When the Answer Is No
I’ve already written about disappointment, but damned if it doesn’t keep rearing its pointy head. Clients, friends, yours truly – it seems no one is spared life’s letdowns these days. And why should we be? Our personal will, strong as it may be, is not almighty, which means we don’t always get what we hope for. Honestly, I think disappointment is a good sign. It means you’re still invested in life, interested enough to want something so much that it hurts when it doesn’t happen. When everything starts to be “meh,” then you can worry.
That said, nobody likes to be let down. Last week, a friend and I were commiserating over a bowl of soup and a cup of tea, sharing our stories of chagrin. Hers was a business deal that fell through; mine was having to cancel my attendance at a professional course. Both of us had been eagerly looking forward to our respective events, and we were rattled when they didn’t come to pass.
We talked about the idea that “it wasn’t meant to be” and “something much better will come along” – a line of thinking that salves the wound but left us both unconvinced. It seems beside the point to diminish the thing that got away. So what can you do when you feel like life’s pulled the rug out from under you?
Let it out
Disappointment is a kind of pain. If you move beyond it too quickly, you may hang on to a little seed of sadness that could become a big, bitter fruit with time. So let it out. Don’t damage yourself, others, or your environment, but otherwise, stamp your feet in whatever way feels satisfying to you. Talk to a good friend. Write down exactly how you feel. Notice where you feel the disappointment in your body and breathe there, or move the area in a way that feels good.
Don’t push away the pain — but don’t dwell there, either. Once you’ve felt and expressed your disappointment, step back and try to get some distance. Shift your focus to how this loss fits into the greater scheme of things. My friend didn’t lose any money, or her business, or her health, for example. She has other options, though they require time and she’ll have to regroup and come up with a new plan. But you can’t adapt if your energy and attention are stuck in the drama of it all. So take a deep breath and come to your senses: don’t stay too long at the pity party; call it an early night and get some perspective in the sober light of day.
Find the essential
Stepping back is one way to adjust your outlook; another is to zoom in and examine your disappointment very closely. Go to the searing hot center of what’s painful about it. What exactly were you hoping to obtain? When I asked myself this about the professional course, the answer that came was: magic. I was looking forward to learning a technique that seemed like magic to me, and to then be able to use it with my clients. I was surprised by that answer. I suddenly remembered instances and interests from my past connected to things one might call “magical.” Magic had gotten lost along the way, but here it was again, hidden within the larger context of the course like an ember in a fireplace.
So that relationship, that audition, that publisher, didn’t work out. What’s the glowing heart of it that made you want it? Maybe it’s the presence of someone who’ll really listen. Maybe it’s being in front of an audience. Maybe it’s having people read what you write. And of course the next question is: are there other ways you can move towards that essential thing?
Stumbling across the desire for magic, and thinking of ways to cultivate it in my life and work, was a real gift. Sure, I still wish I’d been able to do the course. But I managed to find a door out of my disappointment, and new possibilities that make me eager and curious.
Try it, the next time life says no. Pluck that ardent ember from the ashes and toss it in your hot little hands. Blow on it. Make sparks. Give it the chance to catch fire again.
Elaine Konopka is the founder of The Attentive Body in Paris, offering private sessions in attention-based bodywork and pain management. You can also join her for Write & Breathe: regular meetups combining writing for wellbeing and conscious breathing.
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