On disappointment – what it unconceals and how to be with it


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.

A remarkable experience on the way to college


This post is related to the following post:  Getting, owning and letting my disappointment be sets me free!

Usually my wife drives my daughter to school (along with two young girls from next door)  and my eldest son takes the bus to college.  Something came up, my wife asked for my help and yesterday I committed to taking the three girls to school.

This morning I was completely at peace after finishing my morning meditation.  Being in that space the thought came to me: “I can be of service to my eldest son – drive him to college”.  So I called in my son and told him that I would be leaving at 8:30 to drop the girls off at school and if he came with me then I’d drop him off college (after we dropped the girls at school).  He was pleased: he had overslept, would not have been able to do what he needed to do, get the bus and get to college by 9:00am.

After we dropped the girls off school and there was just the two of us my son apologised.  He said he was sorry for the way that he had behaved the previous day during our time playing table-tennis together at the sports centre.  How did this occur to me?  A genuine sharing of what was so for my son: he simply said what there was to say.  He did not occur as ‘making amends’ because that was something expected of him nor of  ‘sweet talking me’ to get something out of me.  He went on to share that he did not know why he had behaved the way that he had behaved.  I listened – just listened.

How was I left feeling?  I was touched – nothing more, nothing less.  I felt no sense of satisfaction like I would have done previously.  Nor did I feel proud of my son (as he had done the right thing) as I would have done previously.  I did not feel or think any thoughts of forgiveness because it did not occur that I had anything to forgive: I had seen into the nature of my disappointment and accepted it totally on Sunday and through that processes I had set myself free.

I was more than simply touched, I was touched deeply.  I got that my son had been living with the disappointment of Sunday’s table-tennis session.  His disappointment was worse:  he had no-one else to blame and was left with only himself to blame.  He also felt guilty at letting me, his dad, down and he had been carrying around this pain for the better part of a day.

How did I respond?  I thanked him for getting my disappointment and sharing his disappointment.  I also told him I loved him – that was simply what was so and I felt it deeply.  I was experiencing compassion and love for my son.  And I told him that I was looking forward to playing table-tennis with him.  I noticed that some of the heaviness that he was carrying about his being lifted.

What is the insight?

I am not the only one who experiences disappointment.  So do others.  I am not the only one that experiences suffering.  So do others.  I am not the only one that is puzzled and asks himself “Why did I do that?”. So do others.

If I can own and be with my experience without getting wrapped up in my ‘story’ then I can be free – at peace – to be compassionate towards my fellow human beings.  And I can put that compassion into the game of life and so take some of the burden off the hearts of my fellow human beings.

Getting, owning and letting my disappointment be sets me free!


Doing more of that which brings joy and human connection into my life is part of the game I have created for myself called ‘Playing BIG’.  Coming from that context I booked a table-tennis table at the sports centre for 9:30 am today.  I was so excited at the thought, picture, of my sons and I playing table-tennis together on a proper table and in a room with lots of space to move around freely – as opposed to playing table-tennis in our lounge.

This morning I rang my son at 8:30 to let him know that I’d pick him up from his friends at 9:15.  And that is exactly what I did.  My son appeared to be in good spirits and I took that to mean that all was fine and I could expect a great experience: playing table-tennis with my son who enjoys playing table-tennis!  We got there, I paid £5 and headed to the table-tennis table.  When we got there delight was present for me: single table set-out in a large room (lots of space) just for us.  This is great and this is going to be great – that is the conversation that I was having with myself.

We got playing.  First my son said that he had to hit the ball harder (than home) – he occurred as being surprised and put out by this.  After practicing for five minutes or so he told me he wanted to play a game.  “Fine, let’s play a game” was my response.  When we got playing he kept asking me if I was playing my best and I kept telling him “Yes”.  He was not happy with this – he seemed to be convinced that I was taking it easy on him.  What was happening in my world: “How the heck do you expect me to play better given that you cannot cope with the level that I am playing at right now?  And yes, I am playing the best that I can play given the circumstances.  Quit asking the same stupid question and just focus on playing!”  On the outside I was calm because whilst i was getting activated by what occurred as a ‘poor attitude’ on my son’s part, I was in control and able to transcend i.

I won the first game – no surprise, no significance to it. We started playing the second game.  Now the room was too hot for my son – he kept saying how hot it was.  I offered to open the double doors – he refused. Then he kept telling me he was thirsty and so I offered him money so that he could go and get a drink – he declined.  All the time I kept calm and simply played table-tennis when there was table-tennis to play.  It soon became obvious to me that the table-tennis that we were playing did not match the ‘table-tennis schema’ that my son had in his head and so he did not want to play table-tennis.  Actually, there was no genius on my part – he kept repeating that he was bored.  At 10am – half an hour in reality yet an eternity in my experience I put a stop to it.  I simply said that I could see that the situation was not working for my son and so we should go home.d

What was there for me?  What was happening underneath the surface?  I noticed that I was disappointed and i (my automatic machinery) was disappointed and angry:  i kept wanting to blame and criticise my son; i felt betrayed; i felt that it’s time had been wasted; i did not approve of people who quit especially when that person is my son – i was brought up to finish whatever it started or it got punished big time.

Yet, I stayed calm and did not let i run me like it usually does.  How did that come about?  I was present to the fact that reality was perfectly OK (just great the way it is and the way it is not) and i noticed that the disappointment was a natural result of how i works.  i had jumped into the future and mapped out how it would be (a great game of table-tennis and a great bonding exercise with my son).  And when reality was reality and it did not match up with what i had expected then i had got upset.  I could see that i had created and was continuing to create my disappointment.  When I got this I owned that i was creating this disappointment and not my son.  I noticed that I soon as I got that and owned my disappointment and let it be without resisting it, it vanished.  And I was left with everything is OK – just the way it is and the way it is not – and that set me free to get on with what I needed to do this morning in complete peace!

How about you?  Are you owning your disappointment and thus setting yourself free?