Waiting for the Big Answers

My 7-year-old daughter asked me the other day, “You know how I want to be a teenager?” After a pause for me to nod my head she asked, “Do teenagers want to be kids?” I explained that teenagers want to be adults.

This is just the latest of her big questions: Where will I go to college? Who should I marry? How many kids will I have? When we get a dog, will it be so excited to see me every day after school?

And I completely understand because I have big questions of my own: Will I fall in love again? Will I be around to see my kids answer their big questions? And every time I’ve stood at the base of a mountain ready to climb, I’ve always wanted to know, before I’ve even taken the first step, whether or not I’ll summit.

Like my daughter, I want to know how the story ends. Except that I don’t want it to be the end. In the worst moments when I get too attached to how I want it to work out, it makes me anxious and keeps me up at night as my brain tries to cycle through the permutations of how to control things.

In those moments, I’m not a very good Buddheo-Christian. That is to say, I know our spiritual traditions teach us that peace comes when we leave the outcome up to the Universe. As Buddha said, “Serenity comes when you trade expectations for acceptance.” Or in the Christian tradition, I think of “Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice.” (Philippians 4:4). But I have a sports metaphor that helps me settle into the tension.

In 2001 my brother and I gave my dad tickets for the US Open Tennis Tournament in Flushing Meadows, New York. We spent the week together in the great city of New York, eating fabulous meals and watching great tennis.

The pinnacle of our experience was a night match on September 5th between Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras. The three of us sat high in the stands watching this amazing quarter-final between two great players: Pete, one of the best servers in tennis, wearing white, Andre one of the best returners in the sport, wearing black. Both were playing their A-game so as the first set unfolded, they each held serve and the set was decided by a tie-breaker that Agassi won. The second set started and again each man held serve but this time, Sampras won the tie-breaker.

One set each, nobody had lost serve and the tension in the stadium was palpable. It felt like whatever allegiances we came in with, no one was sure any longer who to root for because they were both great. The third set continued, both held serve and Sampras won the tie-break.

So it went to the fourth set. Again, they both held serve and we reached the fourth set tie-break. Here’s how Andre Agassi recalls what happens next in his memoir:

“We’ve played three hours, and neither of us has yet broken the other’s serve. It’s after midnight. The fans – 23,000 plus – rise. They won’t let us start the fourth tiebreak. Stomping and clapping, they’re staging their own tiebreak. Before we press on they want to say thanks.”

Open by Andre Agassi

I can remember feeling the tension. I started the match as an Agassi fan but somehow witnessing this great effort, I dropped my expectations and no longer wanted the answer to the big question. And yet it came – Sampras won the 4th set tiebreaker and the match.

That matched happen 6 days before 9/11. Not only did we not know what would happen with the match, but we also had no idea that the biggest terrorist attack on American soil was about to occur and change NYC forever. Had we known, we wouldn’t have sat and watched tennis. The weight of foreknowledge would have crushed us and destroyed my ability to learn the lesson of how to drop expectations and just enjoy the tension.

When I get too impatient and want to know the answers to the big questions, I think of that match. Sometimes we need to stomp and clap to stay right in the moment, relieve the tension and stay open to whatever will happen.

I tell my daughter that any flower that tries to open before its ready will rip. Which is too abstract to mean much to her. So I try to participate in the present with her as much as possible so that it becomes like that match, so exciting that you don’t want it to move on. And I learn the same lesson for myself, again and again.

How do you experience the tension of expectation and anticipation? Do you have a practice that helps you settle into the wait?

For most posts like this – a little story-telling mixed with philosophy, please visit my personal blog at https://wynneleon.wordpress.com or follow me on Instagram @wynneleon

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(featured photo from Pexels)

36 thoughts on “Waiting for the Big Answers

  1. What a great example Wynne!
    I’m an ardent tennis fan and have experienced those matches when I’ve started out rooting for my favourite but ended up wanting the match to continue and both players to win! Simply wanting to stay with the current experience as it so special and so good.
    I’m thinking that perhaps for me it’s those times when the current experience is not so good, or it’s threatening, that I want to know the answer about the ending. “How will it all end? How will it work out?”
    As you suggest, it’s much better to concentrate on the present, making that a fulfilling time and one to remember as you have done.
    It’s difficult sometimes though. 🙂

    1. Margaret, you have such a good point about it being hard when we are in tough times or its threatening. Maybe even when we are vulnerable. Yes, it is so difficult! Thanks for this lovely and insightful comment. And it’s so fun to know you are also a tennis fan!

  2. Thank you, Wynne, for sharing another very rich post! I could so relate to what you shared–the human habit of wanting our rewards from an apparent “end,” instead of staying present, while the good that we desire occurs. To me, I’ve come to the realization that I’m happiest when I’m able to walk the razor’s edge, that edge in which I know that I’m apparently in the world, but know that I’m not of it.
    It was my experience that chasing the goodness I desired actually kept it my happiness away. No accomplishment was ever enough.It only led to the treadmill of “achieve, achieve, achieve.”
    I’ll be looking forward to your next post! 🙏

    1. Thank you, Art! I really appreciate you reading and sharing how you’ve found a way to walk that razor’s edge as you put it! It’s a hard practice.

      1. You’re welcome, Wynne. I enjoy reading your posts very much. I agree, it can be a challenge; but I find that the more I center myself in Truth it becomes easier to witness from a more detached perspective.

    2. I agree: what a wonderfully thought-provoking post. I’ve often pondered on that myself, and I understand in theory that life-is-a-journey-not-a-destination, but in practice, it’s simply hard to practice 🙂

      I love your flower analogy: it reminds me of something I read about the first bite from a dish is the one you enjoy the most, and every subsequent bite is enjoyed a little less. In a similar way, I wonder if that’s the same with the flower. Once it blooms, do we enjoy it as much as the journey to the bloom? Or as Arthur said, no accomplishment was ever enough. There’s always another flower, always another treadmill to run on. Maybe it’s like Lily Tomlin said, “The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you are still a rat” 🙂

      Maybe it’s not about discovering the meaning of life, but the journey of discovery?

      I, too, am looking forward to your next post, though this one will keep me thinking for a while!

  3. My Mom keeps telling me no one predicted covid. We all locked ourselves in our homes. We didn’t plan for that. Let’s enjoy our present 😀.

  4. I often wish I knew some answers of what will happen, especially for the ones I worry about, the ones I wake up in the night and can’t fall asleep thinking about. I am also grateful though for the uncertainty because it makes the miracle more special in the finding of a donor for my third transplant. Would knowing what is going to happen ruin life?
    I wonder if you have ever heard or watched Leap of Faith – a song by Lionel Cartwright?

    1. I love your comment about worrying for other people, David. Yes! But you are right about the uncertainty making things more miraculous! I haven’t heard that song – I’ll have to check it out! Thank you!

  5. Hi, Wynne – another powerful post. 😊 I love the “stomping and clapping” notion to stay in the moment. I love your questions – “How do you experience the tension of expectation and anticipation? Do you have a practice that helps you settle into the wait?” I’ve learned I need to get primal and remind myself to BREATHE. I have a nasty habit of shallow breathing in the anticipatory gaps between tension and relief. A couple of deep belly breaths do the trick and I manage to stay in my body. But — I like the stomping and clapping idea. Hmmm….maybe I’ll breathe first and then make some noise. 😊

  6. What a great topic! Something I practice which sometimes helps and sometimes doesn’t is reflecting on all the past times I had “big questions” and was waiting on answers. Many don’t feel big anymore. Most are actually forgettable. Like when I was questioning if I should change majors as an undergrad, it felt like the end of the world. Was I making the right choice? Or that past breakup that was so gut wrenching but now I almost forget I even dated them. It doesn’t necessarily make the current pain and struggle go away but it is a nice reminder that what I’m feeling is not new and something I have overcome before. Which means I can do it again with time.

  7. Wow, Wynne! What a thought-provoking post.
    I love your answers to the big questions, “The weight of foreknowledge would have crushed us and destroyed my ability to learn the lesson of how to drop expectations and just enjoy the tension.
    Sometimes we need to stomp and clap to stay right in the moment, relieve the tension and stay open to whatever will happen.”
    Though it is very difficult to practice, I believe, “The past is history, the future is a mystery, and this moment is a gift. That is why this moment is called ‘the present’.”
    Deepak Chopra
    (Yes, I have answered the survey question.)
    Best wishes.
    Beautifully penned.

    1. Thank you, Chaya (and for answering the survey too). I love the Deepak Chopra quote – that hits me squarely in the heart. But yes, it’s a difficult practice for sure!

  8. Great example of the tennis match, Wynne. So easy to focus on winning when enjoying the steps toward the goal are life itself.

  9. Very interesting post Wynne. I ask questions about my future to the ultra centenary Chinese oracle I-Ching. The answers are difficult to interpret but very intriguing and challenging at the same time. I think it’s a way to keep my mind busy and not create expectations. Or at least not to think about them.

    1. What an interesting approach to future answers, Cristiana. I will have to try it. And I love that they set up a puzzle to at the very least focus your mind on and help settle out the expectations. Wonderful!

  10. That was great Wynne, a powerful example that we never know what’s coming, nor should we. It’s best to simply enjoy the moment.

    My way to remember this is an anecdote that I heard in a book. It carried on for a while but repeats that everything ends, the good, the bad, the mediocre, all of it. The best this to do is enjoy the good while we have it and tolerate the bad, either way it will eventually end and be replaced by something else.

    1. Jessy – what a great way to put it. Enjoy the good, tolerate the bad and know it will all change! Thanks for adding this to the conversation!

  11. Your memory of the tennis match between Agassi and Sampras is beautifully written and really made me feel like I was spectator to the experience as well. Growing up watching taped matches of greats like Sampras and Agassi, I can only imagine the intensity of actually being at a tournament like that.

    More relevant to the topic, I appreciate how you emphasize the complete presence in the moment that can take us when we stop viewing our expectations as pre-determined and instead just open up to the possibility of any outcome, enjoying the suspense and exhilaration before the “answer” takes all the uncertainty away.

    In another context, I’ve felt more and more recently that the emphasis on marketing and “teasing” upcoming movies that I am interested in seeing has gone to the extreme that I’ve heard about them so much, had so much of the character and plot laid out before the films even premiere, that I lose interest in watching and instead am just tired of hearing/seeing things about them. I miss being able to go to a movie with just a poster and maybe a one-sentence synopsis of its plot to pique my interest: no overbearing expectations to ruin the experience and discovery.

    1. Oh Gail, what a great example you’ve provided with movie marketing. My goodness – I hadn’t thought of that but wow, you are so right. Yes, it ruins it if we know too much. As is true with the future.

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment! I appreciate you reading and taking the time to weigh in!

  12. My mother was (is) so patient with me. Bless her, much was going on that I could not understand. She would often leave me with, que sera, sera.

    1. Que sera, sera – that is wonderful! I can’t read that without hearing Doris Day (is that right?) singing it. What a great mom tradition – thank you for sharing it, Kevin!

      1. Yes. “whatever will be”. Let your life unfold naturally. Don’t force an outcome, the universe will resist.

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