We all understand the concept of being of service to others, but the following reality is far more common: I’m going to disappoint you.
We’ll be going along just fine and then all of a sudden, I may behave in a way you’d rather I didn’t. I may say something that hurts your feelings or keeps you from getting what you want from me, and I’m sorry.
The good news, in the midst of all this disappointment is that regardless of whether we are always capable of being of service to others, we will never fail to be in service to what is. We’re never not in service to Reality—and this can actually provide us (and all those people we’re letting down in such a monumental way) with far more useful growth opportunities.
I’m going to disappoint myself, too. I should know better.
I should have moved beyond this by now; I should have a different attitude. But why? Because that is what enlightened beings do? Because if I don’t, everything will fall apart? Because I think it would make you happy and give you what you want? These all sound perfectly reasonable, but I’m still going to disappoint. It’s inevitable.
Here is something else: you’re going to disappoint me, too.
Do you know how many times I’ve wanted you to do something other than what you did? Do you know how much I want your support? Sometimes, I have it. It’s wonderful! Sometimes, I don’t and I have to give myself all those things I thought you were going to give me.
Everything I say about you can also be turned around and said about me. That’s the truth of it. If I love you and you love me, then we’d be doing all sorts of things for each other, right? We’d have this schedule in mind and the schedules would match perfectly.
There wouldn’t be any of this awkward mishmash of timing. I’m ready to commit, but you aren’t. I have to work that day, but you’re free. I have something important to do, but you need me to put it aside to do something for you.
I’d like nothing better—especially because I love you—than to be there when you need me. Except for those times when apparently I would like something better, because I choose that instead. Is it okay to plan for that, too?
Can we really live our lives like this, openly embracing all this disappointment?
I know how scary it is because we’ve been trained to believe that the people who truly love us will do what we want—at least most of the time. We convince ourselves that love means they want to change for us. If they do hurt us, it must simply be because they didn’t know any better.
We just have to clarify our needs, redefine our wants and then they will have better instructions on how to please us. This is what we think happiness is about: people doing things for each other because they love each other and love means a lot of “shoulds.”
I certainly don’t like disappointing or hurting the people I love, but it still happens—and how can that be so? Does it mean I don’t really love them? But I do! I love them, and still, I disappoint.
1. We can start our search for people who won’t hurt us. We can abandon the people in our lives who are not fulfilling our needs in the ways that we’d like and move on to those who will.
2. We can look to populate our community with those who are like-minded, those who will mimic our behaviors so that there is less dissension. Dissension makes us uncomfortable. It asks us to look at things that are different or unpleasant and who wants to do that? It’s different and unpleasant! I’d much rather have everyone agreeing with me, believing what I believe and doing what I want.
3. We can try to explain to people how much they are disappointing us—and hurting us in the process. We can explain what we need and then see if they can supply it. (I can tell you the answer, no crystal ball required: sometimes they can, sometimes they can’t.)
4. We can work to change ourselves so that we better intuit the needs of others. We can work to minimize our own needs and then if we feel bad about not getting what we want, we can condition ourselves to shut up about it and feel very enlightened about the whole thing.
5. We can become lovers of reality. Meaning that I love whatever happens; I take full responsibility for what I’m thinking and feeling.
I’m disappointed. I’m hurt. I’m joyful. I’m excited. I’m pissing someone off. I’m uplifting someone. Great!
In all these things, I’m in service. I am never not in service to reality. And you there, the one making me feel disappointed, you’re in service, too. Thank you! What could be better than that?
Notice there is no “OR” in the list above because the truth is that we’re going to alternate between these approaches (and others) depending on the circumstances. However it happens is exactly how it needs to happen.
Here’s the thing: I love you right up until the moment when I don’t. I will do everything I can for you, right up until the moment that I do less—which is also everything I can do. You see?
Today, I want to be with you. When tomorrow comes, I want to be with myself. I want to be healthy, open-minded and to grow past all of my fears. I want to be a lover of reality—and today, I plan to crawl beneath the blankets and cry myself to sleep over how unfair it all is, how much all this reality needs to immediately stop keeping it so real.
Of course, being a lover of reality does not absolve us of being good people.
I could say, “Well I’m doing whatever I want, and hurting you in the meantime, and I’m still being in service. If you don’t like it, that’s your business.” (Although, can you feel the truth in this statement? If we’re really being honest?) But being a good person isn’t just about doing what other people want or fighting with reality all the time so we can try to make others feel good.
The things that happen day to day are not what cause us to suffer—it’s the story we tell ourselves about what happens that leads us to suffer.
When we begin to sense the story behind our feelings, behind our reactions, we naturally begin to feel a greater sense of compassion for ourselves and for others. We are far more likely to be open and honest and far less likely to pass on our suffering. But the key here is to see our own story first.
Often times, we can see the stories of others, but we cannot see our own. This leads to less compassion. We see the weaknesses and coping mechanisms of those around us, but without taking our own into account, we may keep waiting for others to fix their problems and stop blaming us—so they can go back to the all-important task of giving us what we want.
Here’s a secret for feeling less pain over disappointment: When we love what is happening, when we are in line with reality, then the behaviors that exhibit a lack of understanding for others tend to fall by the wayside.
Since most of that is driven by our expectations, our fears, the stories we tell ourselves about what we should be getting and what others should be doing. When those stories disintegrate, when we drop the “shoulds,” what remains? Reality: the beauty that is you being you.
The beauty that is me being me, and I wouldn’t want us to be any other way. (Which is good, since we can’t be any other way.)
What remains is the moment: the sweet, spicy taste of tea; the sharp edge of the coffee table as it bangs your knee, being wrapped in the arms of someone who adores you, the egg yolk on the kitchen floor, everything you hold in your hands, everything that cannot be held—and the chance to see all these as equal.
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Assistant Ed: Julie Garcia/Ed: Bryonie Wise