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On Disappointment

"When doubts haunt me, when disappointments stare me in the face, and I see not one ray of hope on the horizon, I turn to Bhagavad-Gita and find a verse to comfort me; and I immediately begin to smile in the midst of overwhelming sorrow. Those who meditate on the Gita will derive fresh joy and new meanings from it every day.” Mahatma Gandhi

Who has not had ‘disappointments stare us in the face’?

When things don’t go our way, we can feel a range of emotions. Disappointment is one of them. We don’t get what we want, things don’t work out, things fall short, fall apart, never quite make it. Disappointment is when others let us down, our expectations don’t match up, and our experience is less than anticipated.

Being disappointed with others is one thing and being disappointed with ourselves another. Too much of it can lead to depression, addiction, and anger. It is often connected with shame and the loss of dignity. Indeed it can trigger a whole range of emotions that can keep us busy and self-centered for a very long time.

How do we face disappointment and deal with it in ways that best serve us for growth and spiritual survival? How do we honor the feeling and then show it the back door and wave it goodbye?

The first step is to expect to be disappointed. It’s simply the nature of this world, the nature of our mind, and the nature of our limits. We are not in control, never were and never will be. This is the essence of the practice of karma-yoga. “Karma” indicates activities done with an expected result in mind. But Krishna teaches in the Gita, that “Karma-yoga” is proper activity. It is when act in this world, but are not attached to the result.

In other words don’t be overly disappointed when things don’t go as planned - the cookies burn, the crowd is less, the tire is flat, the brilliant speech bombs, the excitement we feel for an idea is received with indifference. Feel the pinch and then let it go. We can do that by giving a big nod in the direction of God. Smile and talk to Him about it. Ok, that didn’t work out. Could I have done it differently? How did I miss that one? What is there to learn?

There is story after story of disappointment in the bhakti teachings. In the Gita, Arjuna faces his own limits, his disappointment in himself as complicit in the crimes of war and the painful social disruption the results of war will bring. The great lesson Krishna teaches over and over again is - whether you are happy or disappointed at outcomes don’t stay there long. Don’t be attached or take credit for the results for as sure as you live in the world you will get a fair amount of both. The real point is our internal thinking, is living our life as an offering, as best we can, as thoughtfully and carefully and intelligently and with love for Krishna as we can. That’s the real result we are looking for - the state of our mind and our heart, our thoughts and our feelings, when we are in action.

If we don’t feel our pain, and heal our pain, we will transmit it. We will turn it into bitterness and anger. That’s why forgiveness and detachment are essential in processing disappointment. Yet they too will be insufficient if it’s not connected to the big love. Arjuna was held together by Krishna - his friend, his teacher, and ultimately God himself - and that holding in his time of fear and disappointment was what helped him through.

Krishna’s message for Arjuna is a message for the world. In the words of Gandhi, listen to them and ‘smile in the midst of overwhelming sorrow.’ They were spoken for all of us.

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