The Joy of a Rainy Day Without a Raincoat

Edith Wharton once wrote:

“If we’d stop trying to be happy, we’d have a pretty good time.”

I was reminded yesterday of that notion of living life with no expectations as CHA and I spoke of his style of leadership in his work over an Indian buffet lunch. “In the creative process its important to have no attachments,” he said. “In a collaborative setting, one needs to allow ideas to percolate, so that what needs to rise to the surface will have the opportunity.” I guess you could say he’s a “Creative Enabler.”

This notion of letting go is so easy in words, but living day-to-day is another story. The reason always comes down to fear. Letting go implies a fall, which implies a painful landing. But it also implies freedom, a steady faith that everything will work out fine.

I first learned this notion of letting go of expectations in a course I took through Tuesday’s Children, a non-profit organization that helps families of 9/11. The course, called “Creative Insights” was geared towards helping us find our creativity, in order to regain some of the positive qualities creativity gives us in our lives, things grief had taken from us: self esteem, curiosity, intuition, concentration, passion, faith, playfulness.

When I was told my homework for the week would be to live with “no expectations,” I immediately thought of a party I had been invited to. I had imagined going to this party alone (I was still new in my widowhood then and still not comfortable with walking into a party or social gathering on my own – now I don’t even think about it), being stuck sitting by myself since everyone else would be coupled off, drinking too many glasses of wine and having a generally miserable time. When it came time to go to the party, I thought, “OK, no expectations. I am open to whatever is going to happen.” When I arrived, I was warmly greeted, met a woman who when I told her of my early writing endeavors encouraged me and thought my idea for a memoir was great. I left feeling wonderful. As I made my way home I wondered, would I have had as good an experience had my expectation of having a bad time continued? Of course the answer was obvious.

Zooming ahead 6 years, I realize that I now live a good deal of my life with no expectations. As a parent of course, many of us live this way – never knowing how the day is going to unfold. But it applies in other facets of life as well: mundane things such as grocery shopping – grabbing a new item just to mix things up a bit; doctor’s appointments, PTA meetings, even browsing the internet. Suddenly ideas and inspiration are everywhere, because you have let go of the notion of what’s supposed to happen at the doctor’s office. Curiosity takes over. You observe more. Your playfulness shows in your smile, in your positivity. You say “yes” to things, simply for the opportunity they present.

For me, it also applies to writing. I am not overly attached to anything I write. An editor can rip it apart and I am grateful for their insight. When faced with a blank page, I never really have a notion of what story might come forth. I have often heard writers describe what they do as “channeling” more than actually writing, and when its going well, that is what it feels like. You are in the zone.

It seems life unfolds and is revealed more than it is determined and controlled. Today, I was annoyed when Carter went off to school in the pouring rain, refusing to wear his raincoat. But who’s to say what kind of experience it might bring him.

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  1. annie April 21, 2010 at 2:17 pm

    I am very attached to what I write because it is me that I write about.

    I am still rolling the “non-attachment” thing over and over b/c I don’t think that we (people in general) have a proper understanding of what it really means. How can we? We are grounded in our bodies in a way that isolates us from our Self. Reading Chap. 2 of the Sutras and this just came up. I don’t think it’s as easy as anyone makes it sound.

    I suspect that non-attachment and investment are not only not opposite sides of a coin, but not the same coin at all.

    My understanding, for the moment, is that non-attachment is simply the ability to accept change and input and redirection with grace and has nothing to do with not be invested.

  2. Abigail - Site Author April 21, 2010 at 2:44 pm


    Nice comment, thank you.

    It seems the difference between attachment and investment has to do with expectation – the perceived reward.

    The dictionary defines Investment as: the commitment of something other than money (time, energy, or effort) to a project with the expectation of some worthwhile result.


    Attachment: feeling of affection for a person or an institution.

    Attachment has no perceived benefit or reward. I do think it can be argued they are the same coin. Giving up an investment is very different than giving up an attachment. With investment there is an expectation of a reward. With attachment, there is not.

    I suppose this means it is possible to live a life with no expectation and still have meaningful attachments.

  3. Debbie April 25, 2010 at 7:50 am

    Interesting post. As I was reading it, I realized that I live with all kinds of expectations. I’m going to try to live the next week without expectations, after figuring out what they are in the activities of my day. Thanks for the inspiration.

  4. Supa Dupa Fresh April 29, 2010 at 8:24 am

    Hmmm… very provocative and thoughtful, as usual. I am thinking a lot lately about abundance and the letting-go that it takes to get there, the acceptance of what already exists without striving, but I’m not far enough along yet to say more than, hey, your words are giving me a good long ponder today (as usual).
    (So much for not having expectations!)

    1. Abigail - Site Author May 7, 2010 at 9:45 pm

      Yay for ponderance! Is that even a word? No expectations is a lot harder to achieve than it sounds. But oh so liberating those times you can manage it.

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