We live in a world where people are paying hundreds of dollars for Homer Simpson Buddha figurines.
I want one, and assumed I could snag it for around ten bucks, shipping included. I find this morning that somehow, they went “collector” and are moving at two hundred fifty bucks apiece. It’s enough to piss a guy off. Really.
The figurine is perfect. It says “Be at Peace” and “Don’t take yourself too seriously” at the same time. Seeing it is a balm to my soul. Trying to acquire it is like a random slap in the face from a red-haired midget. Unreal, unexpected, unwelcome and, somehow, surpassingly cool. Secretly, I love that these are fetching huge prices. But don’t tell that to my resentful mind. My resentful mind just wants to be pissed.
Resentment is setting yourself on fire, and hoping they die of smoke inhalation.
I was recently given a little lecture, well, huge, on how judgmental I am. My accuser repeatedly failed to assimilate that from her premise on, she was judging me. And there was a cost. It hurt. But I failed to stay with the hurt, and shifted instead to the safer, guarded place of resentment. When I’m not busy hating, I’m a total source of love. Really. Trying to not re-feel my anger, refraining from running the tape on the conversation yet again, is futile. That’s what resentment is. Re-feeling. Especially that How Dare You! feeling.
Shall we go to Wikkipedia?
“Resentment (also called ranklement or bitterness) is the experience of a negative emotion (anger or hatred, for instance) felt as a result of a real or imagined wrong done. Etymologically, the word originates from French “ressentir“, re-, intensive prefix, and sentir “to feel:” from the Latin “sentire.” The English word has become synonymous with anger and spite.”
Please note the “or imagined,” and know this: I’m an artist, and imagining is my stock in trade. So I have a built in resentment amplifier.
Even this moment, as I write to you in a coffee shop, an old dude at the next table wants to chat about how a senator got arrested last night for drunk driving. Do I dare tackle him and duct tape a muffin into his mouth? Does it make a difference if he happens to be my own father? Yes, I guess, I am just a smidge judgmental. There will always be resentment bordering on hostility between me and my dad. There will also always be a tender and profound love. So I need to deal with both. I need the tools to re-tool.
If you kick a stone in anger, you’ll hurt your own foot.
~ Korean Proverb
Picture yourself at nineteen. If you’re anything like me, you had ridiculously long hair, were skinny, and rode around everywhere on a motorcycle.
On one trip, you’re paying the toll at the Mass Pike and, being a dime short, you stopped. Tremendous good fortune, you saw one on the road! Big smile, you picked it up, and handed it to the toll booth collector.
And the bastard, after accepting the dime, looks you dead in the face and says:
“This is my dime. Any change that falls around here legally belongs to me.”
You look in disbelief. Then kill your engine. Kickstand down. You know exactly which pocket in the backpack has loose change, but you choose every other pocket first, so the line behind you gets really, really long. As horns start honking, you take out one thin dime. Returning to the seat, starting the bike, you reach the dime out to him. As his palm approaches your hand, life goes into slow motion.
You withdraw your hand gradually, he follows, not getting it. At the last second, you release and let the dime fall past his hand, down to the grey, black, rust,bubble-gum, oil-spot, asphalt mosaic highway. It falls in slow motion, flipping heads to tails, unintentionally declaring probability outcomes which nobody alive is tabulating. The dime falls infinitely. It falls until forever. There will never be a time when that dime is nor careening toward the blacktop.
Having bestowed this priceless lesson, with the very slightest of huge massive Cheshire Cat grins, you hit the throttle.
Except that’s not how it went, is it? No. He shamed you pointlessly, and you, as an unsure kid in a new wide open world, handed your dime over, powerless. Impotent. A big dummy. You got a resentment that would live with you all the way to the ripe old age of 46, where life would find you as old and creaky as the now dead (you hope) toll booth collector, hunched over a keyboard, bitter as kale, fantasies of how it could have gone down still torturing you like bad cinema.
Resentment. It sometimes feels as integral as breathing.
And what the hell are we supposed to do with it? I do know that repeated anger and resentment (they are twin brothers) have no productive place in a healthy, developing mind, much less in spiritual exploration. But knowing that changes nothing. We must, must, must feel what we feel. How do we distinguish between feeling and indulging?
Anger, re-lived as resentment, has its own gravitational pull. There’s a juice in re-living scenes where we think we’ve been wronged. There’s almost a pathology to it, a sort of victim/hero mix that can make you puke, if you get too close to it. Anybody got a bucket?
If I’ve got a fix on it, we need to “honor” every emotion that visits, like a guest, and then sort of show them the door. Is that it? Our job is to be open and receptive to what we feel, and then, knowing that feelings are real but are not facts, decline the invitation to bask in resentment. Cultivate gratitude and compassion deliberately.
Is that it? My inner seven-year-old disapproves. He’s still resentful about something, something that probably got dismissed too quickly. So what is the calculus? How do we distinguish between authentic experience of what hurts, and childish indulgence?
There’s no value in pretending we’re not angry.
Having been told once that I needed a healthy outlet for my anger, I bought a set of drums. It helped. Resentments, rendered in rhythms, reluctantly relented. I had very few neighbors: that also helped.
But I sold them, in an act of mercy. I have no drum kit today.
The base of resentment is repeated dissatisfaction with events, a whining and persistent feeling that life should be other than the way it is. We know it has got to be 100 percent healable, because we know full well that existence is a fleeting gift, a deep honor, a rare treat. Though its easy to forget that, in the face of resentful thoughts, we understand that everything is brilliant.
At our core, we are delighted.
So what the hell is the answer? The answer is, of course, letting go of the need for answers. Pema nails this in a piece at Shambhala Sun:
“When you begin to investigate, you notice, for one thing, that whenever there is pain of any kind—the pain of aggression, grieving, loss, irritation, resentment, jealousy, indigestion, physical pain—if you really look into that, you can find out for yourself that behind the pain there is always something we are attached to. There is always something we’re holding on to.”
And there is. And she also points out that one grabber we resenters cling to is the illusion that resolution is needed. Well resolution is like Prince Charming, lover. He ain’t coming.
Please read the whole article—it’s called “The Answer to Anger and Aggression is Patience.” It’s about a 10 minute read, if you have the patience.
See what I did there? Right now, know that letting go is really our entire enchilada. I am going to pick this up tomorrow in a piece called “Ditching our Demands,” because the cafe closes at midnight and I’m getting the hairy eyeball already. If I keep typing much longer, I’m going to give this guy a huge resentment.
But Pema is surfing it brilliantly in that piece. She hits the lip by suggesting calm, as we learn to let go. She advocates truckloads of loving kindness, directed inwards, as we fail and fail and fail to let go of our resentments, as we learn, gradually, our perfectly-timed re-tooling process, and discover acceptance.
It is knowing our resentment comes from preconceived notions of how it should be. Knowing that these notions are ignorance (especially because everything that is not the breath is ignorance. Every thought, conjecture. You know this.) It is letting go of these demands. In the letting go is the re-tooling. Know that the thought is not the reality. So easy! So hard!
But we allow ourselves to grow into unthinkably beautiful moments in that catching, that listening for what our demands are, the creation of empowered viewpoint that says: “I caused this. I caused this through my ignorance. I can release it.”
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