"A great source of fuel for our pain and suffering is the false expectations that run our lives. . . . We all live with a blueprint of expectations of how things should work out. These expectations direct the ways in which we relate to one another and even our sense of self-worth. Most of the time these expectations are simply illusions, with no basis in reality. Yet when life does not live up to what we're expecting, not only do we feel fear, but we also expend every effort to make reality fit with our demands. It can be painful to look at our expectations and put the false ones down.

"Mulla Nasrudin is a wonderful classic character in Sufi teachings: the wise fool who always seems to make mistakes, do the unexpected, and not understand what is going on. In his disconnection from conventional understanding, a deeper, spontaneous wisdom manifests.

"Some small boys planned to steal Nasrudin's slippers and run away with them. They called to him and pointed to a tree. 'Nobody can climb that tree,' they said.

" 'Any one of you could,' said Nasrudin, 'and I will show you how.'

"He removed his slippers, then tucked them into his belt and began to climb.

" 'Nasrudin,' they cried, 'you won't need your slippers in a tree.'

" 'Why not?' Nasrudin said. 'Be prepared for every emergency, I say. For all I know I might find a road up there.'
— Indries Shah

"Reality is reality. It takes place as it wills. It's clear that on a literal level Nasrudin will not find a road up in a tree, even if he expects it could happen. (This story has deeper implications, however, about finding your road, or pathway in life, in unexpected places.) Yet the larger point is that reality is not your enemy, but it certainly can become the enemy of your expectations. You start a business and expect it to succeed in a year or two, you choose a life partner and expect to be happy the rest of your life, you enter a race and are sure you are going to win. You are trained to see all of life through the lens of your expectations. You are even told that certain people are good, and others are bad — and you expect it to be true.

"Needless to say, reality often brings experiences that contradict these deeply held beliefs. Each time this happens, fear develops. What is important to see is that it is not reality but your expectations that are causing the trouble.

When You Allow Reality to be Reality, You Grow Safe and Strong.

"Make a list of your basic expectations of life. How do you expect others to treat you? How do you expect to perform in work, in love, in life? Are there some expectations that do not serve you? Which ones can you give up?

"This is a fascinating exercise. As you do it, you will see how rigid some of your expectations can be. Expectations do not factor in change, growth, or new developments. They do not allow you to see that life constantly metamorphoses in front of your eyes. What was medicine one day turns into poison the next, and what was poison turns into medicine. Someone who was angry becomes forgiving. Someone who forgave you can develop a grudge. Someone who loved spending time in the sun grows older and now seeks the shade of trees. Expect life to be life, expect everything to alter, and then you will be safe and secure in the ever-flowing panorama of change. As you release yourself from false expectations, you can enjoy and relate constructively to whatever life brings.

"List five expectations you can easily let go of. What is it like to live without them? Where is the pain now?

"Letting go of expectations does not mean you let go of your standards, values, or boundaries. It simply means that you develop the flexibility to take appropriate actions and make choices that are constructive. When you cling to false expectations, you get tied up in anger, struggle, and heartache, sometimes rejecting those you care for the most. These expectations are a suit of armor that does not really protect you, but just provides another way of becoming numb."