To be human is to be the host to disappointment from time to time. Disappointment is a guest that simply shows up – usually unannounced – without invitation. This week I notice that disappointment – with my children, with myself – has been present in the house of my being.
How to be with disappointment and what does it unconceal?
How to be with disappointment when it shows up? I can accept it, I can pretend that it is not there and all is fine, I can try to push it away, I can struggle with it, I can fight with it………….
This week I chose to observe it as I might observe a new/interesting guest at a dinner party. And by observing it the following was unconcealed:
- my disappointment can occur in relations to people and/or objects;
- disappointment that lingers, that is more seductive, is in relation to the people who are the closest to me – my wife, my children….;
- disappointment is distinct from anger – anger has an active quality to it that tends towards hitting out whereas disappointment is passive and has an air of resignation to it;
- disappointment is not only towards others it can occur in relation to one’s self – how one is being and what one is doing;
- moving from being disappointed to observing disappointment is the shift that loosens the grip of disappointment and creates a space to simply let disappointment be;
- in choosing to let disappointment be disappointment (as opposed to adding meaning/significance to it) disappointment loses its grip on me and thus I am free – to get on with my ‘life projects’;
- disappointment with oneself, one’s life, can be an opening to transformation – the caterpillar has an opportunity to transform into a butterfly;
- disappointment with people leads to withdrawal and withdrawal is the suffocation of relationship and that in turn is the suffocation of oneself – as I always exist in relationship with others, no escape;
- disappointment is rooted in expectation – usually, unrealistic expectation born of unrealistic beliefs about self, about people, about human beings.
Ordinary living: addicted to illusions about others (and self)
Disappointment is rooted in expectation is the clue. I notice that when disappointment showed up (in relation to my children) I was engaged in a particular kind of conversation: “When I was that age I was X and s/he is Y! At his age s/he should be more X than Y.” Clearly X is the desired state and Y is the undesired state. It is in that gap that the clearing for disappointment to show up arises. Which begs the question: how realistic our expectations of one another are? This is what Anthony De Mello writes in his book Awareness:
“A young man came to complain that his girlfriend had let him down, that she had played false. What are you complaining about? Did you expect any better? Expect the worst, you are dealing with selfish people. You’re the idiot – you glorified her, didn’t you? You thought she was a princess, you thought people are nice. They’re not! They’re not nice. They’re as bad as you are – bad, you understand? They’re asleep like you. And what do you think they are going to seek? Their own self-interest, exactly like you. No difference. Can you imagine how liberating this is – you’ll never be disillusioned again, never be disappointed again? You’ll never feel let down again. Never feel rejected. Want to wake up? You want happiness? You want freedom? Here it is: Drop your false ideas. See through people. If you see through yourself, you will see through everyone. Then you will love them. Otherwise you spend the whole time grappling with your wrong notions of them, with your illusions that are constantly crashing against reality.
It’s probably too startling for many of you to understand that everyone except the very rare awakened person can expected to be selfish and to seek his or her own self-interest whether in coarse or refined ways. This leads you to see that there is nothing to be disappointed about, nothing to be disillusioned about. If you had been in touch with reality all along, you would never be disappointed. But you choose to paint people in glowing colours; you choose not to see through human beings because you chose not to see through yourself. So you are paying the price now. “
Reading this passage from De Mello provided me with a powerful opening to own that I had left the doors open to disappointment by living from/into an unrealistic story. I am delighted to say that my son and I took the first steps today to move past the disappointment with one another. Right now, disappointment is not present, it has flown away and the house of my being is peaceful.
Finally, a warning
Please note: you and I do not need to add any meaning to “everyone except the very rare awakened person can be expected to be selfish and to seek his or her own self-interest”. I am not saying that this good or bad, right or wrong. This is as pointless as saying that driving on the right is wrong and driving on the left is right. In the real world, what matters, is to know if you are in a country where people drive on the right or left. And given that understanding you and I are free to choose to fit in with the existing way of doing things or to chart an alternative course and take the consequences that come with that.