Disappointing Assumptions

September 21st, 2011

The problem with jumping to conclusions is that you jump right over the space between now and the conclusion, skipping a whole lot of possibilities on the way to an unknown end. It’s like putting on a blindfold, randomly selecting a destination on a flight path and then sitting in the dark on an airplane dreading your arrival. Far better to remove the blindfold, look out at the blue sky and travel with an open mind.

Most disappointment is a pointless struggle with reality. Disappointment is one of the most common and traumatic responses. So how do we deal with let downs in the healthiest way? This is part three on a series on endings. The first part looked at denial and impermanence. Part two looked at ending as fully and well as possible. Part three is on assumptions and disappointment.

It happened to me just yesterday. I said to Meg, “That was a missed opportunity.” She caught me off guard when she said, “How do you know it was an opportunity?” Annoyed at first, I soon realized that her question was right on the money like a Zen teacher’s arrow of truth. My ego wanted her to say, “How do you know it was missed?” Well that’s also true. If you reframe disappointment you could say, in the words of Emerson, “For everything you have missed, you have gained something else.” But she took it a step further, cutting through both the assumption and the ego. It’s like this classic Zen story-

A Zen master and his student who were walking in the woods, when they noticed ducks flying overhead.

“What do you see,” the Zen master asked the student.

“Ducks,” the student answered.

“Where did they go,” asked the Zen master.

“They flew away,” replied the student.

The Zen master grabbed the student’s nose and twisted it hard. As the student cried out in pain, the Zen master said, “What makes you think the ducks have flown away?”

What is the meaning of this story? Who nose!

The meaning I take from the story is that he assumed that he knew what the ducks were doing. He assumed that that they started where he was, because after all it IS all about him. His point of reference was limited to above his own head. From there he assumed that they flew away from him. But what if that’s not what happened. What if they were actually passing from one place to some other place and the point above him was just incidental? Maybe they weren’t flying away. Maybe they were continuing their flight.

We often do the same thing when it comes to change and endings. We get locked into one perspective.  This is an ending. This is a beginning. This is a missed opportunity. This person is leaving me. This joy has arrived for me. This pain has left me. We create so much suffering for ourselves by taking things personally.

Try this physical experiment. Grab your nose and twist. Twist it until it hurts. Do you feel the pain? Has all joy left your body? Now let go of your nose. Did the pain leave you quite quickly? Where has it gone? How quickly it all happens, the joy and the pain. Hold on to neither joy nor pain, and you will be at peace with disappointment.

So much of our suffering is self inflicted; we might as well walk around twisting our own noses. We so easily forget that everything is moving- joy, pain, other people, opportunity, youth, health, illness. They are all moving somewhere and we may incidentally be in their path, but we don’t own them and they don’t own us.

Lemony Snicket said,

Assumptions are dangerous things to make, and like all dangerous things to make — bombs, for instance, or strawberry shortcake — if you make even the tiniest mistake you can find yourself in terrible trouble.

Disappointments are nothing more than assumptions in disguise. Strip away some of assumption’s masks with a well placed question or a visual reminder and suddenly a letdown becomes rechanneled energy, and an ending becomes an incredible new beginning. Next, I will address the issue of making peace with time as a new perspective on endings.

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  1. [...] This is part two in a series on beginnings and endings. Part one looked at accepting impermanence so that you can live fully. Part three will address the issue of assumptions and perspective. [...]

  2. Angel says:

    Very powerful piece/peace!  I’m interested in going back and reading the two articles that preceded, especially on impermenance.  Love the statement: “Hold on to neither joy nor pain, and you will be at peace with disappointment.” I am certainly carrying that one with me, copying it to a post it and read it occassionally. Thank you for the seeds of wisdom. May they bloom into a full shade tree. Blessings to you and Meg!

  3. Kristen says:

    As I strive to keep an adventure’s spirit during a major transition in my life, this series could not have come at a better time. Thank you for your thoughtful words and your enlightened perspective.

  4. ian says:

    Good thoughts to you in your transition Kristen.

  5. ian says:

    thanks so much Angel- great appreciation.

  6. When people assume the makes asses out out of you and me! Thanks for the article!

  7. marie says:

    “Disappointments are nothing more than assumptions in disguise…” Brilliant thought!

  8. Evita says:

    Excellent wisdom Ian.

    I was going to quote the exact same line as Marie above. Oh how true! If we can now take these words and make them real, not just walk around saying how true they are, but really live them and realize we do not need to suffer as we do. Each will of course do what they feel is right, but this is my wish for people – to release themselves from the unnecessary suffering. 

  9. Moon says:

    I cannot tell you how much I love that: “assumptions in disguise.”  I’m not disappointed, but kind of discouraged and worried at the moment, and that idea is helping me with those feelings too.  It’s keeping me going.  I even printed it out so I don’t forget it.

  10. Fabulous post. I like the quote from Lemony Snicket too. I love snippets of wisdom in fiction

  11. John Michael says:

    What a wonderful read to appear this day and give an insight.
    Sincerely,
    John Michael
    “Preserving the memories so others will remember…” ™
    http://www.John-Michael.net

  12. Foxy says:

    Beautiful post. Thank you. :)

  13. I liked your article, Ian. And thanks for mentioning the fact that it is the last of three as it looks like a worthy series. I will look at those first two. I am retweeting this one for now. BTW, my biggest problem with jumping to conclusions, similar to the Zen story you shared, is that conclusions mean the thinking has stopped. If I have stopped thinking, then I am either in trouble or dead. Thanks again, Ian.