top of page

Tool Time: Expectancy

By Thea Iberall

I don’t know when I first learned about the word ‘expectancy’ outside of the context of life expectancy. The Google Books Ngram viewer shows that it’s been climbing in use since 1966 and it peaked in 2002. The word ‘expectations’ hasn’t peaked.

Expectancy has been mentioned in 61 of Shirley’s daily meditation readings. And I began wondering when and where we’ve defined the word and how we’ve used it.

In April 2020, Shirley talked about training as a psychosynthesis practitioner and discovering subpersonalities within her psyche. One of them was the strict General with very high expectations. The General developed in her personality because of her external harsh environment. A coping mechanism is to internalize inside what we are experiencing outside so that it feels more in control. The General had the same goals for her as she did, which was to help her to be happy. Befriending the General over time, his expectations lessened. During the reflections, perhaps as a way to define things, one of the meditators said expectation is premeditated resentment. I do believe that. Besides setting us up for disappointment, expectations can set us up for resentments.

In December, Shirley reflected that her expectations bred anxiety taking her out of the present moment and placing her smack dab in the middle of stress and worry about the future. The key, she said, is to be in the present moment. She shared a poem by Julia Fehrenbacher who said, “Forgive yourself for not meeting your unreasonable expectations. You are human, not God—don't be so arrogant.” Fehrenbacher goes on to say “breathe until you stop needing anything to be different.” I like this idea. It reminds me of the way Donna Eden suggests holding the OMG points on our foreheads until we can feel the blood pulsing back into our forebrains (the link has other tools for practicing mindful awareness).

In February, Shirley wrote about her two minds. One lives in her human body, holds life memories and listens to her ego. The other one lives in her heart and remembers the miracles and silver linings of her life. Her heart is where her compassion and gratitude live, things she said that are rich with expectancy knowing anything is possible. It is the place where miracles are discovered. She said that silence lets us witness both our minds and awareness lets us choose which to be in. Silence opens doorways to places in ourselves that offer us respite, hope, possibility and expectancy. The more we practice the better we get.

In June, Shirley talked about wanting safety and steadiness as a child in an alcoholic home but getting disappointment and chaos. She wound up leaning towards always expecting bad things to happen. She had to learn that acceptance doesn’t mean accepting pain and suffering. It means taking what happens in life and finding the gems within the challenge. It means advocating for one’s best and highest good as we navigate through life. It means respecting one’s needs and honoring one’s emotions. Through the use of attaching notecards with affirmations written in the present tense on her mirrors and lamps, she subliminally retrains her brain to change to positive thinking.

It wasn’t until the June 5th meditation reading that someone in the meditation community finally asked the questions that had yet to be answered. What is expectancy and what is the difference between expectations and expectancy? In the discussion, things became clear. Expectations focus on the outcome we want and can lead to disappointment if the outcome doesn’t live up to our want. It’s limited thinking, it limits our options. Expectancy, on the other hand, is being willing to be open to what happens. It’s about accepting what comes and not making assumptions or judgments about outcomes. For example, Shirley wanted her daughter to get well. And she had to learn to accept that she may not get well. One way she did that was to look for the good in everything, even if it is a little thing. We find gifts if we are willing to look for them.

One of the meditators pointed out that it takes more effort to stay in expectancy. She said that one needs to trust that the outcome will teach me something. Expectancy is maybe finding the diamonds in the dark.

Another meditator said that thinking about success or failure sets up an expectation. He’s disappointed if the unwanted thing happens; he’s in joy if the right thing happens. With expectancy, he is open to what comes without putting a judgment on it. He accepts it and perhaps learns a lesson. And one surefire way to avoid disappointment is to have a plan B. So that when plan A fails, move on to plan B.


I guess the question is about facing the future and the things we want to happen. In reviewing the wisdom of the group, I see that expectations are about being focused on a particular outcome and setting ourselves up with worry, anxiety, and then disappointment and even resentment if it doesn’t happen the way we want. Expectancy is about being open to possibilities and accepting outcomes.

Facing the future with expectancy feels like a better way to live. But how does one stay in expectancy and accept outcomes? Breathing seems to be a key as a way to stay in the moment. Practicing mindfulness and silence seems to be another tool. Other tools seem to be using affirmations, forgiving oneself, look for the good in even the little things, and being in one’s heart in compassion and gratitude. And in real practical terms, always have a plan B one can easily move into.

And what about other people’s expectations of us? The goal is to not internalize their expectations. It’s their wants, not ours. We can take on these expectations or else have clear boundaries. And look at our own expectations of others because it’s the same thing. If I’m feeling discordance in a relationship, the key is for me to identify what it is I want. It takes self-reflection and honesty. What do we really want from that person? Resentment, anger, and sadness build when we aren't truly honest with ourselves. But expectancy can grow in a field where our heart is talking to their heart. It takes accepting where people are instead of wanting them to be where they aren’t. Getting rid of expectations within relationships can open the relationship up when both parties are in acceptance of each other. It’s where we can find the diamonds in the dark. Life happens for us not to us.

Participants’ Reflections

  • I was going to ask you to write about the theme of expectancy, and you already picked it up. Every time we explore this topic, it raises questions for me. I can be in totally expectancy which has a sense of peace and adventure for me. It’s like an open window, anything can happen. I can be in that zone and then, oops, it’s like walking on a wall and I slip into expectation. I’d love other people’s thoughts, especially in terms of love relationships. I ran into someone I’m attracted to yesterday. I expected him to be there. The expectation slipped in there that I want to go out with him. It’s a slippery slope. I don’t know. I realize that when I am in meditation, it’s always expectancy. I’m in the stillness and quietness of that space. That’s where the magic happens. There is no expectation, I’m just there. I’m just exploring this.

    • Thea says: I thought writing this piece would be easy. Just pick a tool and expectancy was an obvious choice because it is a big one. I like taking big things and simplifying them. In writing this, I discovered that the tool is not expectancy, it’s the tools that keep us in expectancy. That’s what I wound up mining the blog posts for. What are the tools that will keep us in expectancy? It is a slippery slope. I suggest re-reading this blog post a few times. The other day someone talked about the ease with which she stays in mindfulness. Through the practice, it’s easier to stay off that slippery slope.

  • When you just spoke about my meditation experience, I thought well, I don’t meditate. When I do the 15 minutes of silence, it doesn’t look like a meditation. It’s chunky, it doesn’t flow. My mind is here and there. I discounted that I’ve been meditating, so I’m clearing out the accolade and I am aspiring to it.

    • Thea says: I’m going to link to the words you said the other day in the reflections. Because what you said the other day was profound. There are many ways to meditate. I used to meditate with a group that had a noisy style. Go with the feelings in your body. The room was filled with people grunting and crying and moving around because they were becoming aware of where they were in their body not resisting. There are lots of ways to meditate. You meditate just fine.

  • I didn’t realize that I had such high expectations of myself until I was going through an awful depression. My therapist pointed out how high my expectations were of myself. Last night, I was reading a book on Emotional Intelligence. It talks about how we learned to live goes back to our childhood. As a child, I was very afraid of my father who was angry most of the time. I remember being in a room with him, wondering what he’s expecting me to do, what does he want, and what can I do to meet his expectations. I still have expectations of myself. The book points out how hard it is to fight these things that are embedded in us. Having things pointed out to us helps. Now when I’m around people and I’m nervous about whether I’ve approached things correctly, I remind myself that these are my friends and they won’t walk away if I make a mistake. Staying in a realization and catching myself is so important.

    • Thea says: In the “Expectancy vs Expectation” blog post, Shirley talked about how we separate out a part of our personality in order to deal with a traumatizing situation. Also, read the essay about subpersonalities and ego states. Not only did I gain awareness around my subpersonality parts, I talked to that subpersonality, really talked to them. Learned to love them and accept them and helped integrate them back into my personality.

  • Thank you for this. I feel all the topics can be mined, and we are different selves each time we come to it. At first, my reflection took me to the quality of my teaching ability. If I was letting the expectations of standardized tests drive me, I became stressed out and didn’t enjoy the work. The more I could stay in the expectancy of wondering who this student is and how are they going to grow, made the work a joy. I gave joy and received joy. When the expectation kicks in, that’s a whole different classroom. I then reflected on a friend of mine who just received a diagnosis of cancer. There’s a caring bridge page for her now. That’s been on my heart. She is a gentle introvert, so wise, and good for her partner. I’m wondering if they want to hear about this right now. But importantly, it can apply to me in my interactions with them. I can be open to what they need. So this is good timing for me. My last thought is about my 10-mnth-old granddaughter who is the best example of expectancy because she approaches everything with wonder and exploration.

    • Thea says: Thank you. It is so important to be aware of our wants. Our wants get in the way of expectancy.

  • This was such a wonderful writing. Thank you so much. My reflection is on the need for gentleness. Expectancy is about being in the present moment. That’s an art form. Each of us is in one place or another in trying to achieve that. I feel the word gentleness around that experience is so important. Of course we are going to slip. Who achieves expectancy? Yes, a child. None of us are going to approach life that way. During the meditation, I thought it’s good to have an appreciation to capture humor about it instead of seeing it as a problem or challenge.

    • Thea says: You are reminding me about a friend who I think does live in expectancy. When something bad happens, the first thing she does is laugh about it. She is a practitioner of laughter yoga. And even though she’s had many challenges in her life, she is the most positive person I know.

  • For years, I would get enthusiastic and do weekends at spiritual centers like Kirpalu and Rowe. I would always feel that I wasn’t getting it because my mind would wander. No one told me until I came here that part of the process is watching our mind wander and get back on track. That proves we are meditating. I had set these incredible expectations for myself that I couldn’t meet. When I switched to expectancy, it was a lot more wholesome.

  • Wonderful topic. I like hearing everyone’s ideas and reactions about expectation versus expectancy. In English, there is a word to await which doesn’t sound as harsh as to expect. In German, the first time I heard the phrase, don’t expect something, await for it. Wait wait without expecting. In English, awaiting is not as expecting. And thinking about the statue of the Buddha causes one of the problems with meditation. We have an expectation that we should sit in the lotus position with our hands out for 40 days. The Buddha was waiting for the awareness of everything. It took that long for the Buddha. We are doing mini-sessions here honing our skills in expectancy with our open hands and open hearts. For me, it still works to look at the Buddha statue and that symbolizes the openness.

    • Thea says: And that openness can take many forms, as Attar talks about. Is the spiritual person the one that sits on top of a mountain top in peace or is the spiritual person the one taking care of the dogs and taking care of the house?

  • Thank you all for joining me today. Thank you for listening and being open to the possibilities of expectancy and exploring it. And being open to exploring using the tools it takes to be in expectancy. Connecting to our breath, forgiving ourselves, being aware of silence and choices are just some of the tools we can use today to be in expectancy and out of our expectations. Thank you for joining me in this adventure. Have a blessed, blessed day.

Photo credit: Courage, by Linda Lundell. Courage is a statement about our endangered species that will become extinct in the wild within 25 years or so. It is a limited edition of 275 and the Giclee print on canvas is 44 x 44 inches.

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page