Newsletter - June 2022

Act Without Expectation?

 

“The Master doesn’t seek fulfillment. Not seeking, not expecting, she is present, and can welcome all things.” (Lao Tzu)

 

This suggests that whenever we seek and expect, we fail to be present. We are off somewhere else looking at the present in terms of what we want it to be. As a result, we usually don’t welcome all things unless they happen to fulfill our expectations. The Tao Te Ching (Chapter 15) reminds us that when we do this, we miss the fulfillment of being in the present moment.

 

Sometimes we act deliberately, sometimes we don’t. For example, we often do things without thinking about them very much, or even thinking about them at all. But much of the time our actions are deliberate. In other words, we do them on purpose – which is to say we’re typically seeking a particular result. Sounds okay, doesn’t it?

 

My April newsletter explored what happens when the particular result we’re seeking is the approval of others. This newsletter picks up on what Lao Tzu has to say about seeking and expecting anything at all. This has two significant consequences. The first is that we become no longer present; the second is that we become no longer able to “welcome all things.” Hmm, perhaps that’s not so okay. Why should these two consequences exist? And what is the significance of them?

 

I think Lao Tzu suggests the reason the Master is able to be present and welcome all things is precisely because she is not seeking fulfillment. In fact, she’s not seeking anything. She’s simply not seeking. The general implication is that you can’t seek and be present at the same time. So, how is that significant? Let’s take a look.

 

Whatever you’re seeking is clearly not present – which is the reason why you’re seeking it. This means at least some of your attention is focused on a version of the future in which you have found whatever you’re looking for. What’s more, this desired version of the future is your motivation for acting in the present. This means that, whether you’re aware of it or not, part of you is already somewhere else.

 

The second consequence is that the version of the future you’re seeking is one you already have in mind. It is this particular version of the future that you want to welcome. You’re not really interested in other versions of the future, any of which might also unfold whether you seek them or not. It is to this degree that you are not, in fact, open to welcoming “all things.” You’re really only open to welcoming one thing. Anything else, to your mind, will somehow fall short because it won’t fulfill your expectation.

 

What is the solution? How does the Master welcome all things? The answer is by “not seeking, not expecting, she is present…” As it were, all of her is present – none of her is off somewhere else. None of her is comparing the present moment against her desired version of the future to decide whether or not it measures up and fulfills her expectations.

 

So now what? I don’t think Lao Tzu is saying we should never act on purpose, nor is he saying we should always act without thinking. (In fact, the word “should” appears hardly anywhere in the Tao Te Ching. What’s more, “always” and “never” are words to be wary of.) As usual, he just makes observations as to what happens when we make certain choices. In this case, seek anything in particular and you become less likely to “welcome all things.” This is neither right nor wrong; it’s just the way it is.

 

An example where I can learn from this is when I do something on purpose and find myself disappointed at how it turns out. It’s curious that I don’t mind when it turns out better than I had expected. But, when I pause to think about it, both cases are caused by having had a particular expectation in mind. In the first case, my expectation was not met; in the second, it was exceeded. Yet the actual result that I produced in the world was the same – it did not depend at all on how I felt about it. It simply was what it was. What can I learn from this?

 

I think what I learn is that all I can do is be clear on my intention, and then use my actions to stack the odds in favour of producing what I think might be the best outcome – and then let go. Will I succeed? Who knows? But I think what matters is to let go – which means not to expect any particular version of the future. What matters is to be present to welcome and respond to the outcome whatever it may be. However I have to say, there’s nothing easy about doing this. That’s why it’s helpful to have Lao Tzu’s Master as an example.

Do you think we can seek fulfillment while letting go of particular expectations? Have you found any ways that help you be welcoming of all things whatever they may be?

If you have any thoughts you’d like to share, you can get in touch with me by:

 

Thanks for reading. Please feel free to share this newsletter.

Francis

 

(In Harmony with the Tao: A Guided Journey into the Tao Te Ching is available as an e-book or as a paperback from your nearest independent book store, from White Cloud Press, from Amazon.com, or from Amazon.ca.)