Practice Circle: Stay Close to Your Resentment

| July 7, 2017 | 7 Comments

One of the interesting things about working with the Tibetan Lojong slogans is the way they so often seem strangely counterintuitive. The slogan we’ll be working with this week at Practice Circle is a good example: “Stay Close to Your Resentment.”

What? As good Buddhists, aren’t we supposed to be releasing our clinging to illusory notions of self and other that lead to emotions like resentment? Why would I want to hang around with a nasty feeling like that? How would I even go about being “close” to resentment anyway, and what possible good would it do?

“Stay Close to Your Resentment” is one of the slogans grouped under the sixth point of mind training, which Norman Fischer renders as, “Living with Ease in a Crazy World.” That’s what we all want to be able to do; maybe that’s why we practice meditation and other techniques. But we usually conceive of the craziness as being out there in the world, where other people can be so painfully unpredictable and certainly uncontrollable.

As a result, we don’t often reflect on how much of our suffering results from our own craziness: our reactivity, our insistence on having our own way and our agitated thoughts, words and behaviors when we can’t. Then, of course, we typically beat ourselves up for behaving so unskillfully and wish we could drive the craziness away. One of the continual themes of the Lojong slogans, however, is that everything in our life can be an opportunity for dharma practice, especially those moments when we don’t feel very buddha-like. Rather than react with aversion when strong feelings arise, what if we were to stay close to them, get to know them, even try making friends?

One of the reasons mindfulness teachers love to recite the Coleman Barks /Rumi poem, The Guest House, is that it makes this point so beautifully:

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing, and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

All of our emotions, even the painful and seemingly unproductive ones, are here for a reason. They are the body reacting to the situation that it’s in, a reaction that emerges from the wisdom encoded in every cell and every molecule. Even should we become so enlightened that we are no longer bothered by strong reactivity of our own (and who do you know who has?), our natural compassion will acquaint us with the suffering of those around us. If we learn to listen carefully to our bodies, we can glimpse the sometimes surprising messages strong feelings are bringing to us. But first, we have to practice getting up close and personal with them.

Fischer writes,

Think about 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 is the most powerful and the most beneficial of all practices. The peace that we are all seeking is less than half as good as the investigation of resentment, anger, greed, fear and so on. 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.

When Practice Circle meets again this Sunday, July 9 at 6 Pacific, 8 Central and 9 Eastern time, we’ll share an exploration of this great treasure. I hope you’ll join us! To join our video conference group, simply follow this link: https://zoom.us/j/968569855

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Category: Articles, Practice Circle

About the Author ()

Mark J. Knickelbine, MA, C-MI, is a writer, editor, political activist, and certified meditation instructor. "Buddhism Without Beliefs" and "The End of Faith" led him to seek out a dharma practice without the religious trappings of Buddhism. He found it at a local health clinic, where he learned mindfulness in the manner of Jon Kabat-Zinn. He has continued to study texts from the Pali, Chan and Zen traditions, and he is an active member of the mindfulness community at the UWHealth Department of Integrative Medicine. Mark is a member of the SBA board and serves as Practice Director.

Comments (7)

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  1. Jennifer Hawkins Jennifer Hawkins says:

    This is really good Mark. I just googled “resentment” so I could really contemplate the exact definition (because do I really know exactly what it means? can I distinguish it from other, similar feelings?) It’s a good theme and a good intro. Thanks!

  2. David David says:

    I’ve been meditating on a particular, peculiar thought pattern that hinders my ability to concentrate and repeatedly find strong aversive emotions such as resentment and anger. I’m trying to understand what hindrance(s) are involved–but it never occurred to me that I should “stay close” to those negative feelings! Looking forward to exploring this Lojong slogan Sunday.

  3. Patrick29 Patrick29 says:

    A little painful at times due to the nature of my resentment/anger but on the whole a most enjoyable first practice circle.

  4. Mark Knickelbine says:

    It was really wonderful meeting all the new people last night, including practitioners from Trinidad and Costa Rica! It is very challenging to investigate difficult emotions like resentment, when we’re hardwired to want to escape them or drown them out one way or another. But hiding or fleeing from them only increases their power over us. The most important skill we learn in dharma practice is to turn toward our experience rather than away from it!

    • Jennifer Hawkins Jennifer Hawkins says:

      ^ I know right. And Patrick’s on an island in the UK. (Also, I thought one person was in Argentina?)

      I’m so glad I got to be there with so many cool people. Thanks for this, everyone

  5. Ted Meissner Ted Meissner says:

    Yes, a couple of my wonderful MBSR program participants joined us, including from Argentina. Great group, hoping more continue to join us!

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