and hold my ground. My body will do whatever my mind tells it to – and it rarely lets me down.
99% of the time that I push the “call” button on my phone, it works. During those rare 1% moments when it doesn’t, I immediately forget that it ever worked and threaten to throw it out the window. I forget that 99% of the time this thing keeps me in touch with people I love who I can’t see; I think it deserves a little break.
And so do I.
And so do you – fuck living inside an expectation that is imposed on you by the world around you. You exist to experience existing and there is no “need” for you to do anything unless it enhances your life and the lives of those around you.
It hurts to work hard, but nothing hurts worse than believing you’re not worth it.