Managing Expectations, The Pitfalls of Potential

By Nathan Whyte

“Expectation is the route of all heartache”

-Shakespeare

This path that we walk is often anything but straight forward, in practice is has more ups and downs, loops and whirls than a toddlers first overzealous attempt at tying shoes. One thing the Buddha taught us is that most of if not all of our suffering is down to a false model of reality. Our view of the world is lacking tangibility, in essence, you’ve been living in a dream world Neo, this whole fucking time.

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Something that’s been buzzing around my brain like a hornet lately, after maintaining a spiritual practice for a few years now is that after all the junk is dislodged and removed, a dirty scummy odorous liquid fungus always remains at the bottom of the trashcan, one of the strongest and last remaining bastions of unhappiness-  Is Fate.

It’s the type of irksome thought pattern on par with being stuck in an earworm loop of the baby shark song for over a week, just when you thought that shit had left you BABBBY SHARK DooDooDooAaaaarggh (I’m really sorry to have just passed on that curse)

It’s the echo of the hell realm. The idea that there is some fabulous predestination you are failing to arrive at. It was all planned out for you, but you didn’t stick to the script. Close but no cigar

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It visits you like a mosquito in the night buzzing and whirring around the room, but of course you can’t kill it, that’s bad Karma so you just have to put up with its shit and do your best to get some rest

I’m not talking  about the complex notion of free will, I mean that overhang we call the future. Of course we only ever experience this moment right now, this one ,no other. All my life it’s been NOW, and all of yours too, its been now… forever, the eternal now. I know this, I feel this, yet it doesn’t always release the sense of anxiety we attribute to not having fulfilled my ‘Potential’

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I, like most people reading this, had a nonlinear path. My life up to now didn’t necessarily go to any kind of plan of my own making (at least not consciously). Up until not so recently I was at odds with the world, everything came at me rather than from me and I felt personally attacked, very much like I had been dealt a bad hand, or maybe there was some kind of mix up at the hospital and I was actually meant to have gone to a couple of loving, caring, very un messed up billionaires. No such luck.

In fact even the billionaires look unhappy, like how much money do you need to have to have enough? Madonna is still making music, like come on. In Samsara its never enough, we are constantly craving and avoiding

Here comes the Buddha once again to poop on our parade, whatever has happened to us, whatever our life circumstances are, they are , according to him, the fruits of our own Karma. We are the masters of our own destiny. Fuck, I can’t blame anyone or anything but my own actions. As the Buddha rightly said, they are my only possession. This doesn’t help that all pervasive itch that we feel we should in some way be better than we are, that we’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere and that our salvation rests somewhere in the future where we have everything we want and everything figured out

The mind plays all sorts of games with us. By placing happiness in a not so distant future, it ensures that we once again commit to putting it off. Ill be happy mañana, fuck it. By reminding us of that embarrassing thing we did in gym class in high school, it keeps us in perpetual guilt, perpetual regret. But wait, no, the whole point of walking this spiritual path is to attain a modicum of realization. Its a Goalless path, and all that, yes I know I know. But at some point its worthwhile to graduate from a spiritual seeker to a spiritual finder.

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I guess I’m kind of impatient, I want results, so there’s always the pressure of perfectionism in my own mind. To truly be at peace, finally fucking chill, we have to make our peace with the past, and let go of the future, like the sex pistols once screamed NO FUTURE. That’s not a war cry of pessimism. Having no future is not akin to nihilism. Its the release from unrealistic expectations. Everything that happened in the past led us to where we are now, the good and the bad, nothing can be thrown out and nothing needs to be as we start every moment fresh in the realisation that we cant be haunted by it anymore. The pressures we put upon ourselves manifest through unattainable daydreamed fantasies of how things might or could have panned out, lived out in technicolor in our heads when we should be doing literally anything else. Having no past and no future is the freedom to be and do anything, ultimate potential. Potential  And here we are back to that mosquito in the night.

“What if?”

“What should I do”

“What will I be”

I think about it as it gives me cold sweats in a hot shower mid rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody, all parts and harmonies murdered at top note by yours truly. Suddenly the reverberation of a not long forgotten echo… What if I’m not living up to my true potential. If my shower room rendition of Queen is anything to go by, the neighbours have voted time and again unanimously in favour of my future not containing a record deal, more likely a further addition to the litany of noise complaints

What is our potential anyway? It’s anyone’s guess

Jiddu Krishnamurti was once asked what his secret to happiness was, he took a short pause and smiled, saying, “my secret is I don’t mind what happens”

It would seem we live in a world that lives for the future, in a constant state of becoming, rather than what really matters, being.

It won’t be a statement that impresses your parents, your partner, or anyone really for that matter. It offers no security. It would seem we live in a world that lives for the future, in a constant state of becoming, rather than what really matters, being. We are human beings not human doings, although it is OK to have ambitions, great to have a goal, but don’t count on any of it, or daydream about it either. We can’t carry the weight of the entire future on our shoulders, neither can we carry the burden of anyone’s expectations, including our own. In my experience, so far life has been a story of fuck up, then get up, with every possibility I’ll fuck up again, yet every effort not to. I relinquish my sense of control, it’s not that I no longer care about a career, about the future, I know there are things that need to be done, choices to be made, but it doesn’t have to color our every waking hour, and thinking about it should offer no distraction from action. Now when the feelings of inadequacy pop up like  an unwanted tab, or the constant ping of the emails spamming up your inbox

Join Nathan Whyte’s group Dharma Rebels

Entertain the notion that you are already enough.

Merely by Being you are good enough

There are many pitfalls to our ideals of potential

I don’t know what will happen in the future, but really,

 I don’t mind




Nathan works in mental health and is currently studying Psychotherapy, he practices Buddhism, loves reading, punk music, and weird movies with subtitles. He’s an admin on the Dharma Rebels Facebook group and he says his greatest teacher is his three year old Son, Bodhi

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