Coping With Disappointments Mindfully and Parshat Ve'etchanan
Parshat Va’etchanan, the parsha that is always read on Shabbat Nachamu, the Shabbat of Comfort that comes after Tisha B'Av, is best known as the parsha that contains the Shema, which is central to our prayers.
And in this parsha we can also learn about hopes and warnings and disappointments.
Moses, who had given a lifetime of service to G-d and to the Children of Israel, was denied entry to the Land of Israel, in spite of his pleading with G-d to let him in.
Moses spent his life leading the people of Israel toward the Promised Land, but now
he would not be able to enjoy the fruits of his life’s work. Was Moses disappointed? Frustrated? Or was he hurt that his prayers weren’t answered and his dream was denied?
We all know the feeling of disappointment. Sometimes it is experienced as an emotional blow to the stomach, or in the chest– literally taking your breath away.
Other times it might make your throat become tight. Whatever your experience is like for you, disappointment can range from letting go of mild hopes to crushing your deepest life’s dream. No matter what form disappointment may take for you in any given situation, how you choose to handle that emotional experience makes all the difference between becoming more resilient and learning important lessons or deciding to give up on future happiness or success.
Carolyn Gimian, meditation teacher and author, teaches that there is a strong relationship between expectations, disappointment, and blame. Expectations are usually about the future. When they are not met, we are often disappointed, and this leads us to judge ourselves and others when things don’t go our way. Expectations set us up for disappointment. Blame deflects our disappointment. You can see this in the most mundane situations. For example, you make a reservation for dinner, but when you get to the restaurant, they can’t find your reservation and there are no tables available. Someone has to pay!
With small disappointments, humor can be a good remedy.
Really, is there nothing you can put on your salad to replace your favorite brand of salad dressing you just ran out of? Isn’t it even a little bit amusing that you’re so fixated?
Daily disappointment is often connected with the breakdown of a habit that we cling to. If you’ve been wearing the same brand and style of t-shirt for the last ten years, and suddenly it’s no longer being made, you're likely to be disappointed. But not getting what you’re accustomed to also wakes you up. You have to look around and see what else is available. For instance, when your coffee shop stops carrying your favorite dark roast, you have to look at the menu and consider other alternatives. Disappointment can turn out to be very refreshing.
When the great thing we longed for doesn’t live up to our expectations, we may wonder why we wanted it in the first place.
We might feel disappointed, in part because the purchased item doesn’t bring the hoped-for satisfaction.
When we feel fundamentally disappointed, it can be paralyzing. We blame ourselves and we may blame the people we live and work with, especially people that we're close to.
We can take it further and feel unworthy or become unable to achieve anything. We feel
not only disappointed but discouraged, which literally means to lose our courage.
When things really don’t go our way, how do we find the courage to not give up?
Through the quiet of mindfulness practice and being open enough, we can find value in every disappointment.
Disappointment isn’t something we can avoid in life, but it doesn’t have to be crippling. If we can try and see that our failures can be as valuable as our successes, we have the beginnings of a way to work with disappointment. The unacceptable alternative is to give up; to avoid taking a chance in life; to stay away from anything risky or uncertain.
When we are willing to risk disappointment and take a chance, we can celebrate that we have the courage to experience both disappointment, and the satisfaction of success.
Here are a few things that may help you to find quiet and openness when you are facing disappointment:
1. Make a point of simply acknowledging to yourself when you are disappointed.
Over a day or a week, notice when you’re disappointed because you don’t get what you want. Not changing it, just noticing.
2. Stop Ruminating, which means stop excessively dwelling on negative thoughts and feelings. The more you dwell on your disappointment, the harder it is to let go. Not only will it disrupt your ability to focus, but it will also prevent you from moving forward
3. Finding humor in a situation allows you to step back and see things more clearly.
This is not suggesting you make light of your emotional vulnerability, but rather recognize that laughing is like taking a deep breath and bringing everything back down to earth.
4. Be kind to yourself. There’s a difference between you and whatever disappointment you are experiencing. Appreciate yourself. Right now, when you are experiencing the worst disappointment of your life, you are there with it. It’s okay that you’re disappointed. Be kind to yourself.
5. If you have a few minutes – breathe through your disappointment. Take it in and let it out. Just stopping to notice our breath for a minute can make a big difference.
Or try this short guided practice:
Get settled, noticing the contact your body is making with whatever surface you’re sitting on, focusing on your in-breath and your out-breath.
And with each exhale, can you imagine yourself letting go of your feeling of disappointment– letting your body relax in your chair or wherever you're sitting?
And imagining a gentle breath towards your heart. Feeling a softening….
Letting go of your disappointment will help you create an opening, a space for more possibilities. What would you like to invite into this space right now? (pause)
What would you like to cultivate more of? And what inner strength would you like to encourage or help to grow? Can you imagine letting it in?
What do you need right now?
Any words of encouragement that you can tell yourself like something you might say to someone you care about?
Moses comes to understand the reality that every life, including his own, comes with limitations and disappointments, but there is hope for us when we can learn to befriend our disappointments.