Thursday, 24 January 2013

A reminder about expectations

As a mental health counselor, I encounter on a daily basis how expectations directly fuel our behaviors, emotions and thoughts.  Personally, one of my biggest lessons about expectations came from an expectation of how I felt my father "should" act, which fueled YEARS of misery, anger and hurt...until I finally recognized that MY expectation was the problem, not him.

I had a wonderful encounter with a client's expectation of her body today.  I have begun facilitating a pain management group and today I introduced some relaxation techniques, which the group then practiced.  We reviewed abdominal breathing, practiced muscle relaxation and visual imagery.  After the group, I spent time with a group member who had missed the last group.  She was telling me that her mind is always racing and even sleep is stressful because of the nightmares that come every night.  She told me, "I have been practicing taking deep breaths, then telling each body part to relax, but it just doesn't work!"  I asked her, "What doesn't work?"  She replied, "My headache is still there!  Nothing works!"  I spoke with her about her expectation of doing lots of things that "should" make her headache stop, which in turn is increasing the pain and stress...making things worse.  I suggested not having an expectation.  "When you are taking deep breaths, just observe what is happening, notice with curiosity.  When you are creating tension and then relaxing a body part, notice the difference between the two states.  Be an observer instead of judging the exercise as "bad" because your desire for your headache to stop."  Her pause and contemplation of this was beautiful!  "Yes..just not having a goal...just seeing what happens.  Okay, I will try that."

It was such a wonderful reminder for myself that we spend so much time feeling like we have to accomplish things to be "successful," to be "good" and "valuable."   We end up being so consumed with outcomes that we forget to be present in the process, to allow the outcome to be what it may be.  "Letting go" can simply be shifting from trying to "control" and "do" an outcome, to watching with curiosity and being present to witness what may happen...and then smile because you had no idea that could be a possible outcome.