Ugh…it happens, right? Things knock on the door of our lives that we weren’t expecting or wanting. And things that we do want to happen sometimes are so very slow to show up, if they show up at all. Sometimes it’s the BIG stuff of life that doesn’t go our way and sometimes it’s the jelly-toast-falling-sticky-side-down-on-the-new-rug kind of stuff.
There is often pain and disappointment in both the big and the little rubs, knocks and bumps of life. Sometimes a “rising to” can be mustered in response to bigger disappointments and heartbreaks and yet often the little rubs of layered mundane daily disappointments can chafe and fray our very fibers.
We use the word “disappointment” both to convey ‘emotion’ and as a ‘thing.’ We know the ’emotion’…it’s a tough one to experience. And to make it tougher, disappointment often tangles itself up with other difficult feelings and thoughts like regret (“Why didn’t I…?”), blame (“He should have…”/”I should have…”), shame (“This is happening because I suck.”), anger (“This isn’t fair!”) and doubt (“God allows me to suffer because he doesn’t love me.” or “I can’t trust God” or “others”, or “myself”) And it’s so easy to get stuck here in the tangled mess. But for now, lets shift focus and look at the ‘thing’ of disappointment. Here’s the definition:
“Someone or something that fails to satisfy our hopes or expectations.”
As we sit with this simple definition for a bit, some possibilities may open up for us to meet life’s inevitable hard-knocks (…okay, I was gone for a bit as I broke out in my best, complete with mop bucket, Annie version of “It’s a hard knocks life.”…but now I’m back. So let’s carry on!) with more equanimity.
Ah, equanimity, a mental calmness, composure and evenness of temper, especially in difficult situations…yes, a double portion, please.
Who among us doesn’t want to be more calm and composed when the jelly toast falls, or the traffic jams, or the flight delays, or the phone rings with hard news …or doesn’t ring with the offer we want? Couldn’t we all use some peace and calm and a little less suffering during these times?
Without a measure of equanimity we suffer at disappointment’s knock…and then we suffer some more. I’ve seen it up close in my own life and in the lives of friends, family and clients. I’m sure you have too.
And like most things worth having, cultivating equanimity takes some work. Gentle work that may begin with cracks of insight that equanimity is worth continually cultivating. Perhaps this insight comes as we begin to notice the ways we deeply suffer when we meet disappointments with a habit of getting trapped in anger, blame, resentment, shame or regret. Or perhaps, we notice that our habit is to lash out at others (or ourselves) and we notice the suffering this causes. Or maybe, we notice the suffering that arises out of our habit of becoming overwhelmed by emotion and just shutting down.
So here, as with so many things, the first step can be pausing to notice…in this case, to notice our suffering, so that we may set the intention to cultivate equanimity.
Or maybe, we already KNOW that equanimity is worth cultivating. We’ve noticed and noticed and noticed the ways we suffer without it, and we hold the intention to cultivate it. Then perhaps our work begins by considering, again, the definition of “Disappointment: Someone or something that fails to satisfy our hopes or expectations.” And when considering, noticing the words “satisfy” and “expectation.” We can ask ourselves: What do these words bring up for me? How do they seem to show up in my life, especially during times when things aren’t going my way? What do I expect from others, life, myself? What parts or hungers or expectations in me feel hard to satisfy?
So, and this isn’t a trick. The second step may be to pause to notice too…in this case, to attend, and attend again, to the ways our expecting life (or others) to satisfy our wants and expectations may work as a road sign directing a crowd of disappointments to knock at our door.
In fairness, maybe it’s not necessarily that our expectations cause more disappointments to knock at our door (though I’ve found it to be the case in my own life); we may find that our expectations magnify the sound of the knocking, which can lead to us spending a lot more time opening our door, even to the disappointments that were just passing by.
This is quite a bit to read and think about; It’s my take on bits of wisdom traditions’ insight and mental health practices. In next weeks blog, I plan to write more about cultivating equanimity and hope to cover a few concrete steps that may be helpful when disappointment knocks at our door. Until then, if you decide to practice pausing and noticing this week, I’d recommend doing so with an attitude of curiosity rather than judgment. It’ll be so much more fun, I guarantee it!
Equanimity is seeing the world with soft eyes -Kamala Masters
May you breathe more deeply, smile more often and feel more at home in your own life.