I’m re-reading The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. Good stuff to mull over, absorb and see what comes up, finding what rings true for you. As I tell others “Keep what speaks to you and discard the rest.”
The 2nd Agreement:
2. Don’t Take Anything Personally
Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream.
When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.
Different things recently have reminded me about this Agreement and how we get attached to preconceived outcomes. Earlier this week, I thought someone was unappreciative of the extra effort I put in, then I remembered the Agreement and realized that each of us held different expectations of the outcome we desired. I was expecting kudos and attaboys, but the other person was focused on a different outcome. “Nothing others do is because of you.”
Another example of a preconceived outcome: A friend has been estranged from his son for a few years. Out of the blue a couple of weeks ago, the estranged son texted my friend. Something light like “Hey, how’s it going?” Instead of being joyous that his son had texted him after all this time (wouldn’t that be hard for the son to do?), my friend was upset because the text wasn’t worded the way friend wished it had been. “Shouldn’t he have said ‘Hey, Dad’?” “Don’t you think he should’ve said he’s sorry?” “I’d think he’d say something like …”
I couldn’t believe all the shoulds—the expectations—my friend had as to how his son should have composed the text message. Looking at my friend, I said the point was that his son had reached out and contacted him. The words could have been “eeny meeny miney moe”; they don’t matter. What mattered was that his son broke through and connected. Isn’t that ultimately what they wanted, to resolve the rift? I imagine my friend had been playing an entirely different picture in his mind for how they’d reconnect and this didn’t fit his mental movie. He had a preconceived scenario and couldn’t switch from his expected outcome and accept the different outcome (a great outcome!) that actually resulted. He held on to what he imagined instead of embracing what is, creating “needless suffering.”
I believe it's best not to be attached to a preconceived outcome; the outcome we desire rarely manifests exactly the way we envision. To have a preconceived outcome in mind is to invite certain disappointment. That’s not to say we shouldn’t imagine how we’d like things to be (I enjoy fantasizing about a lush garden and a cute puppy), but we shouldn’t become attached to them. Hold loosely to that which is not sacred. Hold loosely to expectations.
Many families hold expectations during the holidays. If we go into these gatherings with a Norman Rockwell picture fixed firmly in our imagination—expecting certain characters to be other than what they’ve always been through the years—we’re going to be disappointed. Family gatherings can be big, noisy, messy things. Sometimes words are misunderstood or misinterpreted. Sometimes feelings get hurt entirely unintentionally. (I tend to trust in the Good Intentions of others.)
Better to release our attachments to those expected outcomes and be flexible to whatever comes up. Let it go. Let it flow. Ride the wave. Don’t take anything personally. Instead of thinking “that’s a rude comment” just think “that’s a comment.” Don’t interpret and judge; people usually don’t mean to hurt others. We begin to misunderstand each other when we judge things in terms of “should” and “good/bad.” Be accepting and flow like water.
Letting go of preconceived outcomes allows us to open our hearts to a different, easier path, one where there is less needless suffering. Let it go and enjoy what happens. Just don’t take anything personally.