Dealing with Anticipation

Flower -1 bud  The appointment for my hip surgery was made more than three months ago. Now its time has come. While I feel positive about the outcome of the experience, I also feel a tiny bit apprehensive. Everything I have heard about the surgery from those who have had it done has been good. I even ran into someone who had the procedure done by the same doctor I have and she said hers had gone wonderfully and she was very pleased.

However, my mind has been twirling around the upcoming surgery for all the months I have been waiting. My thoughts have revolved endlessly about what I will be unable to do and for how long, as well as what I will need to have prepared and so forth and so on. Now as one who tries hard to be in the present moment as much of the time as possible, this has been a real teaching situation. Present moment mindfulness is not something to be practiced only during meditation. It is a frame of mind to be kept in place all through the day.

I once met a man who said, “Whenever I think about what is upcoming, and dread it, it always seems much worse than it turns out to be.” The fear of the unknown is what drives the dread. The silly part is that anticipation has no actual basis in fact, and therefore it  is inaccurate. Only when the experience has arrived can it be truly judged. Otherwise its truth is obscured by what we feel rather than whatever the facts may be.

There is an acronym for fear that reads: “False Evidence Appearing Real.” This is a good description of fear. The so called evidence is usually a product of our active imagination, warnings by people who are trying to be helpful, past experience that may not be applicable here, or feelings of inadequacy. When we think about what is upcoming if we can recognize this for ourselves we can think about it in a more positive way.

As a child I used to enjoy anticipation. I would think about going to the circus, something that happened once a year, with great joy. I looked forward to going to the library to get a pile of new books to read. An avid reader, I often devoured a book a day whenever I could manage to get the time to do so. School vacations were a great source of anticipation. Before they arrived they always seemed to stretch out invitingly and even when they were over there were more to be looked forward to

There was one form of anticipation that was unpleasant. That was when I had done something I shouldn’t and my mother would say, “Wait ’til your father gets home!” Even though he was a kind man, I knew whatever punishment was coming would be more severe if he administered it. My anticipation of the surgery is not with dread, however, but with joy. I look forward to more mobility, less pain and a better sleep at night. Meanwhile I am trying hard to stay as focused as possible on the present moment.

 

A Sip of Spring in January

spring-water

The school I attended as a child had no weeks of vacation between Christmas and March. I had little to look forward to except an occasional snow day or being home sick with a cold. Not that I liked being home sick—my mother was not one to allow me to “enjoy poor health” as she put it. This meant I was confined to bed without much to do and no pampering. The best I could expect was an opportunity to listen to the radio. Television didn’t arrive in our household until I was twelve. The winter days were dreary with school and homework. I didn’t like skiing and skating was no fun so I spent my free time indoors reading. The advent of spring at least meant I could spend more time outside.

There is a deceptively warm period in the first month of the year called the January thaw. It usually comes at the end of the month, but sometimes earlier. It is the opening note of a long prelude to spring. Sadly, it raises hopes too soon dashed. February sets in, the snow falls, the cold descends, and winter reminds us that we have a long way to go. The upside is that at least the days are longer and brighter as the sun grows stronger and shines from higher in the sky. The burgeoning light keeps us apprised of spring’s actual advent.

Expectations often create disappointment. However it is difficult to avoid having them. The anticipation that is the creator of my expectations is what happens when I yearn toward something that is just out or reach or even beyond my control, like spring. This habit begins in childhood. Once we outgrow the present moment mindset of our early years, we are vulnerable to it. For instance, when the circus was coming to town it was a big event in my young life. My grandmother always took me and every year I loved it.

The difficulty with anticipation, especially when one is an adult, is that it can suck the juice out of the actual event. A few years ago Stephen and I took a friend’s two children to a local circus in a town nearby. Based on my memories of Barnum and Bailey, I had unrealistic expectations of the little circus and did not enjoy it nearly as much as I would have otherwise. On the other hand the two children we took had a wonderful time. Unexpectedly, my enjoyment ended up being about that rather than about the performances.

Today in the news I saw that the circus of my childhood—Barnum and Bailey, will be no more. This may have started I suppose when they released the elephants and now they are disbanding completely. I wonder if those who like me once anticipated the arrival of the circus will be disappointed. I haven’t been to a Barnum and Bailey performance in many years myself, however I have my memories. Thankfully I can sip those memories whenever I wish. That’s the blessing of memories, like food in the pantry or the refrigerator they are available when I wish to reach for them. Memories of spring, however, cannot compare to its actual advent, and that I eagerly await.

Tasha Halpert