When my son was six, he fell off the jungle gym at school on Halloween morning and broke his elbow. He was in a cast for a month, and when you’re an active, six-year old kid, that feels like an eternity. On the afternoon I took my kids to the orthopedist to have the cast removed, it was like Christmas morning. We were all really excited that he was “getting his arm back.” When the cast came off, he looked at his arm. The skin was very dry and peeling in places. It hadn’t seen the light of day in a month, after all. When the nurse left the room, my son looked at me with his brow furrowed and very quietly said, “I thought it was going to look normal.” I could tell he was trying not to cry. I explained that we are all shedding skin all the time, and that the skin on his arm would be back to normal in no time. I also told him it was fine to cry, but that he didn’t need to worry. He also discovered that he couldn’t make a fist yet, or fully bend or straighten his arm. For the rest of that day, he carried his arm as if the cast was still on it. He did his homework with his right hand for the first time in a month, but other than that, he continued to use his left arm.
Anyway, all of this got me thinking about expectations, and also about times we feel compressed or restricted, and what happens when we’re finally free. There are few things more likely to land us in a world of trouble than our own expectations of how things should be, or how other people should feel or behave, or how life should look (expectations tend to keep the company of the word “should”, and whenever I find myself using that word I stop and check in. Because there are only a few places the word “should” isn’t dangerous. Like, everyone should floss. Or, people should pick up after their dogs).
When walking into a situation, whether it be a new job, a party at a friend’s house, or new a relationship, I really believe the two best things to be are curious, and breathing consciously. The minute we unpack a bunch of our expectations all over a circumstance, we deny ourselves and anyone else involved the possibility of just being present, open and aware. We lose the chance to explore and figure out, with open eyes, whether this is the kind of situation that is going to bring us love, growth, and fulfillment, or whether it really doesn’t feel right. Sometimes we get attached to an outcome and breeze right by the fact that our heart is saying, “No, this is not the way.” I think a lot of this comes from our desire to control things. If we can predict the future based on the past, it becomes less uncertain. And most humans suffer from fear of the unknown to some degree or another.
The thing is, the whole future is unknown. We really don’t know what will happen in our lives in the next ten minutes, hours, days, weeks, years. We can’t predict that or control it. Having intentions is great. Knowing yourself, and uncovering what it is that lights you up, and committing to spreading your gifts wherever you go is beautiful. But expecting life to unfold in a particular way is a set-up. You set yourself up to feel disappointed if it doesn’t look like the picture in your head. And life rarely does. Sometimes it brings more beauty and joy than you ever could have imagined, and other times it breaks your heart wide open and hands you the kind of devastation that leaves you working to just breathe. We may as well open to what is, and face the reality that everything is always changing, and that one day we will all exhale for the last time, so there’s nothing to do but get busy living. Growing. Accepting, Surrendering to the beauty and the pain.
The other thing is that cast. It reminded me of times in my life when I’ve felt restricted or compressed. When I’ve allowed my light to be dimmed for any number of reasons. You can get used to compression; it can become your “new normal.” It got me thinking about the pain of that, because it requires complicity. Nothing and no one can dim your light unless you allow that to happen, unless you participate in that dimming. You won’t do that when you’re loving yourself, but when you’re in pain, you might. Digging your way out of that kind of darkness is not easy, because it requires that you look at your participation. You examine why you took part in the crushing of your own soul. Those are important questions, and you need the answers in order to heal, and move forward, and carry the light in your heart as the miraculous gift that it is. Your offering is precious because no one can offer it but you.
The funny thing is, once you step outside into the light, you might not know exactly what to do with yourself at first. Your soul may need a minute to realize the cast has come off. A moment to expand, to reach out, to flex its muscle and start shining again. The full range of motion of your heart is mind-blowing. Your soul on fire is a feeling you don’t want to miss. See if you can drop your expectations and expand fully in every direction, but give yourself time, and have compassion. This business of being human is not easy, and the path to opening is similar to that very first path to opening we all endure–it’s dark and the way is not always clear, and as we struggle toward the light we get squeezed and eventually we come out and take that huge inhale. And then we wail. And then with love and a lot of help we figure it out. Life is a constant opportunity for rebirth, for breathing, and for helping each other along the way. Lots and lots of love to you, Ally Hamilton