“Don’t expect applause”

I had been waiting for several months for the small box to arrive. Inside was a tiny cardboard stand and a set of 59 cards, a short slogan written on each one. The slogans are from the Lojong teachings, a mind training practice developed over a thousand years ago. They're designed as “a set of antidotes to undesired mental habits that cause suffering.”

I selected the first card and put it on the display. It read: “Don’t expect applause.”

I learned about the slogans from Pema Chödrön’s Start Where You Are, which is about developing compassion, including self-compassion. 

“If we are willing to stand fully in our own shoes and never give up on ourselves, then we will be able to put ourselves in the shoes of others and never give up on them. True compassion does not come from wanting to help out those less fortunate than ourselves but from realizing our kinship with all beings.”

Later in the day, I thought about the card when I did something around the house and was irritated that my wife didn’t say anything. I thought about the card again when I went to the gym and wanted to be noticed, and when I got good news and was eager to share it in anticipation of receiving praise. It all seemed so childish, and I was embarrassed at having such a deeply-ingrained habit. (Thankfully, I remembered that developing self-compassion is also part of the practice.)

The problem isn’t with positive feedback or encouragement, it’s with expectations, and the card helped me pay attention to my intentions. I should do something because it’s right or nice, not because I hope for something in return.

“It’s good to express our gratitude to others. It’s good to express our appreciation of others. But if we do that with the motivation of wanting them to like us, we can remember this slogan. We can thank others, but we should give up all hope of getting thanked back. Simply keep the door open without expectations.”

"Simply keep the door open." With my first card, I clearly understood that expecting something in return is one of the “mental habits that cause suffering.” I also experienced that it takes practice to train your mind and change the habit, to gradually learn how to be happy.

I wonder what the next card will bring.