All Jammed Up
Resentments and Enemies
Do you have enemies? Have you ever had an enemy?
At this point in my life, I don’t feel I have any enemies but I do harbor tremendous resentments, which seems related somehow. I don’t think of the people I harbor resentments towards as my enemies, and yet I’m not inviting them over for tea. Hell, I don’t even want them walking up on my porch. When it comes to these folks, my tendency to eschew schadenfreude falls by the wayside.
We’re not at war. I don’t wish violence upon them, but really? If they’re not enemies, then they are something like the Diet Coke of enemies. Enemy-lite.
And the thing I realize is that they only continue to exist in this position because I continue to set that place for them at my psychic table. Gone are the days of having people actively in my life who treat me poorly— who betray or abuse me, manipulate or humiliate me for sport. So, none of the folks for whom I currently carry resentments are an active part of my daily life. And yet they maintain a treasured place at my right hand, should I ever need them.
What is that about?
Honestly, I think it originated from an understandable place. We talk about gaslighting in popular culture now. It’s a phenomenon that most folks understand the contours of, even if they themselves have never experienced it. But it hasn’t been that way for most of my life. Since childhood, I have had people profess to love me while denying the reality of the violation and pain being inflicted upon me, either by them or others, without the commonly understood vocabulary to name it.
The experience of having someone you love treat you horribly and in the next breath act as if they literally did not do or say the thing they just did or said. The experience of finally, finally speaking aloud the painful, violent truth around which so much of your self and reality have oriented in order to survive and being told it doesn’t matter.
Why are you being so dramatic?
It’s not like he raped you.
I was just angry. I didn’t mean to.
In the face of this chronic crazy-making, I clung to my resentments because they represented a truth about me, of what I have survived and how I have become the one that I am, that others refused to carry. In fact, actively denied even needed carrying because those truths did not exist.
Without those resentments, and the simmering, indignant anger that fueled them, I feared at best I would cease to make any sense at all. At worst, I would disappear, become just a smudge on a page where pencil marks had once been.
My resentments defiantly wrote my truths down in ink, bearing down into the page so that my life had an indelible texture and undeniable weight that would not be erased.
But, as I said, here I am. Fifty years old and, admittedly fairly recently, finally done with allowing the presence of people who treat me horribly in my day-to-day life. What sense do my resentments make within this virgin landscape? Do they define my boundaries, or do they create repetitive psychic paths that trick me into thinking I am moving forward while leading me around and around in fruitless circles?
Two things happened in the last few days that set me to the task of confronting the latter truth. I listened to the latest edition of the OnBeing podcast— an interview with prominent Western Buddhists Sharon Salzberg and Robert Thurman about their work to provide practical instruction on how to love your enemies. Then, on a walk with a friend I encountered this incredible pile-up of ice at the mouth of the inlet feeding into the lake and I thought, Yes, that’s how the inside of my mind feels these days. All jammed up and dirty.
Salzberg and Thurman pointed out that in the Theravada Buddhist tradition there is defined a middle point between loving your enemies and hating them. Before you advance to loving them, first you can simply work to not hate them. If for no other reason than that to take that step requires manifesting tremendous self-compassion. Self-compassion is the foundation of all other positive actions.
That. I could probably do that. That might get things flowing again.
So, for the last several days, every time one of those intrusive, repetitive, spinny thoughts ran across the page in my mind I forced myself to stop and, instead, recite these words to myself:
I release everything and everyone who is not good for me.
For my Soul and for my Spirit.
Without rancor or resentment.
Because I deserve to live in peace.
Over and over again I would recite them until a small channel of breath and freely running thought would cut through the jammed up resentment out into the wide-open water of possibility. The jam hadn’t completely disappeared, but I could get beyond it. Without the food of my attention it will melt, since it is only my attention that feeds it.
For all of my woo-woo tendencies, I am often skeptical that simple acts are enough to make measurable change. But, friends, this is working. My mind and heart feel lighter than they have, maybe in years. What a relief!
It is hard to practice integrity with your mind and heart all jammed up with resentment. It’s not impossible. I’ve managed it for years despite myself. But it is harder than it needs to be. The temptation to righteousness in order to assuage the discomfort of all that simmering anger looms constantly while cutting off access to joy. And I don’t know about you, but I’m hungry for some joy these days.