One of the everlasting pictures that I have is of Atlas holding up the world. Mythology tells us that he was cursed by Zeus after he led the Titans against the Gods. And he is believed to be still standing there holding up the world at the western end where the Atlantic Ocean is named after him.
Are each of us also cursed to carry our own loads? I believe we are. We carry the weight of expectations on our shoulders and these expectations keep building over time to become loads that break people down and drive them to despair. Having watched my own interaction with my son, I realise often that I am trying to live my life through him and therefore load him with my expectations of what he should and should not do. I find myself doing this in both subtle and not so subtle ways. Like the time I wanted him to continue in a music class even though he was finding it tough to balance his increasing load of academics and also his desire to play cricket.
At first it was the subtle means where I told him that he was fortunate enough to have the choices that I did not and that he was too young to know the importance of a well-rounded profile. And that I expect (please notice that the word actually made an appearance in the conversation) him to get good at all things he does. And then there was the not so subtle showdown where I nearly lost my shirt at him throwing more burdens for him to bear like the money I spent on the class, the need for us to decide what was right for him and how he needed to “prioritise” things in life.
After one such episode, I realised in a cold rush what I was doing and had a quiet talk with him asking him to follow his heart and find his passion and chase it. It didn’t matter what I wanted or what I had to do to make that happen for him. I still find myself pushing him on his academic performance and I am still rationalising that in the name of making sure that he has to focus on studies.
Each of us has a whole load of expectations of people around us and this is complicated by the fact that every one of these people have an equal if not even bigger expectation of us. Familial expectations, expectations of friends, those of colleagues at work, the list is endless. And each of these force us into our routines and schedules and almost control our lives to the point where I am sure some of us feel that we are not living our lives but are living for the sake of completing other’s lives. At what point is one of these going to become the last straw on the proverbial camel’s back?
And on the other end is the disappointment, no scratch that, almost betrayal, that comes when someone else fails us. Everything becomes personal when that happens. Even our own expectations of what God can and will do for us. The convenient believer that I am, I always find myself searching for God and making requests of him when I am stuck at a dead end. And I have myself cursed and shunned him when he failed me, down to the point of ignoring him for a whole period when my dad passed after a period of lengthy suffering.
Our religious texts have always over-emphasised the importance of letting go of expectations and desires. Solutions prescribed in the Bhagavad Gita were to follow a path of unselfish action in pursuit of a goal which was God, Knowledge or one’s work. It is almost as if the seers of yore knew that the word expectation itself was dangerous. They have told us to keep our expectations low since these expectations are based on our limited knowledge. They have told us to hope but not expect. And many such verses that one can read but not follow.
There is a second side to this that stems from self-belief and this is the vein that exhorts us not to expect anything from anyone but believe in what we can do. Believe in the self and don’t depend on anyone else. Dependency is a sign of weakness. I am sure many of us subscribe to similar thoughts in specific aspects of our lives.
While all this has been said and repeated, we carry our expectations around and keep building on them, keep getting disappointed and keep trying again. In the meantime, under the weight of the expectations that the people in the world carry, Atlas groans.