The pastor at our church says we wildly overestimate what we can do in one year and we vastly underestimate what we can do in five years. During a recent healing session with a client who was working on creating her vision for the year to come, I opened my mesa, the sacred cloth that holds my healing stones, and noticed two pieces of paper. While she worked on her vision I opened the papers. On one I wrote my goals for 2016. On the other I wrote my vision for my family and myself.
Upon reading this list, which I hadn’t looked at in a few months, I was surprised to see that I hadn’t hit one single target that I set for myself, such as 20 people in a certain workshop, 15 in a teacher training, finishing a portion of my book by a certain time. In the past this would have really upset me, but for some reason, this time, perhaps due to sleep deprivation, I laughed out loud. Then I looked at the list of intentions: a calm, gentle birth; a happy, healthy baby girl; passion for my work, abundance for my family, and a deeply loving relationship with my husband. On this list almost everything has come to be or is in the process of becoming.
Seeing the two lists in such sharp contrast made me think of the great teaching from the Yoga Sutras- Practice is a balance of effort and non-attachment. I wildly overestimated what I could do in terms of work during a year in which I spent the first half pregnant and the last half caring for a newborn. I put expectations on myself, not just to teach those workshops and trainings, but also to achieve a very specific outcome in the number of people who would attend.
I gave as much effort as I could to each thing listed on that paper, but still fell short of my own expectations. How often do we all do this to ourselves? On the other list my effort was internal, working on gratitude, positive thinking, self-care and harmony in relationships. The outcome could not be quantified from the outside, only qualified from the inside.
Effort, as advised by the Sutras, helps us create things. Nothing in our lives just happens without some sort of energetic movement. However, when we overestimate what we can do in a certain amount of time, we will inevitably be disappointed, because the outcome is not dependent only on our effort, it is dependent on the complex dance of creation of which we are a part.
Non-attachment helps us see that even if we don’t meet our own expectations, our effort in itself is important. In a place of non-attachment I could see that each workshop, regardless of the number of students who attended, was perfect in its own way and I was only a small part of that perfection.
After looking at those papers I thought back to what our pastor said. What if I give myself 5 years to accomplish everything on the list? It will take more patience and persistence, but I know from experience that it will be worth the effort. What if I also turn my expectations for my work into intentions? Instead of placing a numerical value on my work what if I intend on a deeply nourishing and transformative workshop or retreat for everyone who attends, including myself? This I already know I will accomplish, because this is what resonates on the deepest level. This is soul work.
As you step into the New Year, rather than being so hard on yourself for falling short of your own great expectations, rather than giving up completely, why don’t you turn those expectations into intentions? What is it that you are really wanting when you expect yourself to earn more money, lose more weight, or meet the person of your dreams? Look at the essence of those desires- abundance, lightness, connection, and intend on that. Let go of the time frame, but don’t let go of your passion. In this way, I am certain that while things may not come to you in the exact package you wanted at the exact time, they will come to you. And five years from now you can look back and say, Of course I did that, it just took a little longer than I expected.