Image by Amir Fathi
Disappointment isn’t often viewed positively in the self-help or self-development world. This is hardly surprising – it’s quite an unpleasant experience (at least for me).
An exception to this is Joanna Macy. Her take on disappointment is that disappointment is valuable because, “When you are disappointed you are not pretending” (my paraphrase). This is true (though it applies to any other experience or emotion that we don’t withdraw from).
[Joanna Macy is a Buddhist social activist whose work I recommend highly. She has written a book called World as Lover, World as Self that is very worth reading. She has also run Despair and Empowerment workshops – despair is little dealt with I think. To give a flavour of her approach. Her proposal for dealing with nuclear waste is not ‘out of sight, out of mind’ – bury it as we deep as we can and hope nothing happens for a quarter of a million years – but to store it above ground and have it cared for by a special force of guardians who would be honoured and rewarded for their work in guarding humanity from the peril that the waste is. I think Joanna Macy is an extraordinary individual and activist.]
Disappointment lets us know what is important to us. This is especially valuable when we are surprised by how disappointed we are. Being surprised by disappointment lets us know that there is more to us than our conscious thoughts and desires. So I think that disappointment is an experience worth embracing and learning from.
This is opposite to what I think of (a little unkindly) as the ‘spirituality is complacency’ line of argument. This argument is that if we aren’t attached to anything then we won’t be disturbed by anything. This is true – and has valuable aspects, which I’ll go in to a bit later. However, it too often is an excuse for callous indifference. It has no room for compassion. If we are appalled by the suffering of those dying of hunger, well, there is a way not to be bothered. This is indeed true, I can’t see it as admirable though. For me, a spirituality that doesn’t have a central place for compassion isn’t worthy of the name.
If we are disappointed it is certainly correct that we were attached to some outcome. But I’m not sure that not being attached is the desired response. Or, put perhaps better, the way to non-attachment is one of encounter not avoidance.
We could perhaps avoid all our emotions, hopes and dreams; we then would not be attached to anything. This would I think be the portrait of a psychopath.
If we embrace our experiences we find that we keep living and develop a resilience and sense of who we are. This gives us the sense that we are not any of our particular experiences – a sense of detachment from them. This path of encountering our experience also leads to non-attachment but does not have the psychopathic coldness that comes from avoiding part of our experience.
If we can welcome, or at least acknowledge, our disappointment we gain a softness, a sense of our vulnerability (which is a good antidote to any ideas that we are ‘above’ suffering), or any grandiose thoughts that we may have. By welcoming our disappointment we can expand our compassion.
The biggest problem I see with disappointment is getting stuck in it. Some people’s lives seem to be spoiled by a disappointment from which they have never recovered. And disappointment can certainly seem overwhelming, we can feel that everything is black and that tomorrow will be no better either.
Here are some ideas I have that may help in these times so that you can move to making disappointment a part of your experience and not something that overwhelms who you are – to gain some sense of detachment from it.
1. If you have supportive friends or family talk to them about your disappointment. If you don’t consider talking to a counsellor – there are usually free services available if you can’t afford to pay.
2. Find what it is that is so important. By this I don’t mean the event (the bastard left me) but what it means to you (eg. that I’m unlovable, that I was so naive to believe what they said – and naive is bad).
3. You will usually find that at the heart of your desire that was disappointed is something healthy – perhaps being too naive is a problem, but is it such a bad thing to want to be able to relax and trust others? From here it may be possible to move on and develop a trust that includes discernment.
4. Express your disappointment with all of you. You’re allowed to make up speeches or imagine telling people off or assaulting them – as long as it helps you do the disappointment with all of you. (Doing this stuff physically to them is probably not a good idea.) This may take more than once, if the disappointment is about something at the core of who you are. It is important enough to set aside time for doing it.
5. With a big disappointment, moving on means living differently. I have had a small disappointment with my blog stats this last week or so. This has meant a re-evaluation of what is important in terms of blogging (my thoughts about the importance of content vs marketing. My hope was that marketing doesn’t matter much at all, my experience is that it certainly does. This has meant me re-allocating my priorities and time somewhat – a slightly different way of living.) While this hardly rates in comparison with the disappointment of a major relationship break up I hope it is enough to show the point.
How have you dealt with disappointment in your life? Have you found ways of moving on from your disappointments? If so I would like to hear about them in the comments.
I have a health course, “Designing a Long and Healthy Life”. It is twelve email delivered over a six week period. It covers all aspects of health and is designed to help you find what is right for you in your physical, emotional, mental, spiritual and social life. You can sign up for it in the comments on this post, for the details of what’s in it, you can find them on my Newsletter page.
No related posts.