Lojong Practice Journal: Always meditate on whatever provokes resentment
The 59 slogans through a social justice lens
The instruction of the slogan ‘Always meditate on whatever provokes resentment’ is to sit with and contemplate whatever triggers us to feel defensive, irritated or indignant. A simple, clear instruction, but not necessarily something easily applied — especially when the instruction is so definitive. It does not say we should meditate on resentment when we feel up to it, or when things are going our way, or when we are well-rested and in a good mood. It says to do this always.
Whenever I encounter something so emphatic, I approach it with a lot of questions—not in the sense of wanting to discredit it, but so I can understand the value of the instruction. What purpose does meditating on resentment serve? Is there a risk of increasing our resentment by always examining the source? Why must we always do this?
As with so much Dharma, this is guiding us to explore the nature of something — to take a deeper, closer look. It’s asking us to determine what causes and conditions led us to a particular state, as well as breaking down all the thoughts, emotions, and storylines that come with it. It’s a challenge to look at how we feel, and what that feeling is communicating to us, instead of responding in a habitual, knee jerk way.
Strong emotions usually have pretty big storylines and a lot of habitual responses. When we feel resentment we do many things that often make it much worse. Maybe we call or text someone to share our indignation, seeking out comfort in the form of validation, commiseration, or even revenge. We might double-down on how ‘right’ we are as opposed to how ‘wrong’ someone else is, reinforcing dualistic ideas of good and bad, friend and foe. We make up our minds and then close them. But we could also recognise that resentment doesn’t feel good — not in the long term — and it doesn’t allow for anything to open up or shift.
Opening and shifting are key to this slogan. It is a guide for interrupting personal narratives so we can see things from a bigger perspective. From the bigger perspective, we are much more skilful at addressing whatever it was that provoked resentment, instead of just addressing how we feel bad and don’t want to.
For example, I could carry a lot of resentment towards a cisman for being That Guy who gave me unsolicited, patronizing advice — but when I take a step back from the interaction of the two of us, I see how there is a larger cultural narrative at play. It’s not about him and what he said, or me and how I took it. It’s about the conditioning of patriarchy in which we are all steeped. From this perspective, I don’t take it so personally and I’m able to let go of the resentment I feel a bit quicker, and address the root cause of the issue. A cisman is as capable of waking up to how he is complicit in a system of oppression as I am. Resentment will not help him or me, but naming the harm caused and inviting him to do some work around that will benefit a lot of people, including both of us.
On the flip side, I have definitely felt resentful when I’ve been called out, as someone socialised as white, for saying something racist. In meditating on this, I am able to see the larger social context of that resentment: I’m a Canadian, and we are explicitly taught that one of our defining cultural identities is that of a mosaic. Which is to say, we are a multi-cultural society and also not racist. The resentment I feel when the racist things I inevitably say or do are pointed out is rooted in my cultural ego-identity. I’m provoked because it challenges a narrative I was taught throughout my childhood, teen years and into adulthood. In seeing this, I can let go of my personal feelings about being called racist and look at the much larger, insidious, and extremely harmful system I’m complicit in and therefore capable of doing my part to dismantle. I see how my resentment actually helps uphold a system that I consciously do not want to benefit from or perpetuate, and I can choose to respond differently and work to notice my implicit biases.
Carrying around resentment and reinforcing it with our storylines shuts out the possibility for redemption, growth and liberation. In learning to sit with resentment when it’s up, instead of giving it away, we can look at the causes and conditions that led to it and start to gain some wisdom. This is important because wisdom is not personal, but collective. When any of us recognises something as wise, it’s a reflection of the wisdom we already have. When we apply that wisdom by working with challenging emotions, we are mirroring to others what they are equally capable of.
This blog was originally published on Medium.
This is part of a series of posts I am doing to support my practice.
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