November 9, 2014

The Tao of Resentment.

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“Pain and suffering is a choice…in order to eliminate it from our lives, each person is responsible for healing it within their own being.” ~ Sabrina Reber

What draws me to Buddhism is its belief in personal responsibility.

The Buddha said, “Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without.”

Wouldn’t it be neat if we had some sort of compass that would guide us on this inner journey? Is there some app, some real-time program that shows us the way to a deeper alignment with right livelihood?

Actually, there is, and it can be found in the most unlikely place—our sense of resentment.

We are not monks in monasteries, but laypersons living lives in a broad spectrum of consciousness and even extreme lack thereof. We do not live in Nirvana, but instead among the “great unwashed”—the common folks. In fact, we are those common folks—mortals struggling with the glimpse of our immortality. Psychologist Thomas Moore calls this state “soul,” that blending of our spiritual perfection with our human earthiness.

“The goal of the soul path is to feel existence, not to overcome life’s struggles and anxieties, but to know life first hand, to exist fully in context.”

But many of us know that the context of the modern world is a mess.

Moore tells us we avoid soulfulness because we’re afraid of being individuals.

Having no internal rudder to steer by, we look outside of ourselves for direction, hoping the winds of fate will blow favorably in our direction. How, then, do we reclaim our individuality and responsibility for the course of our soul’s journey? Moore tells us to listen to the signals that give us pleasure. I would also add we might listen to the signals that give us displeasure.

“Soul work is to live and be affected.”

We are in constant interaction with others and our environment, and “right living” means we open our consciousness to the middle path between perfection and humanity.

In the process of soulful living, we will undoubtedly experience resentment.

Who has not felt the intensity of personal rage at the injustice of mortal life? Is it possible that resentment, and our mishandling of it, is the source of all human suffering as described in Buddhism? Could finding compassion for our personal source of resentment lead to expansion of our ability to find compassion with others, rather than blaming them for our discomfort and pain?

Resentment is powerful because it is so primal. It is deeper in the subconscious than feelings, more like an urge, an impulse or a stirring right at the edge of our consciousness. Resentment resides close to our spiritual core at the very junction of Spirit and form—that “soul state” that Moore and blues musicians celebrate.

Perhaps resentment is our natural state of being—an ennui caused by the process of unfettered spiritual energy becoming focused and transmuted into physical form, now subject to the laws of physics.

Resentment is a vague and subtle human emotion, often dismissed as something crude and undesirable. It is confused with other emotions such as anger, spite, revenge, remorse and depression, but there is a personal aspect to resentment that gives it deeper meaning and purpose.

While these other emotions are externally directed, resentment is a personal feeling of violation, injustice or disrespect.

What is unique about resentment is that it is almost exclusively internalized—it is our resentment. It is derived from —but should not be confused with—the French word ressentiment, used in philosophy and psychology to describe a sense of hostility transferred outward toward the projected or imagined cause of one’s frustration.

Frankly, most of us cannot abide our resentment long enough to listen to its wisdom. Usually, our sense of shame or inferiority, and perhaps even jealousy creates, such internal discomfort that we immediately generate a value system or morality which either actively or passively attacks others.

Nietzsche warns us, “Nothing on earth consumes a man more quickly than the passion of resentment.”

The ego creates an enemy in order to insulate itself from blame or introspection. In terror of its diminishment, the ego fans the flames of resentment, igniting the passions of hatred and justifiable violence. Imperceptibly, our sense of resentment is subconsciously modified and channeled outward into ressentiment—transformed from an almost sacred personal experience into fear-based vigilance of ego threats, either real or imagined.

The challenge of resentment is to master the ability to contain or sit with it long enough to hear its message.

Our ego wants resolution, binary black and white distinctions, but we need to quiet ourselves and learn to tolerate more complexity and mystery. This will require honoring and embodying some harsh and dark shadows and emotions—not denying or changing them, but looking deeply instead for their meanings.

We are often frightened by the intensity of our primal shadow emotions, but they are there to protect and buffer our spirits from the many shocks of our mortality and the natural world. I visualize it as an ancient dragon that instinctively protects its precious egg from harm. If we allow our fiercely pure dragon to emerge from our subconscious, it will empower us to burn away any threats to our integrity.

Being conscious of our resentment allows us to embody the power of our dragon and use it for personal growth and compassion. To deny our resentment leads to outward expressions of our fiery temper toward others in anger, indignation, hatred and jealousy.

As children, we were undefended and helpless in the face of those more powerful than ourselves, but as adults, we are responsible for our level of resentment and can choose actions to relieve the stress—fight or flight—to reinforce our boundaries or leave the relationship.

Resentment is the impulse. How it is expressed is our choice. Right action, then, is the alignment of the impulse with the environmental context to find the middle path of greatest compassion.

If we are conscious of our resentment level, we can then find our internal soul compass and confidently take responsibility for our personal lives.

Resentment is our compass telling us we are straying from our course of integrity. It is our signal that it is time for action—to take the tiller and steer our course back to wholeness and calm.

Once you find your bearings, the voyage of life feels less perilous and becomes far more joyous.

Welcome your resentment, sit with it and hear its wisdom, for it shows you the way of the Tao.





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Author: John Hardman

Editor: Emily Bartran

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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