Have you heard it said these days that the secret to happiness is to lower your expectations? It makes sense, doesn’t it? We often put so much pressure on ourselves or each other, due to our unnecessary or overblown expectations.
But the other day I read a statement from the great Bhakti teacher, Bhaktivinode Thakur. He lived and taught in the 19th Century. He was an esteemed district magistrate under the British Raj, he had twelve children, he slept little and wrote prolifically in Bengali, Sanskrit and English. So, he was not a slacker.
Understanding his position, I found what he said to be astounding, and I’ve been pondering it ever since: Bhaktivinode Thakur said that humility means to have no expectation. To me, most amazing!
We live in an achiever’s culture, a culture of the American Dream, a culture of Great Expectations, handed down from Dickens, perhaps, but from the British, most certainly. Conventional wisdom tells me that whatever I want to achieve can be mine, if I only work hard enough and pull myself up by my own bootstraps.
Counterintuitively, the culture of Bhakti is a receiver’s culture. I serve, aspiring to offer my whole heart, expecting grace to come of its own sweet will, if and when He (the divine masculine, Sri Krsna) and She (the divine feminine, Sri Radha) so choose to send the waters of Their mercy down to me. Yes, expectation of divine grace.
But so often we have undue expectations of the mortals who share our lives. But they are just like me, so often in their brokenness unable to come up to the high bar they set for themselves, or that I or others like me, impose on them. I sometimes have undue expectations of my partner, my friends, my children, my employees, my boss, my students, or teachers- it goes on and on. It seems to me that this lowering the bar of expectation could invoke quite a shift, could usher in a kinder, more compassionate world.
There’s proverbial bird in Sanskrit literature, called the Cataka bird. Perhaps it’s the same as the Native American thunderbird. This bird will not drink from the ground, not from a pond or a river, or the ocean. Always looking up, it chooses to remain thirsty until the monsoon rains pour from the rainclouds above. That’s a lot of patience, often about nine months of the year!
Maybe this outlook could correct our victimhood or, on the other hand, the pride of entitlement we so often live by. Maybe our lives would be different if we could become so internally awake in our outlooks as to have no expectations of others, but to be aspiring to love and serve in humility, expecting, one day, those cooling drops of grace from above.