Saturday, May 24, 2014

Hold harmless

I can imagine few behaviors worse for health and well being than holding a grudge.

I'm not talking about anger, a "piercing" experience as Pema Chodron describes it, that can reveal the truth (whatever that is). Anger is a quick moving, fiery experience. If allowed to run its course, it can be cleansing and beneficial - as long as you don't take it out on someone else. If you cling to the anger, though, says Pema, it will burn you. Truer words were never written! Wow.

A grudge is quite different from anger. It doesn't move. It is like a solid brick of sludge, heavy, obstructive, toxic. A grudge is an old hurt or betrayal that has become more than a sum of its parts. It is far more than resentment. A grudge is resentment solidified over time. It is resentment that has been preserved, cherished, even worshipped. It is so unhealthy!

Healers of every kind are quick to say that grudges are bad for us, but it's not as simple to let them go as some make it sound. For one thing, our culture reveres grudges, or maybe what I should say is we revere the idea of revenge. Many movies, books, and myths are based on some kind of heroic version of revenge.

"I shall have my vengeance."

I believe the message in this movie is that there is honor in holding a grudge if you are powerful and determined enough to exact revenge. I think he dies at the end of the movie - a good thing, probably, because once revenged, what would inspire him to get up in the morning?

Most of us are not Russell Crowe in a film that glorifies revenge. Thank god! Most of us do not get the chance to slash and bash and shoot the bad guy. So for most of us, hanging on to resentment of any kind - even if we think we are justified - cultivates the sludgy, sticky, heavy and unhealthy state of holding a grudge.

Grudges often afflict not only individuals, but family souls as well. Think of Romeo and Juliet, the Hatfields and the McCoys.

It's a big problem for which there is no dedicated, proven solution. For individual grudges, one can go to therapy, receive acupuncture, pray, open one's heart. It helps. Certain spiritual paths help cultivate the ability to release grudges, such as Buddhism and the sects of Christianity that lean heavily into the actual teachings of Jesus.

Sometimes we practice forgiveness for years on end, in all earnestness, but are still unable to release the grudge. Please don't ask me to explain why. It's no one's fault. The mechanics of full release are mysterious and probably out of our hands. But we have to try! Because grudges are heavy, unpleasant, and very bad for health and well being.

Coming up on summer solstice, I take time to think about my various resentments and grudges. The solstice itself is a sacrifice according to the old stories. It's a great time to let go of old stuff, including grudges, including fabulous fantasies of revenge. The old stories say that Brother Sun will take all the stuff we no longer need into the dark as the solar year wanes. In the dark, the stories say, the energy will be composted and can be used to enliven the world. It hasn't always worked for me, but I give it a try every solstice. Over time, the practice helps. All the practices help.

Are you a holder of grudges? If you're human, you surely are. Summer solstice is about to arrive in the northern hemisphere. Gather your grudges and put them on the solstice bonfire, yes? I say yes.


1 comment:

Memory Echoes said...

I've been thinking a lot about the American cultural imperative so fleshed out in movies like Gladiator and anything made by Tarantino, for example, to avenge thyself on whomever hast thou wronged and how it influences me now and before now. I don't like my grudges. I'm very conscious of them now, which is good since they don't lurk in the shadows anymore, but they are nasty boogeymen to contend with. Boogery, stinking wounds. I mean, the vengeance vibe is so prevalent that it's almost like it's an American legal right, implicit in the Constitution. Dangerous stuff individually and collectively.

I used to use the word Justice when I really meant Vengeance. I'm using humor to help loosen where it's lodged inside me more and more. Some of it's very dark humor, but the laughter helps detoxify it somewhat. It wants words from me, and I am aware of my power to destroy with words because I have used it rashly, and this power frightens me now. So I have to carry the words gently and hold it, hold off on it, and be nonviolent with others even as the violence rages within me.

I am finding that being gentle with myself is an entry point. I'm not very good at this. I am practicing. Offering gentleness to others is easier for me than offering it to myself.

Your words help me to puzzle this heavy stuff out. Your grace. Your wisdom. What you've lived. I can't thank you enough for sharing it.