Whether or not we have our survival needs met, winter is a challenge. The tendrils of the cold dig deeper into our bones, trying to take hold no matter how many layers we put on. We cling to thoughts of sunshine and awkward 60 degree days in February. Even I, a lover of winter, start to feel the melancholy sometime in February when we reach the endless grey. As oftentimes happens on social media, I don’t want to portray that our little adventure is always excitement, sunshine, and rainbows. We need to move away from extending a false sense of infinite happiness and goodliness in our culture. I’m here to talk about expectations.
This winter has been very challenging for our family. Our RV isn’t built for deep winter in the woods. It’s livable, but it’s not the coziest of winter nests. Despite our efforts towards additional insulation, it is costing us more to heat it than it did to heat our big city house. This wasn’t in the plans! Small place, small utilities, right? Little Ray and I spent ten days away from home during the negative temperatures of the polar vortex. While we got to spend a pleasant staycation with Granny and Grandpa, those many days plus the general tumult of the stress is working on all of us. We’re still trying to grow into our new home, still trying to make friends, still trying to figure out school, all while managing a huge project. Did I mention I am also starting a new job? I’m not sure what I expected, but I know it wasn’t this. If I am honest with myself, that expectation of infinite happiness keeps creeping in just like the cold. I’m looking for the easy ride. Everyone’s gonna hold hands and sing “Kumbaya.” These are unreasonable expectations, and when they aren’t met this creates tension and anxiety. Instead, I’m trying to learn to ditch expectations and be open to discomfort and hardship and what they teach. What this uncomfortable winter has taught me may surprise you.
Anticipating anything other than what is actually happening creates an expectation that distorts our perceptions of reality. We can put ourselves into intense periods of anxiety and victimhood maintaining the belief that things should be different than they are. This can turn us over to entitlement, where we feel the only way out is deserving for things to be different, because we feel we have special and unique problems that no one else has. Once we reach victimhood and the perceived helplessness, then comes the ever-abundant ways to check out, seeking out constant highs from any source rather than feeling uncomfortable. Consumer culture makes this exceptionally easy to do. Yet, working through problems is profoundly more satisfying than the constant comfort or pleasure highs that consumer culture advocates. How do we do this when it seems counter-intuitive to everything we hear? The answer is practicing mindfulness, stepping back and observing what is happening so that we can respond instead of react. We have to be open to feeling uncomfortable, feeling negative emotions, experiencing conflict, and finding ways to regulate that aren’t destructive. Mindfulness allows us to exercise the power to choose, to embrace the gift of consciousness. If we choose this path, we can put one foot in front of the other, taking a small action and then another, until small consistent actions add up to solving problems.
To be clear, I’m talking about attuning ourselves to our lives so we can make conscious choices. We should exercise the basic expectations of food, clothing, shelter, and safety. I’m not talking about gaslighting ourselves with positive thinking, taking a walk in the woods instead of taking a much-needed medication, or overcoming poverty or abusive relationships. What I’m referring to is getting caught in the trap of thinking everyday problems are as big as those problems.
We are always going to get caught in turbulent waters. We can choose to get swept away or we can row the boat.