I had some disappointing news this week. The story behind it started this past spring. I had approached two of my colleagues, mindfulness teachers in the New England area, about submitting a proposal for a conference. With a little encouragement, they agreed. We worked hard, electronically, by phone, and for one day in person, to flesh out our idea and submit for consideration. A few days ago I heard that our proposal had not been accepted. It was my job to convey this news.
In composing the email to my partners, I hesitated, looking for the right word for what I was feeling. As I sat pondering, I tried to fit some of the words that flashed into my mind against the particular brew of sensations I was experiencing. Have you noticed this about emotions? There is a specific, multi-faceted and multi-dimensional complex of sensations that tells you whether a given moment is filled with giddiness, delight or mirth. In this case, I was looking at a different set of possibilities. As I sat at my keyboard, I tried on “frustration.” Frustration suggested that there was something that “ought” to have happened and hadn’t. I couldn’t find where this was the case. My team had put our best effort forward. I felt the conference selection committee must have done the same, working on prior knowledge of this conference’s offerings. No, frustration wasn’t right, and by association, neither could anger or annoyance be.
I went through a similar review against the possibility of feeling regretful, embarrassed or mistreated. Thoughts of having roped my friends into a futile exercise filtered through. Vows to never try such an unlikely scheme again attempted to take hold. A fist of righteous indignation attempted to raise itself. Nothing would stick. Everyone had done beautifully and the world was just as it was, no better or worse than it should have been.
The way I eventually described this moment to my friends was one of “clean disappointment.” There had been a hope, a desire. That desire would not be fulfilled, at least not right away. With no one having behaved in any way other than they could or should have, I could give myself over to an unencumbered emotion: simple workplace-oriented disappointment, a mildly unpleasant feeling that lasted very briefly when given its’ due. It was soon followed by appreciation in remembering all the good that had come of spending this time. I learned a great deal about what I had studied up on, in writing the proposal. I had enjoyed the connection with two wonderful teachers. I looked forward to closer ties with these two people as a result. I found myself starting to think about this very blog post. The ever-variable unfolding of life had moved me on.
I would define a clean emotion as one you’re willing to have all by yourself and all by itself. You own it. You let it own you. It requires no one else to be held accountable, to carry any of the burden or to remedy it for you. One of my favorite former managers would say, “it is what it is.” Because it’s clean, it’s not muddied up with extraneous, non-productive bits that tarnish the future, the past or your perceptions of others.
If this sounds intriguing to you, see if you can notice a “clean” emotion today, of any kind.