I hope you are well. This week, I'm reflecting on the topic of resentment, something that comes up in a conversation with a friend. It's also a deeper sentiment that I've been sensing in myself and many people. It's hard not to be in this time of messiness in the world.
From being mildly irritated to deeply enraged, from our personal life to professional and civic one, we cannot but see the unsatisfactoriness of everything.
Stay there long enough without proper reflection & action, we grow resentful.
I don't propose a solution, but I hope that you find my attempt to make sense and articulate the experience be useful to you.
Please forward it to people who may find it helpful. We are in this together.
p/s: Coming into that place where deep gladness meets the world's deep hunger.
"Darling, it's not the Real You."
Recently I had a conversation with a younger friend still in college. He told me about how when he first got here, he had a lot of resentment for the institution and all the ugly sides it revealed to him.
I’m no stranger to this feeling. I used to resent phoniness and superficiality in the world. When I first entered college, I didn’t understand how there could be so many people with great privilege who are wasting away at life. Many do so by getting regularly wasted, being “spoilt brats”, to borrow a harsh terms many people use. There is so much BS, phoniness and unnecessary hoop-jumping I resented.
It is no surprise that my driven, earnest and reflective friend felt the same way. Yet I saw in him something deeper: a genuine aspiration to be free, not only the messed up surrounding system but from our continuous harsh judgments of it.
The anatomy of resentment
Discomfort happens when we open ourselves up to the world, to touch and be touched by it. You see it everywhere, from learning something new to taking on a new challenge and almost certainly being in relationships with people. It’s part of life, what Buddhists call “dukkha”, often translated into “suffering” but really more like “unsatisfactoriness”. Life is never exactly the way we want it to be.
Resentment, on the other hand, happens when we continuously refuse to experience such discomfort by passing judgments. Using my example, I resented myself because I refused to feel the discomfort of failing to meet my own expectation by quickly judging myself for its shortcomings.
Psychologically, discomfort is inevitable, but resentment is not.
It’s a close cousin of Numbness which I’ve written about. Both develop from when we are out of touch with whole self, when our mind forget the genuine pain we are bearing in favor of the dominant “no pain, no gain” ethos.
If avoiding fear leads to numbness, then avoiding discomfort leads to resentment.
Yet as humans, we all do this, at least some times. Our preference is too often ossified into rigid expectation, which inevitably causes discomfort and unsatisfactoriness. When that happens, it is very tempting to point finger and say that either something is wrong with myself, or with the world, or both.
Do it enough and those piled up unmet expectation will lead to becoming further and further removed from the world, isolated, hurt, yet pretending to not feel nor see anything. You probably know someone who feels as if his whole life is being fundamentally betrayed by the world.
I know, it gets dark pretty fast. I spent a bit of time there, and it’s not a nice place that anyone wishes to be in.
A very small ask
Please, for your own sanity as well as everyone else’s, don’t let discomfort turn into resentment.
It’s a very slippery slope. By holding the dissatisfaction inside, you think can spare the world from your trouble. Yet it will layer on like snowball, and you will likely end up hating yourself, and that hatred will somehow leak into other people… It’s not a nice scenario at all.
Note that I’m not advocating anyone to go yell and let it all out. You see such an extreme in the case of some mob protests, which Richard Rohr has warned us “so many works of social justice have been undone by people who do all the fighting from their small or angry selves”.
I’m all for people who want to make a difference, and I want to support by making sure that such effort comes from a deep place of aspiration and care, not despair and hurt. The outside mirrors the inside; what we do mirrors how we are.
The pain of judgment.
If you look closely into resentment, you'll notice that behind it is a lot of pain.
Then you may arrive at a truth in your own embodied experience that being consumed by your own harsh judgments really hurts. It is a form of suffering that I’ve come to know from my own experiences. When I hold so much expectation inside, the heart is not just constricted or tight. It literally aches, as if pierced by nails.
Then you will also understand the expression "Hurt people hurt people". Every judgment passed on to yourself or other can easily become a sharp stab into your sense of self, bleeding out your precious vitality.
It's like using your own body to press a knife into another.
The arrival of sorrow
If you stay longer with the pain, you may feel an immense sadness, that feeling of hollowness in your chest after losing something so important.
You’ve lost your vital connection with the world. By choosing to cut off everything, you also cut off all that is beautiful about it.
You understand that whoever holds deep judgments is also by definition far separated from that which is being judged. This sadness is the natural grief for the shedding away of what Charles Eisenstein calls the Story of Separation.
Many people tear up upon this realization, just like an open wound that can't stop bleeding. I did too. It was no major life crisis, no one dies, no painful breakup, haelth decline nor bankruptcy. I just sat alone and grieved about how much my own judgment has hurt me and how much I've been separated from this world.
Behind what Jack Kornfield calls as this Gate of Sorrow is also a new Story of Interbeing. Your tears are no longer just for your individual, isolated self but also for this larger relational body that has been so in pain. You still feel upset and disdain by some bad apples, but now you are much less possessed by such feelings.
These words hit you again as if for the first time "We are all in this together". Whether the victim or perpetrator, at the bottom or top, we are all in this together. The finger that is pointing is just as crooked as the system it is pointing to.
Sharing is sprouting.
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Does this journey beyond resentment resonate with you? Are you also finding your own harsh judgments a bit unbearable? You are not alone.
and I'd love to interview you to hear more about how this pops up in your life. Please send me a note, or better yet fill in this form to get updates about an experimental 4-week course, (temporarily called Letting Go of Judgment) where you’ll learn and practice with a cozy group of friends to become more free from those nagging thoughts. Do reach out, please.
Quotes I'm contemplating this week
Problem "The real problem of humanity is the following: we have paleolithic emotions; medieval institutions; and god-like technology." E.O Wilson Reframe "Old is just another word for "fewer things to lose" - Parker Palmer.in his latest book. Question If you really trust that everything will be ultimately taken care of, how would that your actions?