Good parents know how to teach their kids to deal with frustration and disappointment, because not to do so is unkind to children. Parents who don’t delay gratification and who rush to fulfill their children’s needs and desires even before they have the ability or luxury to feel a little discomfort, are truly doing a disservice to their children. I have known a few adults who were “spoiled” as children. Adults who were not allowed to be disappointed as children and who received too much comfort. Some become entitled manipulators who feel that everyone owes them the treatment they received from their parents, and yet others are chronically depressed because they don’t understand why the world is so cruel to them.
Reality is a flowing river of events and encounters, and we never really know what will happen next and whether events and encounters will be, as we interpret them, in our favor or not. A sense of happiness and strength really comes from encountering reality head-on and trying to find the benefits in each situation. It is normal to feel hopeful that good things will come our way, but when they don’t, what can we do to help ourselves through the challenges?
For example, I would love to spend my life reading, dreaming, painting, and having amazing conversations with interesting people. But most of my time is spent earning money, doing laundry, shopping for groceries, cooking meals, cleaning, doing yard work. During the time I spend doing chores, I think about the things I enjoy, and I do my best to carve out some time for the things I love to do. Living in a physical body requires us to take care of our bodies and those who depend on us. I suppose I do have the choice to be a less responsible parent and homeowner, but I know I would feel badly if I neglected my family in order to pursue my own dreams.
I have a book by Carolyn Myss called “Sacred Contracts: Awakening Your Divine Potential”. If you click on the link, it will take you to the Goodreads web site, where you can read reviews by readers about this book. It’s a really great site; I highly recommend it if you love to read. Carolyn Myss is a very interesting woman who has studied theology and is familiar with all of the major religious and spiritual traditions. She is an intuitive healer as well, and her explorations of archetypes and our emotional relationships to our mind, body, and spirit to create well-being or discomfort and disease are explored in a number of her books. She and James Hillman (author of The Soul’s Code: in search of character and calling) both mention how ancient Greek philosopher Plato, in his work, The Republic, explained why our lives turn out the way they do…and that as an unembodied soul before birth, we each choose the life we are about to lead in great detail.
I will explain how this is connected to how to cope with life’s disappointments and still remain hopeful and optimistic. If each of us does have a divinely selected fate in life, we also have choices to make. We come to earth to learn and to develop our souls, and this takes challenges and to a greater or lesser degree, suffering. Plato explained that each soul chooses its companions in life and the challenges it will face during the course of its incarnation. The fate is then sealed, and the soul crosses the river of forgetfulness, the Lethe, before being born into a human body. The concept of reincarnation is also explored, as it takes many lifetimes for a soul to develop and mature.
The reason for crossing the river of forgetfulness is important. If we were to each remember all of the joys and despairs of the life we had selected before birth, our lives would be even more difficult than they already are. We would be devoid of hope. As I get older, I feel like each challenge and learning experience takes away some illusions I had harbored in my heart. Disappointment makes it harder to feel optimistic, but somehow, hope always wins out. Simply because I find it impossible to live without a sense of hope. Pope Francis agrees, which he underscored in his comments about solitary confinement and holding prisoners on Death Row. To remove a person’s sense of hope is “cruel and unusual punishment”.
Today we see many people striking out in acts of anger, frustration, and hatred, committing crimes motivated by racial hatred or sheer meaningless violence. Are these the acts of entitled children grown up who cannot deal with frustration? Some may be. Others have been victims of bullying who have harbored feelings of revenge. I remember Elliott Rodger, the young man in California and son of a film director who stalked and killed young women in the streets, because he could not deal with being rejected by beautiful girls. I personally feel it is very important to deal with feelings of fear, frustration, disappointment and to not allow ourselves to harm others for our own inability to deal with pain. Other people are not responsible for our feeling lonely, not having friends or the relationship we wanted. Other people are not responsible for our not getting the job or education we feel we deserved. Yes, society is collectively responsible for the general well-being of its citizens, and as societies, we do often fail people.
I live in a lower income neighborhood, and I know that most children do not get the education they deserve. I hate to hear machine gun fire in the middle of the night (I heard it last night.) There is so much needless violence and drama. But what if Carolyn Myss, James Hillman, and Plato were right? What if we do choose, as souls, the life we are about to live?
This means that we sometimes choose poverty, strife, to be a refugee or to grow up in a family suffering from drug or alcohol addiction. This means that we could choose a life of loneliness, to be a victim or perpetrator of sexual abuse or domestic violence, to be very ill, or to take care of others who are ill. We might choose a life of ease and celebrity or to be a dictator or tycoon for a certain spiritual reason, just as we might choose a life of hardship. As mere mortals, how do we deal with that possibility? Does this make our lives easier to bear?
As I write this, hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan are flooding through Europe, trying to escape the terror of the Islamic State and the Taliban. These are ordinary people trying to protect their families. We would do the same in their situation, and yet, many will encounter continuing struggles as they enter and settle into the countries of their choice, mostly in northern Europe. Incidences of hate crimes against foreigners are fairly common in some European countries, and as the refugees flood in, we see many people acting with kindness and compassion, trying to help those in need. And then we see others who feel threatened by foreigners, who feel that they will lose their identity and security from allowing these people in need to share their towns and cities.
We can learn to cultivate a feeling of kindness and empathy for others by doing the same for ourselves. Fearful people are generally those who are the most cruel. I know this very personally, because my life theme has been the experience of being an outsider. My own family – mother and father, brother and sister – have all been very cruel to me and to my son, excluding us from the family. They are all very fearful people, lacking in true self love and self-awareness.
While it is sometimes hard for me to remain optimistic, the way I manage is to slow down, and to live one day at a time. I force myself to face each challenge that comes my way, whether it is a broken computer, car, or a refrigerator (and not enough money for repairs or replacement), an illness, bullying in the workplace, etc. Fear automatically rises up to the surface when a challenge happens. It is natural to think, why is this happening to me? Why is it happening now? Will I ever be able to just relax and not have to worry? By slowing down and just allowing the situation to be without rushing in to find a solution, sometimes a solution will come in ways that I could not have planned. Letting go of fear is the primary cure for disappointment, despair, and even for hate crimes.
As parents, we should try and teach by example. Show our kids that even when a situation feels impossible, to not allow fear to overtake our hearts. It is OK to show we are afraid, but I think it is also important to show that we don’t react to fear and allow it to overtake our thought processes and choices.
If the world truly is a school with a set of lessons we have each chosen for our lives, I think this, in some ways, makes it a little bit easier to confront challenges. To say to myself: I chose this challenge so that I could build my inner strength, to become a better person. That feels better, more satisfying, than to feel like an eternal victim of circumstance. It is an empowering thought in which I can take responsibility for my entire life, which is not a random string of events. I can make meaning out of events which do seem like painful and meaningless obstacles. And I can still hope for the best.