Busted Halo

Rebecca Gallo is trying to put into practice the lessons she learned while walking The Camino. Follow along as she continues her spiritual journey — whatever that might mean.

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September 11th, 2013



expectationsBefore I left for the Camino, I’d read about the Cruz de Ferro: an iron cross that stood atop a pole that reached high into the air. Around its base pilgrims left stones they had either brought from home or picked up along the way. I read that the stone I carried was to be symbolic of my fears, worries, and expectations and that by leaving the stone at the base of the cross I was leaving those things behind.

Prior to leaving on my Camino, I had a send-off of sorts. I passed around the stone I would leave at the Cruz de Ferro, and asked all present to put their fears and worries and expectations into it. One friend commented on the expectations piece. What an interesting thought — to leave expectations behind.

Her words came back to me as I sat in a bookstore with 15 others listening to a teacher of Buddhism. The teacher explained how all suffering leads back to our expectations — that disappointment is simply due to life not being what we thought it would be.

I took mental inventory of disappointments in my life. I went back to my college days: disappointed I was not able to study abroad, that I had to go through a course of study that I didn’t care for. All because I’d expected that anyone could study abroad in college, and college was where you got to take courses in an area that interested you. There should have been an asterisk beside those expectations that said, “Not necessarily true all the time.”

I then thought of students I’d had myself — college freshman taking my Anatomy & Physiology classes expecting to one day become nurses or paramedics. A quarter of them would not be there on the last day of class, though on that first day none of them would have predicted that.

My Buddhism teacher went on to talk about detachment — the idea that suffering is less if we let go of our expectations, or at least recognize them as such and realize they may or may not happen. Easier said than done, of course. But a noble pursuit none-the-less.

I don’t recall what expectations I left at the Cruz de Ferro. But on any given day, I have a few I’d love to leave behind. Today, I ponder the suffering I put myself through because I expected by this point in my life I would find work that I love — that I would be waking up every morning excited for the day ahead. I’ve had periods of life like this, but none has lasted.

Over the weekend I went on a house tour and got very frustrated when I was given incorrect directions, causing me to waste a lot of time. The experience may have been a better one had I let go of my expectation that the day would go just as I had planned.

It’s not easy to live life without an idea of how things should go. From the moment we get up, we expect the hot water will pour out of the shower head, expect the coffee maker will produce our morning jolt at the press of a button. We figure the car will start and will get us to our destination without delay. When the water never warms, when we discover we’re out of coffee filters, when the car has a flat tire it can throw off the entire day — if we choose to let it.

And maybe that’s the key — to recognize we have a choice. I can decide to be disappointed, or to say, “Well, that’s not quite what I was planning,” and plug ahead.

Ultimately, I’m not quite ready to let go of all expectations. But the idea of detaching myself from them — of not hinging my hopes on a specific outcome — that’s a start.


What expectations would you like to leave behind? 

The Author : Rebecca Gallo
Since 2012, Rebecca Gallo has walked the Camino de Santiago three times -- twice on a strict budget, and a third time traveling a little more luxuriously (private rooms with sheets instead of hostels with a sleeping bag). She enjoyed sharing her first journey and subsequent reflections with Busted Halo readers. Other tales of her adventures can be found at RenaissanceRebecca.com.
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • RoamingCatholic

    The concept of “detachment” makes me think of the Incarnation, which is quite the opposite. As a Christian I believe in a God who completely *attached* himself to the world’s sufferings, and I believe my purpose is to follow my Lord into that attachment, hopefully not in expectations for myself but in a deep investment in the needs of others. The Buddhist teacher is right that this means more suffering, but it is of the redemptive kind (as opposed to the suffering that comes from selfish attachment to unhealthy things).
    This does get me thinking, though, about being perhaps at the point of needing to let go of certain expectations for what my own adult life, vocation and livelihood are supposed to look like. Maybe learning to detach from those can free me to become more attached in an incarnational sense.

    • Phil Fox Rose

      RoamingCatholic, I agree the word detachment (popular in Buddhism and self-help) is tricky. So is indifference, from Ignatian spirituality. The intended meaning is complex, but the key point here is about expectations, and I believe you are conflating expectations and intentions. Of course you’re right that we are called to care — blessed are those who mourn — and to take action — I was hungry and you gave me food — but the trouble comes when we do those things while attached to expectations, and not just selfish ones as you suggest. Of course, if you do charity expecting to get gratitude and feel good about yourself, that will lead to trouble. But also, doing good works with the expectation that you will solve the problem, or make a discernible difference in the world, usually leads to despair and burnout. The point is, as the saying goes, to “take the right actions and let go of the results.”

      • RoamingCatholic

        This could be a helpful nuance to avoid falling into Pelagianism. But my own intended nuance here was essentially to specify that *total* detachment is not what Christians are called to cultivate, but rather (in an incarnational and not a self-centered or compromised way) a deeper investment in the world. I suspect this is a point on which Buddhists and Christians must part ways, or at least a serious sticking point that would be important to hash out in an interfaith dialogue context.

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