COLUMN: Jessica Iron Joseph — Feb. 8, 2013

Jessica Iron Joseph
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I had a different column planned for this week, but a conversation with a friend altered that. I had been telling her about something I learned from another friend, and when she heard about it, she insisted I share it with others. So, here is a peek into how meditation has changed my life.

I had been a few months into my daily meditation routine when I hit a roadblock. I was incredibly frustrated because on several different occasions during meditation images of particular people would pop up, or hidden resentments would surface -- resentments I sometimes wasn’t even aware I’d had.

One particular day I was super exasperated. I meditated right before I ventured to a friend’s house and I was upset that I wasn’t as calm as I had hoped to be. Visiting this friend of mine is always a joyful experience and I worried that my agitated state would bring a veil of unhappiness over us.

I tried to be cheerful all through lunch, but as time wore on my jumbled nerves grew increasingly worse until I felt I might burst from the pressure.

I finally blurted out my problem. I confessed how irritated I felt and how I thought meditation seemed to be wreaking more havoc on my life than the peace I had hoped for.

I told her that I thought it was unfair that I was doing all this work to be compassionate and patient and understanding, but for what? Many times I felt like the only one doing this.

I told her that I was trying to be forgiving and had made efforts on a few occasions to reach out to people I had formerly severed contact with.

I had tried to suppress my own desires in favor of others’. I had often smiled and bit my tongue during heated moments when I could feel spiteful words forming.

I told her that my life sometimes felt a lot less dramatic when I just did and said whatever I pleased rather than meditating and attempting to quell the feisty beast within me.

Now I was plagued with clarity. Annoying, unapologetic clarity. Clarity popped into my head during supposed moments of peace. My 30 minutes of meditation sometimes revealed things that I had preferred to once ignore.

Now I was inundated with problems I didn’t realize I was avoiding. I complained that it felt like I had unwittingly unleashed a soap opera full of unraveled ends that I alone was somehow responsible for fixing.

I reasoned that it would be much easier to live in a Buddhist community where we all practised the same things; where there was a mutual agreement on everyone’s behavior; where we all understood each other’s plight because we all meditated and attempted to love one another with grace and harmony and respect.

Obviously I couldn’t abandon my family and friends and relocate to become a nun, so instead I was stymied by my desire for peace though most of the time I felt I was the only one pursuing it.

My friend listened patiently, nodding appropriately, refusing to interrupt. When I had finished my outpouring of emotion she looked at me and sagely said, “Maybe the problem isn’t everybody else, but is in fact with your expectations of others.”

Expectations. Great expectations. Just like that my friend zoned in and uncovered the source of my angst. What were my expectations of others?

Over the next few weeks I didn’t change any of my behaviors. I can be quite stubborn, and truthfully, I wanted my friend to be wrong. I wanted to prove that I had no expectations. I intended to replay every conversation with friends and family members and study whether or not I had any expectations at all.

I was shocked when I waited for my father to phone me instead of me calling him first. I shook my head at myself after I secretly chastised the deli lady for not serving me quickly enough. My husband didn’t come home soon enough. I actually expected my car to start. In Saskatchewan. During a deep freeze.

My mother wasn’t sensitive enough. My kids forgot to say thank-you. I didn’t get a smile at the drive-thru!

The list went on and on. My friend’s statement became truer with every passing moment and every single person I encountered. I was appalled. I couldn’t believe it.

What’s more is that I was shocked because I expected much more out of myself. I was annoyed with my behavior, but once I was able to easily pinpoint my big, gigantic imperfection, you cannot believe how liberated I became!

Now I constantly ask myself what my expectations are in every possible scenario. Sometimes I state them to people -- if I feel it is incredibly important to our relationship. Honestly though, most of the time I dismiss my expectations. It is so freeing to have no expectations and to relish the moment rather than poisoning it with my ego’s demands.

When I do this, I find that I feel lighter, happier and far more joyful. Instead of clutching that long list of secret expectations that no one ever lives up to, I choose freedom and happiness.

Rather than expecting things from others, I now offer things. I give stuff, money, time, or help -- anything to make everyone around me more comfortable. Life is so much more rewarding when I devote less time to me.

Am I totally cured? Not by a long shot. Maybe I never will be, and that’s perfectly fine with me. So long as I have to work hard to constantly drop my expectations and instead think of others, I believe it will keep me humble.

So for now, I’ll just keep meditating, and welcome the clarity and revelations that accompany my pursuit of peace, no matter how disruptive my life must first become. And I’ll always thank the people who bear with me and my big bag of flaws, and still manage to call me “friend” at the end of the day.

Geographic location: Saskatchewan

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