Every morning in my neighborhood park, I watch a greyhound play fetch. He has sleek, black fur, but he wears a red coat now that it’s cold. He streaks across the grass in a blur of grace and fluidity, his paws meeting beneath him and then extending for another long stride. It’s breathtaking to watch him.* I wish I had slow-motion vision so I could savor it even more.
Even before I adopted Reggie, I had dreams of doing this with my future dog. I would come to the park during off-leash hours to see the dogs fetching frisbees, chasing each other, and playing tug of war. How much fun they were having! My dog and I will have fun like this! I thought.
At the first opportunity after I brought Reggie home from the shelter, we went to the park. It was a lovely summer morning, not too hot, not too buggy. I had a new tennis ball in my bag, and I’d bought a collapsible water bowl. Reggie was sure to get thirsty after all the frolicking.
I threw the ball and…nothing. I threw it again and again and again. He looked at me with lazy eyes and walked away to pee on a nearby bush. Over the next few weeks I tried frisbees, a red rubber ball (maybe he didn’t like yellow tennis balls, maybe he didn’t like the fuzz), boomerangs, and twigs. They didn’t entice him. He didn’t want to play with other dogs either, giving them nothing more than a cursory sniff.
Other dogs and their people were having a grand time. I was missing out. I watched that greyhound zero in on the ball and felt resentment. Why wouldn’t Reggie do that? Dogs are supposed to fetch and play.
Determined to solve the problem, I decided I would teach him to follow the ball. More weeks passed, but I still couldn’t get him interested. One day I was watching him track the scents of squirrels and raccoons along the park trail when he looked up at me with joy in his eyes. All along Reggie was having a good time—just not the good time I was insisting he should have, i.e. my idea of fun.
Why does it take so long to let go of expectations? Frustration, disappointment, and resentment build because things don’t turn out the way we hoped. We get irritated because our dogs won’t fetch or our spouses forget Valentine’s Day or our sons hate football. Leo Babauta of Zen Habits says that a life without expectations “means you accept reality as it is, and people as they are, without expectations, without trying to force people into the containers you have for them…”
That’s not easy for me. It takes practice. Lots and lots of gentle reminders, but I’m working on it.
Have you had to let go of expectations?
Have a great weekend, everyone!