Don’t expect more of yourself than your Natural Limits allow – 15 Oct 13


Among those people who call themselves spiritual, there are many different ideas spread about how you should live your life. Of course, they are all positive points, telling you to love those around you, to be aware of who you are and what you want, to expect less in order to avoid disappointment and to control your ego. While it is a general tendency that the west imports such ideas from Eastern philosophies, trying to implement them in their lives, I believe that one needs to take a difference of culture into account as well. There are just certain things which may fit perfectly into an Eastern culture such as the Indian one but are so foreign to your Western culture that you would make yourself unhappy trying to fit into it.

Let’s take the example of expectations. It is a commonly known goal of spiritually interested people to reduce or even remove their expectations. I have always written and explained that there is actually no reason to try and fully remove your expectations. There should be some of them and there will be if you want to live a normal life with people like family and friends around you. So let’s just talk about the idea that you should drastically reduce your expectations to a minimum.

I believe that this is a valid point that can make you happier because you will not face that much disappointment. I also believe however that you should not try and force yourself not to have any expectations – and also not feel guilty if you have a certain amount of expectations that you cannot get rid of. And that amount depends on your cultural background!

If you look at a person who grows up in an Indian environment, he will not have the tendency to as many expectations as a person growing up in most western countries would. People don’t expect each other to be very punctual here. People don’t expect work to be done within the time frame that was fixed before. People don’t expect a task to be finished precisely and perfectly. A normal, regular Indian person already is used to adjustments, compromises and imperfection. There is already less disappointment, there is already less expectation.

If you have, in your daily life, moved away from unreasonable expectations, you have already done a big step! If you are now worried about the fact that you still expect your loved one to appear at the restaurant at the time that you have agreed upon, I think there is nothing wrong! It is the culture that you grew up with and that is something so deeply rooted inside that you may not ever get that out.

What I am trying to say is that you should not think ‘Whenever I have an expectation, I did something wrong!’ Don’t mentally beat yourself up for the fact that you have expectations just because people of another country have an easier time letting go. Your culture is different, your identity is different.

Accept who you are and don’t try to change what doesn’t actually need to be changed. There are things that can just be alright as they are – even if others don’t think so.

Comment (1)

  1. Sylvia Morgenstern

    I am so happy that you brought up this topic, as exactly this has been keeping my mind busy for a couple of years. My conclusion is that in the West, especially in the “spiritual scene” there is a tremendous misunderstanding regarding those “philosophical imports” from the East. People try to move onto a higher level of happiness (or into happiness at all ) in the belief that Eastern philosophy might help, abandoning their true roots and needs, their passion, their temperament and their authenticity. ACTing like ACTors, but not BEing like BEings. Surely not always, but often there has been some kind of depression or diffuse dissatisfaction before which made people move out of their own world into the world of Eastern philosophy at all. Apart from that there is a good portion of teachers, masters, gurus and lamas, who put even more oil into the fire and make people consistently stick to exactly that believe. Eastern philosophy – which I myself am feeling attracted to, too, and which I indeed try to implement to a certain extend in my life – is so much simplified here! A lot of people really think that joy, happiness and the easiness of life will suddenly overtake them once they have finally overcome all their “disturbing” needs, their expectations, their ego, their longings and passions, which, according to some imported, non-adjusted believe, seem to be the roots of all suffering. Going even further, once the level of full detachment has been achieved, joy and happiness are believed to last forever and negative feelings don’t get the space anymore they actually deserve. For some people this will work out somehow and I appreciate this but there are also people who start to betray themselves and get mentally sick as a consequence. After having got to know a couple of different “communities” with this mind-set – may it be in martial arts (I see at least a trend towards this attitude there as well) or in the very popular Buddhist scene – I reached a point not to believe in the unlimited positive effectiveness of giving up your individual desires anymore. In this context I also want to mention the widespread idea that it is only you yourself who can make yourself happy. There is a prevailing misconception that you simply need to change your mind-set on the things and you will be happy NO MATTER what happens. Sure, in certain situations this helps without any doubt and a healthy reflection on the positivity / negativity of your mind-set will never be wrong and can help a lot to get along better. However, what I can say about myself is that joy and happiness do not solely grow intrinsically out of my “centre”. We all are human beings in interaction with our outer world. This means all is about giving and receiving, seeing and being seen, respecting and being respected, touching and being touched. Our happiness does not solely depend on ourselves but also on our environment. Means it makes sense to give up a harmful environment rather than trying to bear it in the belief that it is upon you to manage your happiness in this uncomfortable situation and that you just need to “progress and grow” with it, unfortunately on top of that additionally feeling bad as long as you struggle to do so. Sounds very trivial but it requires quite some time to find out about this and to refrain from any further attempt to torture yourself, trying to make wine out of water. This also applies to bi-national relationships which, I believe, can only work out as long as both parties are taking some steps towards each other and try to find the right measure of how to deal with the daily life between two cultures.

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