Expectation and Disappointment – two Sides of the same Coin

Good morning everyone. During this seminar we have been looking at awareness without an object. 

We go through our life filled with great expectations. We expect things from our partner. We expect things from our car. We are filled with this expectation, which is a kind of wishful thinking. When we learn to meditate, and we become more mature in that practice, then we begin to notice the importance of letting go of this constant, desperate hopefulness, and, always necessary, the accompanying disappointment.  When we first have this experience of letting go of expectation, we might think, “Okay, now that I have achieved this letting go, now I’m ready for my reward, please.”  Expectation is such a mind habit that it arises again immediately.  Seriously, this is even when we begin looking for enlightenment, the ultimate expectation.  However, this is a kind of childish thing to demand. Of course, there is awakening from a state of sleeping, of stupefaction, but this does not arise through the process of (my) cause and (it’s) effect.  

When we notice this syndrome in ourselves, when we finally see that we don’t have to do this desperate seeking within our heart and mind, which always leads to disappointments, it is a huge relief. In other words, we see that freedom is up to us, not someone else.  It is us, we do this to ourselves, so we might as well let it go. And when we let go, we’ve got to let go of both sides of it, we can’t hold onto one side of the coin, the need, but avoid the disappointment.  It’s all in one package, so please, look and notice in what way you’re participating in this completely human activity, and maybe you can wonder what it would be like to be free of this.  We can learn to change our mind.  We can live differently.

When you truly cut bokken for the first time, you may be free for a moment. This can also happen from just seeing the teacher move in a certain way, perhaps, or him suddenly saying something direct to you.

I’ll tell you a quick story. When I was young, training Aikido, I was sitting right over here on the left when Suzuki Sensei was teaching. I was listening to him, and I had the habit of listening to my teacher (who just like me, repeated the same thing over, and over), and while listening, I had the habit of looking for something new and interesting to me. I liked him very much, (at least I thought I did), but I was really just harvesting information from him. I was simply not there being completely open. Instead, I was always thinking about what he was saying and why he was saying it, and how to fit it into my on-going philosophy of life, rejecting this, accepting that, setting aside most. However, on this occasion, as he was just speaking like this to the group, he suddenly stopped speaking, turned, and looked directly at me. Then he turned away and he continued talking. When he looked at me like that, everything just stopped.  It felt like he could see right into my mind, knew exactly what I was doing, and as a result, somehow my mind went completely empty. Everything in the room, even the air, became crystal clear, and it felt thick to me, like honey.  Then, when he was speaking in the very next moment, I promise you, I could not tell whether he was speaking, or I was speaking, because this was so outside of anything I knew.  I could not tell if I was over here or over there.  There was no more space and dimension in the way that I was used to. 

This maybe sounds a little strange, but if it happens to you, you’ll know what I am talking about. It was very beautiful.  But, unfortunately, as soon as I realized how beautiful it was, I had stepped back from it, being aware of it as an object, and it was gone. At that moment, my “self” took over and began to feel like it was something special, something better, accomplished.  

This is just what I was talking about a moment ago. We suddenly have a moment of freedom, and immediately after, we think, “I am great. I have it now,” maybe even “I am enlightened.”   This is very, very childish.  Maybe you do have a true moment of some clear seeing, but these kinds of moments must be many, many, many, many, and even then, the mind is so habitual and conditioned that you can never say, “I know.” If “awakening” can be said to mean anything, it is, “I can never know, and it’s okay.” When we are in ignorance, we say, “I don’t know, and I must know,” or worse yet, we think we actually know something “true” already.  But this is more wishful thinking, folks. Whenever you are enjoying this kind of wishing in your mind, please remember the other side of the coin, the agonizing disappointment, okay? 

Okay. So now you can ask me questions about your wishful thinking, if you wish.

Student:  We as people, we’re limited by the fact that we’re people, so when we talk about enlightenment, at what point can it be a true thing, or is it a trick, because we’re people, and we’re limited?. Is there maybe some component of faith needed here?

Well, faith is not a bad thing, as long as it’s not hope, as long as it’s not wishful thinking.  That is not faith.  True faith is a kind of surety, which is not at all the same as knowing some “thing,” that is definitely going to happen.  Okay? 

To be fair, in the beginning, as we come upon this practice, of course we must have a determination to achieve something, right? We must develop skills, discipline, how to work hard and be intensely connected to a goal.  Okay, but I would like to remind everyone that when you finally reach your goal, it will seem like it’s empty, that it doesn’t exist, as such. In fact, it was a creation of your limited, human intellect. It was a creation of your need, your conditioned mind. Enlightenment doesn’t mean learning some fact, or some truth. It’s learning to accept this, the way life actually is, and not be crushed by it. 

Part of this is that you must get older.  Growing old can be tough on the body, of course, but wonderful for the mind, you know.  When Tohei Sensei first came to Hawaii, he was 30 years old.  It was 1953, he was 10th Dan, he was brilliant, he had done 68 sessions at the Ichikukai misogi school.  No one before or since has ever done that, and this was all before he was 30 years old.  As a result, we all thought of him as being completely awake in those days.  When you saw Tohei Sensei move in Aikido, it was just unbelievable how free and spontaneous he was.  It was like everyone else in Aikido was doing something else entirely.  But, you know, I was fortunate enough to know him and train with him for many years after this, right up until he died, and he changed a lot in those years, more and more the older he got.  So, this kind of thing I’m teaching you now, he was not talking like this when he was 30 years old.  When he was 70 years old he was talking like this, so maybe the last 15 or 20 years of his life was like this. There is something to getting older, some experiential thing. It’s not that young people cannot wake up, but it’s a very complex thing, this humanity, so we want to be very careful about positing what it is. We see it as some-thing, but it can be shocking to see that, underneath it all, is really no-thing. The problem is we want to make something, and then we’re pissed off when it doesn’t add up to anything. We want life to be a certain way, but because change is constant, it never is that way, or if it seems to be for a moment, then it immediately changes. So, how to live in this changing world where desires naturally arise, we feel some success, and then sooner or later we feel disappointment, and to accept this as a human condition, and to be able to live in the midst of this change, with no object to our awareness, no requirement, this is our practice. 

I don’t expect you to say, “Oh yes, now I understand.” Please just keep training. Practice. Practice. Practice. The human mind/body is an energetic thing, yes? So, when we have something that is important to us, there’s a lot of energy wrapped up in that, right? A lot of our attention goes to that, and that attention is power. So that’s why I always say, if you want to do some spiritual training, shop around, but then pick one form of practice and go very deeply into it. If you have this thing that you love, and also this other thing that you love, and then this other, other thing that you love, (this happens when you’re immature and young) you may not realize that, when you let go of one of those things you love, all that attention and power that was wrapped up in it doesn’t just disappear, it is now free for you.  It becomes a part of you. So, imagine letting go of all of those things, and then there’s only your one practice left, and it’s filled with what counts, which is the power of awareness with no object.  

An important point here is that, when you feel yourself filled with this new power, you must never attempt to use it.  It’s here in you, it’s present, it’s always in use in some way, but you, as an individual agent, you don’t use it. This is a strange pronouncement, I admit, and it seems that usually we must learn this the hard way. When it comes up, you very well may think, “Oh, I can conquer the world with this.” Maybe sometime later, you’ll remember I said this. 

Student: In the past, some teachers, some of the more intellectual ones, were trying to get people to do the perfect technique, and this would create conflict within us, and we wouldn’t be able to grow. If someone’s looking to do the perfect technique it creates tension.

Is there a question here?

Student: Can we get to this place that you’re talking about?

OK, the question is, “Can we get to this place?” If you were a beginner, I would say, “Yes, you can get here.  Please keep practicing.”  But you are a Chief Instructor.  So I have to say to you that this, right here, is the place. There is no other place.  There is no, “over there” or “somewhere in the future.” There is only this right here. 

In other words, when we feel we need to achieve something, this means we think we don’t yet have it.  So in some sense, what you are talking about is, pushing this moment right here, now, off into the future. Do you see? When you make a meal for the party that’s tomorrow, you make the food for the making of it now, and you make it as perfectly as possible. You do not project this making of the food on everyone coming together to eat it tomorrow, because, for one thing, tomorrow might not ever come. It probably will for you, but still, you know from your practice, that this here is all there is.  So, it may be that I am always teaching you how to do some technique, but underneath that, I’m wanting to teach you how to be here now.  

It is important to note that, even though we use the words, “now,” this moment in time, and “here,” this place in space, we cannot ever find them. I can’t put my finger on these, you know? We are here now, there is something, and something can never become nothing, and yet everything is empty. We are always here, and it’s always now. There is never a change from that.  It is the one constant we have, and this never, ever, ever, ever changes. Even when you die, you die now, not later. That’s why we live here. Okay? 

Student:  A couple years ago I asked a question in a seminar in Helmond.  I’m not real sure about the question, but I remember your answer, or the end of your answer. You told me it had to do with emotions, when emotions arise, fear, ire, you told me to observe carefully when they begin, I paid attention and I did that, my feeling now is that the origin is all the same. It’s not fear, it’s not ire, It is just that, after it arises, I give it a name, like “fear.”

Yes. I wanted you to notice that life happens, and then we remark on it, and we live as if our remark, our perception, is what is. That is not what is. What is, is what happens, not what we name it. You discovered this, what I was pointing to, so now you have no question, you just live in it.  Of course, you will still name things as they arise, because this is what we do.  The key is never to try to change things, but just to notice. We notice what arises and this naming of it, without comment, without attempting to change anything.  This is awareness, this noticing, and this is how all evolution takes place.  This is creativity, and this it how all change takes place. That’s what shapes your mind/body and polishes it, this crystal ball. 

We are looking into a mirror, what we call, in spiritual practice, the “mirror universe.”  Everything that arises in reaction to this mirror is just so, just what it is, until we give it a name, and in so doing we limit it to what we have named it to be. Then, it is not just so anymore.  Most people live in this land of imagination, of “just not so,” for their whole life, and don’t know, until or unless someone suggests to them, “By the way, are you sure?”  This can be a real shock to hear for the first time.  So, someone saying this can be very unpopular. In my case, I hope I have learned not to share something like this unless someone asks first. Of course, if you come to the dojo, then you are asking, just by coming. However, we know not to go around the street telling people they should notice that the universe is a mirror, that what they see may not be what they think they are looking at.  Okay?  So, we try not to do that.

Please remember to notice this process, this two-sided coin, that I’m talking to you about today, expectation and disappointment. If you require something to be a certain way. then I guarantee you, you’ll be disappointed sooner or later. I’m not saying that life never gives you what you want.  Sometimes you get what you want, that’s very nice, and then tomorrow it changes, so nothing stays the same.  So, we have to find a way to live in this changing condition with some degree of stability.  This is why I taught you that stability does not mean no change. Stability does not mean that there is no movement. True stability is a very, very rapid acceptance, always being in a state of yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. 

Thank you very much.

(Q&A at Seminar in Valencia with Christopher Curtis Sensei, May 2019)