Expectations & Experience


Expectations & Experience

Craig Mallett



One of the things I run into a lot while teaching are loaded expectations. It’s when we have a preconceived idea of how it’s all meant to go, and are looking for some sort of specific experience from the training. It’s a very normal starting point, but If this escalates, it can bring a lot of tension and frustration as the more time and effort passes the more ‘the thing’ doesn’t happen.

Often, this idea is running so subtly that it’s not noticed by the student themselves. It acts in a very similar way to bodily tensions, especially big bodily tensions: they are there, dragging on the whole system, spending loads of energy, and going completely unseen. Of course, this is all a very common way of functioning, everyone does it on many levels to some degree or another. I recall quite vividly when I was training for a muscle up and I had all sorts of vague ideas (that I didn’t notice at the time) that once I got the muscle up everything would be better. So I trained and trained and then the fateful day approached and I did my first muscle up, and….nothing. Life was the same, all my usual problems still there. I walked to the shops and everything was more or less like before, with the exception of having just done a muscle up for the first time. I realized then that I had done this with all of my movement and physical training…”if I just get good enough at all of this, all my problems will go away.” It became so obvious how much stress this simple idea had injected into my life, and how much energy I had fed to this mentation keeping it alive.

Practicing in the Daoist way won’t solve all your life problems either, but it can get us to overcome the issue of having such expectations in the first place. It is a path of removal. We want to first discover, then uproot all of these unnecessary tensions so they can dissolve and liberate the stuck energy, or at least accept that it’s there. It doesn’t mean that we finally find ‘the thing’, but rather that we stop demanding that the thing should happen.

These expectations are basically a mental construct that runs through the mind, distorting everything that is viewed through it. To overcome it there are many techniques, but in essence we need to first reveal it and then either dissolve it or accept it is there and put it aside. The aim is to get back to a direct experience of what’s going on for us at any point in time.

Let’s take an example – you’re doing your practice and your hands feel a bit cold. But you’ve read in all the books about this energy you’re meant to be feeling and you went to a class before where the instructor was talking about feeling ‘earth’ energy or some such. You can’t feel this energy or whatever it is meant to be, but you keep looking hoping to find it. The expectation here is that the hands are meant to be some other way, but the reality is that they are cold right now. When we refer to the cold hands through the tension of our expectation, we put the brakes on our evolution massively.

Instead, we want to put our expectant ideas aside (or dissolve them) and focus directly on feeling the cold hands. If they are cold, then they are cold and that is the reality right now. Feel the coldness in its entirety without wishing or hoping for it to be some other way, or that your paying attention like this should transform them in any way. Feel them as thoroughly and fully as you are able, paying vigilant attention for any small changes.

The point is not to get to a particular state of feeling something specific, but rather that the direct attention itself tends to provoke an evolution. It’s right here that I should be really careful with my words, because as soon as we hear “it’s meant to evolve”, a whole structure of expectations can be created where we believe it’s meant to evolve in a particular way that we have pre-conceived. This is not at all the case. We must give the evolution ┬ároom to take whatever time it needs, short or long, and to appear with whatever phenomena need to be associated with it (or not). It’s not about making particular phenomena appear, but getting more and more and more into a direct perception of your reality, whatever that may be at that point in time.

There is a simple concept in the Daoist tradition that can be used to help understand this. Energy follows our intention. If we are occupied with thinking about what should be happening, then we feed energy to those mental structures, the mental structures get stronger and more established, and round and around the merry go round we go. If, on the other hand, we give all our attention to our direct reality, then we feed energy to our reality, and it will evolve (just probably not in the way you think it will). You may have one day with cold hands and then next with super warm hands and the next with buzzy stuff and the next with some other weird sensation, and then back to cold again. It’s all good, as long as it’s happening right now for you in this particular moment.

In keeping this direct attention to our reality, we must be wary of something: it does not at all guarantee us anything. You can be paying direct attention to reality as you falter in a push hands match and fall, or as you are getting kicked really hard, or as someone is being really mean to you. It doesn’t liberate you from needing to pursue improvement of the pragmatic skills, and doesn’t skip you to the front of the ‘being the most awesome human way better than the others’ line. In fact, these are all just more of the same thing: expectations that put the brakes on our evolution.

Hunt these expectations, be vigilant, root them out, dissolve them. Then you will be free to train without any expectations of what should happen, and simply enjoy what does happen as it happens.



Craig can be found at www.craigmallett.com and contacted direct at [email protected]

He is currently/indefinitely available for the following services: Online Training, Online Courses, Healing, Consultation



[Feature Photo by shangchu Constantine on Unsplash.]


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