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April 1st, 2021
There is an anxiety intrinsic to expectation. Even when the expectation is for something positive, the experience is most often coupled with a nervousness. When the outcome is positive we generally say ‘excited’ instead of ‘nervous’ but the two indicate the same sort of salience, regardless of flavor.
The apprehensive quality of expectation carries with it a kind of resistance. Something has seized our sense of being, and the anxiety or excitement results from a subtle reluctance. But reluctance to what? The future? The inevitable object we dread or eagerly await? Certainly in the negative version of the situation the reluctance makes sense, but is it also appropriate to dread what you eagerly await?
The most straightforward explanation for dreading the positive would be a fear that it might not happen, or it might not happen in just the way we imagine. Both are reasonable ways to poison the good things we look forward to, but there is perhaps something a bit more subtle at play, something inherent in expectation that is not so straightforward, something that does not discriminate between good and bad things that the future holds.
Expectation is a mutation of the present. It’s a conceptual realm that is divorced from the here and now. Positive or negative, we disservice ourselves from the process that brings about these outcomes that we either dread or hunger for. It’s a bit like dazing off into space thinking about how proud you’ll be when your child graduates and in that state you completely miss the instance when they take their first steps.
So what is to be done? Never think about the future? Certainly not. Mental health rarely lies in a pendulum swing to the other side of an extreme. Planning for the future is a wise necessity, and the trick is to be present and plan for the future. The point here is simply that we devote far too much time and thought to the future at the expense of what is going on right now, even when the future seems bright. The antidote to expectation is a surrender to the process of the moment.