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Notes on Quenching Disappointment
“In metallurgy, quenching is the rapid cooling of a metal to adjust the mechanical properties of its original state.”
It’s been a year of learning unpleasant and downright painful truths about people I believed I knew. One of them was my own mother. It hurt me deeply, and also provided enormous relief. It’s strange, how we ignore our gut feelings about people we care about, especially family, even as they grow stronger. On some level, we expect to tolerate the intolerable because we love someone. Yet that’s impossible, everyone has a dealbreaker. Life is a chemical equation, whether we know it or not, we are every moment striving for homeostasis. With every breath we take we are transforming.
Choosing not to think about something that bothers us about a person we admire or care about—actively ignoring it—actually amplifies the negative emotions that arise as a result of the distress. Like cancer, resentment grows invisibly. We definitely need to pay attention to things which cannot be seen with the naked eye or perceived with the naked brain. When we suppress the unpleasant realisations, we suppress the truth about ourselves. Fear constipates, spiritually.
When we try to force things we break something, often that something is inside us, often our own ability to trust ourselves. Why do we fear losing people whom we have come to fundamentally question? Why do we want to settle? It’s almost as though we don’t believe in ourselves sufficiently to follow through with our gut sense, which typically doesn’t lie. We sit inertly, hoping we won’t notice the resentment and dissonance building within us. We do though, we notice.
We advise each other not to have expectations of other humans. That’s adorable and noble, also impossible. Humans exist interdependently, we need the engagement and involvement and interaction of other humans to exist and survive and thrive. We need balance, then, because we cannot cancel everyone—we have to learn to co-exist. How do we cultivate tolerance in a world where the most popular possessions are iPhones and iPads? In this nafsi nafsi world compassionate understanding feels like trying to do the breaststroke in jello. Self compassion feels like some kind of radical and joyful resistance in this weird intolerant world of humanity.
What does self-compassion look like? It looks like forgiving myself for trusting someone who violated my trust. It looks like investigating my anger and outrage with non-judgemental curiosity. It looks like deciding what I can live with and what cannot abide, and committing to myself to honour this truth, no matter how painful the losses that follow. It looks like allowing myself time to ruminate, simmer, feel the range of emotions from sadness to rage, without judging these feelings, without judging myself for having them, without drowning them out or sedating them, or pretending they don’t exist. It looks like coming to understand the persons who hurt me by violating my trust, and then letting go of the need to avenge my betrayal and punish or retaliate.
Disappointment to a noble soul is what cold water is to burning metal; it strengthens, tempers, intensifies, but never destroys it.
— Eliza Tabor
Forgiveness means I no longer need to retaliate or punish those who offend me. Forgiveness isn’t an event, it’s a process—a lifestyle, even. Forgiveness is for myself, first of all. When I have forgiven myself, I feel less internal resistance when it comes to laying down my betrayal and embracing an understanding of those who have offended. Just as knowing the results of the bacterial culture enables infectious disease specialists to prescribe the appropriate antibiotic, doing an autopsy on relationship difficulties teaches me about the human condition and, though the hurt remains, I have expanded my experience and I can love these individuals from afar.
As humans we all have imperfections and flaws, and we will disappoint each other and we will feel disappointed by others. We cannot avoid this, it’s the human condition. We can only transform. The people and situations who hurt us serve as forest fires for our souls—there are some trees who require the heat of fire in order to germinate. This year I discovered that all the pain and grief and rage did not have to destroy me because I am a Phoenix and also a butterfly—decay and loss make way for new life and growth.
So, as I shed this fifth decade of my life and embrace the beginning of this sixth one, I have come to see that putting down the things and people which hurt me allows me to embrace those which expand me. Curiosity makes way for understanding, which makes way for compassion. Gratitude for the hardships and the sandpaper people, as well as for the triumphs and the joys, has expanded my spirit and pumped my butterfly wings so I can take flight.
I’m ready for you, 2020. Bring it.