Where Is the Problem? And the Solution?
Recently I’ve experienced several very challenging disappointments. It would be easy to think they are unrelated since they come from entirely different areas in my life. Yet I’ve learned to trust that Life is always working in a concerted way to nudge me toward growth and development. Not always comfortably I should add.
It is quite tempting to tell you the details of each of the disappointments. My ego would like nothing more than to justify my hurt feelings, and to garner your support. And we all know we love to tell a good story about how someone did us wrong. All the more reason for us to feel validated and vindicated.
However, as the teacher Brene Brown discovered in her research, as soon as we place blame our inquiry ceases. We stop exploring. And perhaps more importantly the more caught up we are in our own storymaking, the less likely it is that we will experience and engage our emotions. Stories will create a whole different cascade of feelings, but none of these are actually those that need to be resolved. The story and everything it stirs is merely distraction.
So let’s cut to the chase … or my chase to be more explicit. Let me try to get real.
My feelings get hurt. Far too often, I mask them in some way, or otherwise distract or deny. I don't want to feel those feelings, at least in part because they are unpleasant to experience. But they are also rather ugly to see in myself. Who wants to admit they can be petty, or play the victim, or take refuge in self-pity? Sure I have plenty of good traits, but I do all I can to not expose those that are so unlovely.
Assuming I can realize my feelings have been hurt, rather than glossing over or deflecting them, I have to engage them. I have to lean into the sharp points as the Buddhist wisewoman Pema Chodron encourages. Sometimes I have to impale myself on them. (It’s useful to remember that the purpose of life is not to avoid and escape difficulties or discomfort.)
Here’s the root of how my feelings have been recently hurt. I have beliefs about how others, or circumstances, or life should be. Things have not gone according to these beliefs. These disappointments and hurt feelings are proof that my expectations, conscious or unconscious are at the root.
These recent disappointments all have common ground. In each case, I have asked for something only to be rebuffed. If I’m really honest, I’m terribly unskilled at asking anyone for anything. I’m extraordinarily self-contained. No surprise this came about from a great many requests of others that were not just unmet, but in too many instances were demeaned. I have long borne shame for having any needs at all. No surprise then that Life has offered many opportunities to experience the shame as well as the disappointment. Call it an ongoing life lesson.
So here is what I’ve learned to do as a result of a large number of very good teachers, therapists and advisors.
· Stop blaming. Know that things are the way they are, and everyone is doing their very best, saying yes to themselves and their own well-being.
· Continue to ask for what I need and want of people and of life, but let go of expectations. Instead watch for what life and people do. Sometimes it will be something different from what was desired, but it's a mistake to think the world and its people are unresponsive.
· Pay attention to how things and people operate in their own way. Try to pick those that are responsive and capable of reciprocating. Don't expect something from someone or something unable to deliver.
· Grieve for losses and disappointments. Whether small or large, warranted or not, they are real and they do hurt. Don't minimize, or deny, or deflect. Feel them and process them.
· Offer mercy and forgiveness in every possible direction, including to myself. There is nothing that cannot be made worse by judgment and accusation. And there is never a downside to letting go.
· In the end, take responsibility for my own experience. At a minimum, somehow it is me who is making decisions. And more importantly, my perceptive capacity is entirely mine. I can never blame anyone or anything for how I see and experience.
· Come back to here and now. Invariably, it is a fine place to be.
Sometimes sorrow must simply have its way with us.
Freedom lies on the other side.