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Aprigraha: Letting go of expectations

In addition to letting go of judgments about others, which I discussed in my last blog post, another way to approach at the yama of aprigraha, non-grasping, is to work with letting go of expectations. I did some research and found that Shakespeare never did say "Expectation is the root of all heartache." However, I still think it is a valid statement. While it may be good to set aims and goals, when they become expectations that we feel must be met, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment and suffering.

The idea of detachment, letting go, which is often mentioned in Hinduism and Buddhism, is something difficult for many of us from the west. Aren’t we supposed to care deeply about things and people? Aren't we supposed follow our passions? Of course. We can care deeply about something or someone but not to grasp for or expect a particular outcome from this caring. To use the example of children, we can love them and care for them deeply, but if we hold them too close, try to control them too much, we will crush them, and when they are not the people we want them to be, this can crush us. This “attached” love works the opposite from the way we want it to. Instead of creating a loving and healthy relationship, it can make both people miserable and ruin the relationship.

In his poem, On Children, Kahlil Gibran, uses the image of the parent being the bow, aiming for "gladness," and the children being "living arrows" being "sent forth." We can raise our children well, aim them in a certain way, but we cannot determine their path in life.

And this image works equally well for those who don't have children. We all put things out into the world: our work, our creative projects, our love for others, our actions. While we have some degree of control over our intentions and actions, we have little control over outcomes. We can try to do something kind, but we can’t control whether the recipient of our kind action will receive it in the spirit in which it is intended. We can put in the necessary work to create a good resume and prepare for and dress appropriately for a job interview but ultimately we cannot control whether we obtain the job. We can love others, but we can't make them love us. To use Gibran's metaphor, all we can do is to try to be the steady bow and aim our arrows in a particular direction. We can't control whether they hit a particular target. We can aim our hearts a certain way and put in the work but then we need to let go of expectations about the outcome. If we are going to minimize suffering, we need to do things for the doing of them rather than out of a need to prove or attain something.

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