Before 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?