One of the gifts of resentment is how it opens us to our fearfulness, our turning away time and again from what will enlarge our heart. We can see how it weakens us so we can only cling to what keeps us small.
One of my longtime friends suggested that guilt and resentment are opposite sides of the same coin. I added that guilt is the difference we project between our ideal and real selves. It’s another measure of how I don’t measure up. In situation A, I wanted to respond “this” way yet I responded “that” way! Fear, shame, and blame arise as a consequence of that mismeasure of my worth. Of course, it’s not always about flagellation over my mis-steps. As I get older, I also begin to reflect on my life and how I’ve filled it and it’s a tricky balance between reflection and recrimination.
Luckily, I remember being 56 years old as if it was just a few days ago; it was a day of sati – re-collecting all the ways I create meaning. And spiritual practice is a container in which I cultivate meaning. As a gift to myself and encouraged by my blogger pal, Luke, to do what scares me, I went ahead with an application to a 7-day retreat at a center on the East Coast. The application form was one of those “fill in the essay blocks with all you’ve done as a meditator.” What a koan! How to sell myself to get into a a container to be with no-self? I did my best and a few days later I got an email reply. I had been assessed as lacking in sufficient meditation training.
I was crushed. The if-onlies kicked in: if only I had spun my experience, if-only I had expressed my undying wish to be enlightened. Then the what-if’s entered stage left: what-if I really don’t have any recognizable training as a meditator; what-if I’ve been a fake all this time. The shoulda’s syncophated: I shoulda started earlier in my life; I shoulda spent less time in a wasted youth; I shoulda published that novel – It woulda been a Winner!
And then resentment kicked the doors down: what the heck do they know! Elitist Buddhism! Time to join the Secular Buddhist! Seriously though, I noticed the edge of resentment. Just a little bubble. I asked myself, Perhaps it’s OK for you to feel rejected? Perhaps something in this is true? Not about your lack – or theirs – but about differences in perspective.
No one likes to be told they don’t measure up. (To give the organization credit, they did tell my how I could meet their standards; unfortunately I don’t have the years to do it in – just yet.) So I asked myself another life-turning question: What might happen if I treat the resentment as a bell that calls me to awareness of fear? I noticed a few things in the days that followed. Things I don’t do because I don’t want to risk rejection. Things I don’t ask for because I may not get what I want. Times I draw the shadows around me because it’s just safer than speaking my truth. Places, people, and opportunities I avoid because I don’t know what will unfold.
Life can get very small when we live this way.
What might happen if we turn away from this smallness to the possibility of something different?
What might happen if I come to the edge between safe and sorry, an edge that vibrates with fear yet filled with possibility?