Stay Close to Your Resentment

Practice of the Week
Stay Close to Your Resentment

Category: Slogans to Live By: These are for everyone. Carry these reminders at all times. These practices don't require setting aside a separate substantial chunk of time -- but they will slow you down a bit (and that's a good thing.) Resolve to get stronger at living by these maxims, day by day. Sometimes make one of them the focus of your daily journaling.

from Training in Compassion
Norman Fischer, adapted

Remember (yet again!) that there is no escaping human problems, most of which come not so much from situations and other people as from our reactions to situations and other people. Among these reactions is resentment, which automatically takes us outside ourselves, leaping over our minds and what is going on in them to highly uncomplimentary evaluations of situations and other people – evaluations that make us feel tied up in knots.

Resentment is a nasty feeling.

Here’s a slogan telling us to stay close to this nasty feeling. Usually when we feel resentful, we are liable to judge ourselves harshly for being resentful. We think we’re a failure at training our mind in peace and kindness, and that we’re a complete mess. Actually, though, resentment is the greatest of all meditation objects. Far from feeling entangled in it and frustrated with that entanglement, we can celebrate that resentment has arisen in us, and that we have noticed and identified it.

What is resentment, after all? What happens when you stop projecting outwardly (because we are always resentful of something or someone out there, even if it is life, or ourselves, as if we were outside ourselves) and turn around to look at the resentment face-to-face to find out what it is? What color is resentment? Is it green? Is it purple? Is it pink? Is it white? Is it black? Is it tall? Is it short? Is it fat? Is it thin? What happens when you investigate? Can you look resentment in the face and see what it is? Can you feel the feelings, watch the thinking, see your actions unfold?

The investigation of resentment – and of all afflictive emotions (anger, greed, fear, etc.) – is the most powerful and the most beneficial of all practices. The peace that we are seeking is less than half as good as the investigation of resentment and the other afflictive emotions. These are basic visceral, human emotions. They are our great treasure. So we should always stay close when they arise in us, so we can meditate on them.

Cultivating loving-kindness sounds so sweet and wholesome. When you look at the ads in spiritual publications, you see smiling faces and promises about how to achieve happiness and be more loving and kind. But how many times do you see the word resentment?

A great trap of spiritual practice is the avoidance of negativity and the temptation to pretend to be good. But the most fertile ground for training the mind in compassion is right on the edge where our veneer of virtue breaks down. Rather than always trying to be good, it is better to go directly to what sets us off. This slogan tells us we can apply mind-training the moment resentment, annoyance, and other negativities arise.

Goodness is natural. It does not need to be cultivated. It just needs us to remove its obstacles. With obstacles removed, natural virtue shines through. But how can we remove resentment if we are unaware of the extent to which it controls us? We need to look into what makes us provokable.

Each time we are offended, misunderstood, ignored, put upon, we have the opportunity to see how solidly we hold to our views, opinions, our whole sense of who we are. We can see how when that solidity is threatened, we shut down or lash out, get defensive or find some target to blame. By simply seeing all this more clearly, we are already less trapped.

This slogan is a reminder to stop avoiding the issue of resentment, and instead really try to understand how it arises. By doing so, we could actually experience the constructing of a solid reactive self on the spot, while it is happening. The moment we notice that painful tightening and constriction, that closing down, is the time to interrupt and undermine that whole destructive process. We can catch ourselves in the act, so to speak. What seems so solid is exposed as a sham, and our small-mindedness and defensiveness is seen through. Thus the resentment has nothing to push up against and it dissolves into thin air.

Practice: As an object of contemplation, choose one thing that provokes your resentment and notice the cascade of sensations it triggers. Let your reaction relax and then bring up the same thing once again. What are you clinging to? What are you afraid of losing? What insights arise when the haze of resentment is less thick?

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