I just came back from a three-day meditation retreat. After more years than I want to count I finally go off to retreats without anticipating what will happen. Well, maybe there are still a few flickers of anticipation. But I used to have big, roaring T-Rex-sized anticipation, and now it's more moth-sized anticipation.
People often hear they are to practice without goals, and they wonder how that is possible. I mean, if you don't have goals, if you aren't expecting something, why would you even bother? And is practice without goals even possible?
It's a fact that you can't will yourself to stop anticipating, any more than you can will yourself to stop growing hair. As long as that greedy "I" is grasping for pretty shiny things -- like, maybe, getting enlightened -- there will be expectations and anticipations and desires. And anticipation is a big barrier to being in the present moment.
Some of you may remember a Carly Simon song from 1971 --
Is makin' me late
Is keepin' me waitin'
The song isn't about meditation, exactly, but that refrain could be. It's saying that anticipating something that could happen in the future (in this case, love) is causing the singer to miss out on the relationship she has now. She ends with the lines, "So I'll try and see into your eyes right now / And stay right here 'cause these are the good old days."
Just so, practice is right now. So if anticipation is in the way and keeping you waiting, but you can't make it stop, what do you do?
I don't have any tips for quick and easy anticipation-dropping. I do know that if you keep practicing, eventually it wears itself out. That can take awhile, though.
You might consider anticipation as a form of uddhacca-kukkucca, one of the Five Hindrances. This is usually translated "restlessness and worry" or "restlessness and remorse," and I don't think any of the commentaries I have read mentioned anticipation as part of it. But seems to me it could be. Working with uddhacca-kukkacca requires being mindful of the worry, acknowledging it, and observing it. This brings focus back to the present.
I now can say from my own experience that the anticipation-dropping thing does happen, even though you can't make it happen. It just happens.