How do I deal with Disillusionment?

Have you been in a situation where you expected life to turn out a certain way, only to be shocked by a turn of events you would never have predicted in your wildest imagination? Maybe you have hoped for an outcome in your career or relationship only to be deeply disappointed. When we experience these challenges to out perception of reality, we often become disillusioned. Without correct processing, disillusionment can easily slide into despair and cynicism.

Disillusionment is a common feeling we all experience at various stage of our lives and is usually a negative emotion we want to avoid. In fact I want to persuade you that disillusionment is an invitation to come out of your false view of reality and grow into a more sophisticated and “truer” understanding of what life is. The very word disillusionment is a clue to its invitation, dis-illusion-ment, a process of losing the illusion you were living under.

In fact I want to persuade you that disillusionment is an invitation to come out of your false view of reality and grow into a more sophisticated and “truer” understanding of what life is.

This is called the process of awakening or growing up. Before we can truly see, we must first admit we are blind. This is only possible when we come to the understanding that the way we think life works is actually a figment of our imagination. This challenge to our world view feels like disillusionment.

To understand this, we need to realise that all we think of as “reality”, is actually a narrative we tell ourselves about the sensory information our five senses are relaying to our brains. The brain is a sophisticated organ but because it is totally uncased in your skull it is completely unaware of what is actually going on outside. Reality is what is going on outside, it’s massively complicated and totally beyond your ability to comprehend. Our limited processing power is unable to process even a tiny fraction of the information being poured out by reality every Nano-second. Because of this we have to pick and choose what we take in, this image , that sound, this sensation, and faze out all the others.

Our brain is constantly filtering out information, it has to or we wouldn’t be able to function. In New Zealand there is a volcanic region that smells like rotten eggs, when you arrive your senses are assaulted by the terrible smell. It’s so bad you think to yourself, how can people live here with this awful odor all the time. The thing is, the locals don’t even smell it! They have totally adapted to it because their brains have learnt to ignore that particular set of sensory data.

Little by little these bits and pieces of information are placed together and we form a narrative about it, a story that seems to fit the data we are receiving at any given moment. This story we tell ourselves is then compared to past experiences, conformed to our identity and coloured by our emotions. We all form mythologies about the past, narratives about now and eschatologist about the future. These stories are all helpful to make sense of the data input but they are at best, flawed versions of what is really going on.

When we come across a mentally ill person we say they have lost the plot, all stories have plots and when we lose our plot we find ourselves unable to deal with life. Disillusionment is a falling away of the veil of personal perception and a realisation that we don’t actually understand life as well as we thought.

Personal identity plays a huge role in the way we filter sensory input. This is often referred to as the egoic self. For example, if I was born in India, as an Indian woman, I would have a completely different identity to the one I have now, as a white male living in Australia. How I see the world greatly differs because I have formed a very different identity. The problem arises when we see the ego as us, when we can’t discern any difference between the essential conscious that is me and the persona we have formed over time. It helps to realise that we existed before our egoic self, as babies and then small children we developed a personal identity. Just like our bodies we formed our ego from bits and pieces around us; this relationship, that belief systems, this experience.  This identity solidifies and starts to filter what we see and how we translate meaning from that.

The word persona originates from the Greek plays. In these, actors wore masks called personas, these masks had large mouths that acted as amplifiers, so the crowds could hear them in the amphitheaters. The word persona literally means; “sounds through”, referring to these masks. In this sense the word is a very accurate representation of the ego, in that the ego is a tool for our being or consciousness to manifest through into reality. We use our egos to translate our essential being into reality.

The ego is not a bad thing but does become a problem when we strong identify ourselves as our ego. Disillusionment is an invitation to set our masks aside and view reality in a clearer more accurate way. We forget that we are all moving through the twilight thinking we can see clearly and disillusionment is a helpful reminder of that.

I have heard it said that humans have two powerful motivations; firstly, the desire for structure and boundaries and secondly the desire to expand infinitely. These two opposing drives may seem to be in opposition but are in fact both important dynamics in human development. One example of this in nature is seen in crustaceans like crayfish. Left alone these animals can become very big, I’ve personally seen giant crays in marine reserves in New Zealand. These animals are protected by a hard exoskeleton, this adaptation is very important for the animal’s survival, but also hinder their ability to grow larger. This is overcome by the shedding of this skeleton, this is a dangerous and venerable time for the crayfish but also a time of growth and expansion.

In a way we are the same, we need the boundaries of our identities’ to make sense to all the data we are receiving, but left unchallenged these identities will hinder growth. Disillusionment is the beginning of shedding. Without this loss of illusion, we remain ridged, small and tribal, we all need to see it as a chance to expand and grow into something larger and more real. Setting aside these masks of persona is a constant and crucial practice if we want to understand reality as it really is and disillusionment is part of that process.

So maybe you can start making friends with disillusionment today!

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