How do you react when something doesn’t happen the way you planned? A breakup or that canceled flight, losing a potential customer or a longstanding client. Do you get angry and throw a tantrum or do you shrink back into your cocoon and sulk? Perhaps, it’s neither or maybe it depends. Either way, we can’t help but feel disappointed. If I ask you to imagine the face of a disappointed person, what comes to your mind?
Chances are, it’ll be a person whose lips are droopy, like the bell-curve of a penny stock that once showed promise but is now crawling battered and bruised after the fall. A disappointed person can get angry and lash out too but it is usually on unrelated things and people. In fact, that’s a classic sign of disappointment: its effects spill over to other aspects of life. Fundamental to disappointment are two dominant emotions: a feeling of being let down and, sadness.
Mind you, disappointment is not a clinical condition but an emotional state that emerges from unmet expectations. In other words, it’s not dependent on the absolute nature of the incident but on how we feel about it. There are enough people in the world who would bray and roll on the floor like a frustrated donkey because they were starving and the wrong pizza got delivered. And then there are those who fall prey to a fraudster and lose their life’s earnings in a scam and yet, they don’t bat an eyelid. Both victims are disappointed but they feel very differently about it.
A famous Sufi master was invited to give a discourse in California. The auditorium was full at 8 am – the time announced – when one of the assistants came onto the stage.
“The master is just waking up. Please be patient,” he announced.
Time passed, over two hours, and people started leaving the room. At midday, the assistant returned to the stage, saying that the master would be starting the lecture the minute he finished talking to a pretty girl he had just met. Most of the remaining audience left fuming and feeling ridiculed.
At 4 pm the master appeared – apparently drunk. This time, all but six people stormed out.
“I will teach you this,” said the master, ceasing to act drunk. “Whoever wishes to go down a long path, must learn that the first lesson is to overcome early disappointments.” 1
The foremost idea to imbibe is that in pursuing anything worthwhile, we will be met with disappointments along the way. I don’t mean to say that you will experience intense sadness but that many things in life will not go as planned. And, that’s not necessarily bad. For, our disappointments force us to think differently. They create the necessary resistance to aid human growth, progress, and evolution. I don’t deny that they can be highly inconvenient and derailing.
In my humble opinion, dealing with disappointment requires reflection on three important questions. As follows:
What do You Believe?
This is what you feel the truth is. There is some room for doubt and uncertainty here. I believe I’m well prepared for that exam or that job interview. Or that my partner is faithful to me, though his/her actions and words are contradictory. (I read this funny quote once: you may fool the world but not your phone; it knows your real character.) You may believe that you deserve the best in life, or that you are a very loving person, or that you are competent and honest, etc. This is your truth as it is.
What do You Want to Believe?
This is what you want the truth to be. Strangely, we are rather certain about it with no confusion or doubt. I want to believe that I’m so well prepared that I’ll ace through that exam or interview. That, my partner really loves and needs me so much that he/she can’t live without me. I want to believe that my employer will wake up to my competence and indispensability one day. That, the project will fall apart without me. This is your truth as you’d like it to be.
What is the Reality?
This is how the truth actually is. It may not be even remotely close to what you believe or want to believe. But, the truth always remains unaffected by its admirers or critics. The reality may be that 99% of the candidates appearing for the exam or that interview are better than me. Or that my partner is already speaking to a divorce attorney because he/she doesn’t wish to spend another moment with me. The reality could be that I am right on top of the list of people to be fired when my company downsizes. Or simply put, reality is the truth.
The greater the mismatch between what I believe versus what I want to believe vis-a-vis the reality, the more disappointed I would be. Needless to add that a disappointed person is like a GST return. A pain.
It may not be a bad idea to take a moment and ponder over the word disappointment. So, you appointed the Universe to make something happen for you a certain way. It could be as insignificant as finding the last loaf of your favorite bread in the supermarket or as important as bagging that coveted job. No task is too big for the universe in which infinite planets roam about like particles of dust in a storm. When it doesn’t happen the way you appointed, naturally, it leads to disappointment.
But let me in you on an open secret, my friend, if you want the Universe to bring you something, four things must be in sync:
1. purity of intention (a single-minded pursuit),
2. worthiness (aptitude/skill/persistence),
3. flexibility (an open mind and heart) and,
4. luck (grace/destiny/time/randomness in your favor).
If the four are not aligned, the Universe might not even register your request, let alone grant it. To have that authority over the elements of nature where you can get done what matters to you, you need to not only change the way you think and act but also what you believe in.
Old beliefs do not bring new results.
An unemployed youth planned on attending this class on how to handle disappointments.
But it was canceled.
Such is life. (Mulla Nasrudin is on a vacation.)
What do you do with milk that’s gone past its use-by date or medication that’s expired? You chuck them, right? Treat your limiting beliefs the same way. Discard them.
If you develop the courage to face the truth and work with it, you will never be disappointed again. Difficult but doable.
PS. I’m very pleased to announce The Art of Devotion. A 4-week virtual summer camp led by Sadhvi Vrinda Om. It starts next week, so don’t forget to register your spot. Go here for more details.
|↟1||A similar story is also told about Chogyam Trungpa too but with different teaching. I recently spoke about it in one of my discourses. I read this Sufi parable in The Little Book of Sufi Parables by Nico Neruda and shared it in a short post (a quick bite) here on os.me back in 2019 too. That post has been since deleted as I wanted to write on this in a bit more detailed fashion. Hence, this post.|