This morning I had myself a brief case of expectation-rollercoastering.
What the heck is that? I'm glad you asked. Expectation is a form of judgment. It takes a lot of forms, positive and negative, and can be about the past or the future. Here are some lovely examples from my recent subconscious mind:
- It was really good that I walked 8 miles on Saturday.
- I need to walk like that all the time to get back in shape.
- I can't stop working on my novel.
- have to make more money as fast as I can.
What happens to me sometimes, (and I'm sure happens to you, too), is I'll get caught up in a series of memories, regrets, fears, personal recriminations, envy, relief, imagined outcomes, and other mental flotsam and jetsam. It's a sort of whirling, pulsing, ride of emotions. It has real physical effects, too. My heart races, my skin tingles, my stomach drops. It feels like being on a rollercoaster, or maybe a log flume. It's not entirely pleasant.*
This particular morning I was thinking of two people I knew back in high school, J. and V. J is a convict now. V is a multi-millionaire. I haven't talked to either in years.
J, the convict one, he's someone I went to high school and college with, who married a good friend of mine. He did a Very Bad Thing I'm Not Going to Talk About Directly, a few years ago. I only found out about it recently. It boggled my mind. For a while I couldn't process that the same guy I ate sandwiches with, and talked about sports cars to, was now sitting in a jail cell.
The millionaire is also a high school friend of mine. We were friends, but not super close ones. We used to have excellent philosophical and political conversations in study hall. He was one of a small group of folks I went to an after-party with after my senior prom. I knew he had had some degree of success during the dot-com era, but not exactly how much. On a whim this morning, I dug around the internet thinking about it, and found out that he and another high school friend of mine had sold their web-based business to another web-based business for hundreds of millions of dollars.
And for some weird reason, cue rollercoaster.
I felt this wash of feelings come over me. I was so glad to not be J, whose choices and actions horrify me. I was envious of the vast wealth that V had, and couldn't conceive of how the same guy I knew now moved in this vastly different sphere from me. I tried to imagine how I could have done what he did, to be where he is now. I suddenly was examining my own life and choices with a critical magnifying glass, and not coming up good enough to an Imaginary standard I had created.
*I take it back. Emotional Rollercoastering is no fun whatsoever.
It so upset me, I reached out for my brother Spacey, to talk to him about it.
Before he could get back to me though, I had the chance to get off the rollercoaster by myself. Here's how. Lately, I've been focusing my daily practice of meditation and contemplation on the concept of shenpa, attachment, and how to work with them. (Pema Chödrön has really good advice on how to do this.)
I used Pema's advice to touch the thoughts lightly. It's like the image of popping a soap bubble with a feather.
I recognized the roller coaster as being of my own making. That it was, as Pema says, "just thinking."
That doesn't make the thoughts and feelings go away, but it puts them in perspective. The second I did it, I was flooded with relief. I wasn't in jail like J. Nor was I V, with whatever blessings and challenges he has in his own life.
Instead I realized I was simply me. Me, standing in the shower. Where the water was warm.
I'm the me with my own past achievements, my own past mistakes. And I'm the me with life ahead of me, some unknown quantity of it. It could be moments, it could be decades. It actually doesn't even matter how much time it turns out to be.
This is how it goes, with shenpa. This is why mindfulness is a practice. It's a practice I began about 15 years ago, and which I'll be doing for the rest of my life.
I felt much better. That was when Spacey caught up with me.
He reminded me about the strawberry in this very favorite zen story of mine.
Man I am loving this strawberry.