Tag Archive for inspiration

Resentment: A Malignancy. Some ideas about how to work with it.

A postcard project by the artist Xylor Jane

I hear about resentment ALL THE TIME. Whether it’s from clients working through a 12 step program in recovery, people digging through the rubble of a break-up or friends struggling in a horrible job situation, resentment isn’t simply having bad feelings or being caught in a rough spot. Resentment is a SITUATION, friends. It’s a situation in which we re-injure ourselves again and again, a cycle of self-suffocation under the weight of an original pain. It’s picking a scab over and over, a festering infection we then blame on someone else. We ignore our opportunity to heal and instead, we tread in the pond of fetid despair and rage. It’s downright Shakespearean.

When you break the word down, it means “to feel again”. To re-feel, re-sent. So we have an original thing, for example, a close friend betrays us, deserts us in our hour of need. Or maybe someone lies to us. Performs underhanded business practices or acts with divisive and sleazy intentions at work. Regardless of the wrong done to us, harboring the injury, a fugitive lugged around town in our gut like a sweaty culprit with a knife, there is a point at which we have to make a change.

Because the wrong has been done, and now here we are with our life. As Mary Oliver would say, “Our one wild and precious life” and we are now spending it in our minds plotting revenge or looking for pity or triangulating with other people and basically functioning in a fictional land of seeking a justice that will never come. It is a mythic justice we imagine again and again, hours on a hot pillow in a cold dark that digs acidic paths in our collective soul. Like somehow, if we raise the stakes, we can win something. Some kind of prize like redemption or vindication.

On a larger level, we call this war. Here: Take a second and put your Resentment goggles on and read the front page of any newspaper other than the New York Post or National Enquirer. All of the death and war and destruction you see there is rooted in massive cultural and historic resentment. It is the worst case scenario of YOU ARE WRONG AND I DESERVE TO BE RIGHT AND I SHALL BE VICTORIOUS AND YOU WILL PAY. Sure, sometimes resentment starts as “I just want my side to be heard”, but when we replay the hurt over and over, water the garden of pain with the fertilizer of being wronged, the only possible fruit is larger, deeper pain. More constant, more robust, and frankly, boring as fuck. That entire swath of real estate could be swapped out for something fun. Or kind. Or loving. Or hell, even neutral. That poison whose effects serve to reduce your humanity can be served an eviction notice. Often the oldest residents take the longest to pack up their shit and leave, but why not clear the deck of our lives? And the more we practice, the better we can do with all the opportunities for resentment that are sure to arrive any second. Because we will continue to be hurt and feel wronged. But we do not have to be driven by those experiences entirely.

Write it down. Get it out.

What do we do?

Well, I’ve studied a ton of different views on this feeling. The common opinion is that resentment is one of the greatest toxins we have in this life. Even if our bodies are ripe and fit, our bank accounts wild with Benjamins, and we are surrounded by people who want our attention and love, the bitter obsession can grow to trump all of it, placing its blinders on our eyes and obstructing our way to seeing everything we have that’s phenomenal.

The world of addiction recovery has a formal process for members to work with resentments. Those in recovery believe that resentment is a path to relapse which is ultimately a path to death. The suggested work in recovery is this.

1. Make a chart with four columns. In the first column list all of the people, institutions, places ideas or principles you feel angry at or injured by.

2.In the second column, write out why you feel hurt. What happened? Be specific and exhaustive.

3.The third column is where you identify which part of you was injured. Was it your heart? Your fiscal health? You emotional security?

4. HERE’S THE DIAMOND: The 4th column is where you say what YOUR part is in the situation. What is you RESPONSIBILITY in this resentment? What might you have done differently?

Now, within a program of recovery, it is suggested that people work on this with a trusted guide, a sponsor. If you are not in a program of recovery, you might want to do this with a trusted friend, a spiritual teacher or peer, or whomever you feel emotional safe with. The writing of these lists, which are called inventories in recovery, can bring a kind of clarity to where we get to take some responsibility for our own part in this hell. And when we get honest, vulnerable, and clear, we are able to soften some and regain our humanity, relinquish some shame, and walk toward healing.

For some people, this kind of formal work might be too structured. Maybe writing a journal could be helpful. Something more in line with someone’s style, but rather than a catalog of the wrongs, it’s IMPERATIVE that we engage with this externalization process in a way that we participate with agency. At its core, resentment is something we are DOING. So the lynchpin of moving past it is regaining our vision of self as an agent of choice. We can admit, if only to ourselves, that place where shame hides in hurt. We can let ourselves take responsibility for our part in something, which seems so terrifying, so of course it’s exactly the thing that sets us free.

Another path is one in the tradition of lovingkindness. In this tradition, we use our thoughts and our hearts to practice sending our good thoughts to those we are wronged by. I know that sounds awful. Who wants to send chocolate to a demon? But part of the process undoes the idea that the person is, in fact, a demon. We begin by sending these thoughts of peace and freedom to those we love the most. That’s easy. And as our hearts open, we then send these feelings out to kind acquaintances, people we like, have warm feelings about. Then we make offerings to strangers we have never met, the billions of people we have no baggage with yet no particular love for either. And once we get here, our hearts are a bit softer, more willing. We send thoughts freedom and peace to irritating people, harmless folk who bug the shit out of us. And then to jerks, but not our special jerks. Maybe famous jerks or our friends’ jerks.

And then,
Here we are.
Our hearts are open and we attempt to send these kind thoughts to those who have harmed us.
It may be awkward and we may feel full of shit, but we try.

And then,
my friends,
we do this for ourselves.
We wish ourselves peace.
We wish ourselves freedom.

As time goes on, we begin practicing living in ways that short circuit resentment before it begins. We try to cultivate behavior that invites honesty and integrity in the moment so that these situations do not arise so much later.

1. We try to give without expectation. When we throw a party for a friend’s kid because that friend has connections we think we need or because we want to feel important to that person and we then don’t get the reaction we desire after we’ve worked so hard, there is a recipe for a resentment to begin. But if we are honest, and we throw a part for a friend’s child because we love to throw a party and because that friend is overwhelmed and we actually have time, then the results are in line with are true intentions. And then, we have a killer party.

2. We practice gratitude. When we take time out from our daydreams of resentment and revenge, and we consciously make choices to notice all that is going well in the world, in our bodies, with our loved ones, something happens in our bodies, with our very chemicals, that heals old wounds and prevents some new ones. Like the world might be going to hell in a hand basket and our boss is a slimy creep and our lover is sick but goddamn if the view from here isn’t gorgeous anyhow. We make a conscious choice to look at what’s good, most especially in the face of the worst.

3. We go outside. We are citizens of the planet. Whether our place is among the incredible streets of a city teeming with a billion stories of a billion people or we are living in a shack on a beach watching the massive tide of saltwater wash animals we never see onto the shore, being in touch with the sense of being both in the enormity of our life experience and simultaneously the experience of being so small, such a piece of elemental minutiae in the universe and in history, that sense of life matters.

Look, I’m not coming from a place of total idealism. I am not out here in the woods swimming in a secret cove with lavender waterfalls among miniature dolphin friends and sunning myself in the light of patchouli rainbows. I’m not delusionally having mai tais with Sapphic ponies blessed by shamanic eagles.

I am all for every feeling you got.

I understand the transformative power of rage and despair.
I know what it’s like to wander through the city streets,
devastated. I know what it is to be in fear and loss and betrayal and often,
All at once.

I have been petty and vindictive and small and mean and stupid.
I’ve been wasteful, entitled, brooding, unkind and wallowy.
I’ve been feverish with revenge, with disgust and with blame.

Which is to say,
Like you,

I’ve been human.

But this last week, In looking with so many people at the last year and forward to this one, the theme of resentment has come up over and over and over again. Some with the scales larger than others. So I wanted to offer some things to work with. See what you are willing to do.

Oh, and even though I haven’t actually been being blessed by Shamanic eagles, I did meet this guy yesterday. And I put him at the top of my gratitude list.



Fearlessness, Cereal, and Courage.

Fearlessness is bullshit.
I said it.

What might happen if we spent time getting to know fear rather than trying to banish it? What if we sidled up next to it at the campfire and checked out the curve of its cheekbones in the light of the flames? What if we let it be real, a hungry visitor, instead of letting it lead us around by the nose?

If we do something we’re afraid of, let’s even say terrified, we come out the other side a changed person. There’s a kind of alchemy that happens between fear and courage. I say, LIGHT IT UP, BITCHES, because without fear, how do we know where an edge is? And if we’re not afraid to try something, if there’s no risk or growth potential, who gives a shit? What’s moving about witnessing someone pour their Cheerios in the morning? I’ll tell you what’s moving:

Jenny’s been in physical therapy for over a year after being stabbed on street in a back alley someplace in Minnesota. She felt his breath on her neck before she ever saw him. So quiet. She remembers thinking, “I wonder if that’s why they call them creeps…” as the blood soaked the arm of her flannel. She didn’t have time to get out the way before turning and lifting her arm into the blade. She barely felt it at all. It slid right in, across the muscles like a tailgate party steak. Then she couldn’t feel anything but the rush and the heat. She can’t tell you exactly what happened, just squared off images come to her. Even the smells and sounds feel like squares. The beer in her collar. The dull metallic smell of that much blood all at once. The way his voice left his throat when her knee came up. And then her boot in his teeth. But she didn’t feel afraid then. No time.

She felt afraid after she woke up though. She felt afraid every second of every day with her arm strapped to her side. She couldn’t go out after dark anymore. A grown woman imprisoned for all evenings. Then there was the shame of that too. The rage. That high crimson screech of rage caught in her ribs, laying in wait. It’d come out in physical therapy when she tried to move the arm. She went four times a week, and she’d meet Peter at the door. She felt like Eeyore, glum and blue and sluggish.  He’d coax her to move through it. And it wasn’t just the pain, Oh, HELL no. On top of that, there’s the FEAR of the pain. The fear of no results. The fear of the depression of so many months of the things taken by the pain, and her bad hair done with a clumsy left hand. Buttoning jeans took on a new set of challenges.

One time she saw Peter wince when she tried to move the arm to the right. It’s the only slip he ever had, mirroring her sorrow. And that was the exact moment her courage took root. She saw him feel her pain and she let herself be touched by it. She stayed with it then, not just the pain, but even before that. The bus ride to the office, knowing it was coming. The searing. The failure. The exhaustion of it all. For hours. And days. And months.

So when you see Jenny in the kitchen one day about to grab the cereal with her left hand and pour, and then stop. You see her fix her eyes at an angle, her chin follows. You watch her lungs open up and fill and watch her wide hips pivot to the right. You watch her move the right hand toward the box and clutch it, sweat beading along her hairline. And then just as she begins to raise the box, her mouth opens and all that rage, the shame, the hours of agony and the smell of beer in an alley come tumbling out of her mouth and she manages to get half her cereal into that bowl while the dog eats the rest off the floor and, well,

That’s what’s moving about watching someone pour their Cheerio’s in the morning.

So when you think that fearlessness is the point of doing something, when you imagine yourself strapped to a parachute and about to hop out the floor of a plane and even the thought brings the twitch to the back of your throat and up from your belly, when you aren’t quite sure if you can face the rejection of telling the beloved the truth of your heart, remember it is the alchemy that takes you from terror to courage that awaits.

So I say,

Be afraid.
Be very afraid.
But don’t let that be the
Reason you stop.

The Great Courtship of Inspiration

I’m a passionate person. A Leo. A Jewess. The youngest and the only girl in the family. I have good lungs and spent a great deal of time using them for volume to get what I needed from a crowd. I wanted ATTENTION. I wanted to fit in. I remember thinking that as a writer, I didn’t NEED to edit anything because editing connotated the notion that the purest of inspiration was going to be squashed by a system of shaving the rough edges off oozy and sharp words. Editing might somehow dilute the original bolt of lightning that birthed a paragraph, a poem, or a good old fashioned rant. As time marched on, I began to find that inspiration was a bit of a fickle beast. Some years it took its leave for months at a time. I’d hang around smoking weed and drinking tons of coffee while I left the door open for Inspiration to wander in, club me over the head and ravish me like a brand new lesbian looking for a hot butch top to show her the ropes of Sapphic surrender. Sometimes she showed up. But mostly, Inspiration, like any other grown up, is a creature that works more fully with support.

A bath is a perfect tool for Inspiration courtship. It relaxes the body, draws out toxins, and can help shut down the constant chatter and let the light(ning) in.

Now, you may be thinking that support means inviting others in. And it CAN. But it can also mean developing patterns for ourselves, quiet patterns that we can employ solitude for. But either way, one of the strongest supports for Inspiration is practice. A consistent practice builds a fertile ground for Inspiration to flourish in. It’s like setting out the fine china for ourselves instead of just leaving it in a dark box, gathering dust. Our inspiration gathers dust too, like forgotten knick knacks we only remember when we get ready to move again and wonder what was in those boxes in the basement anyhow. Then we open them and the light hits something and we remember, Oh Right, I totally forgot that Incredibly Exquisite thing I have sitting in a Box in the Dark. That happens to our ideas as well. Once in awhile we take the time to dust them off and parade them around, but if we practice setting the table, it’s more likely we’ll see them on a more regular basis.

Get some nature up in your grill. Whether it’s a walk in the woods, a rowboat on the lake, a beach bonfire or a desert stroll, taking a regular quiet period with the wind and the birdsong always sets a nice stage for Inspiration

The thing is, a habit is more reliable than Inspiration. I mean, sure, being alive will eventually bring inspiration. But habit will do more than just allow you to happen upon it. Habit breeds a fertile ground for inspiration. Habit creates a constant and inviting space for inspiration to land in. Our consistent agreement with ourselves to Show Up, willing and open to receive, lets us meet Inspiration halfway, not asking her to trudge through enormous swaths of desolate landscape alone. Sometimes life is like that. It’s like that right now for my favorite baseball team, the San Francisco Giants. In fact, athletics are a great place to look at how a solid habit can work. Pick any athlete who stuck to their career for decades. You don’t even have to pick someone famous. But you know, the people who practice, the ones who just show up and do the work? Those are the ones whose bodies last. Those are the ones who feel the best, who learn from the path and who stay for the next chapter. It’s the same with writers. If I just waited for inspiration (which I have done for years and not come up with anything good) I might never write again. But if I sit down every day and just write a few pages, that’s when the magic happens. Sure, I write a ton of CRAP. But I also assure myself by the act of facing the page that I am willing to keep it going. I write through the crap to the sentence that sparks something. I stare at the page and see all the old demons and, fuck it, I write about them too. Because no matter what, they are also my companions here. Practice, habit, consistency: these are the pillars of a life. Not just a sparkly cameo appearance on Three’s Company or Cheers. This is the whole hog. Where the rubber meets the road. Getting through the empty to where the squeaky wheel gets the grease and it all begins to move right again. This is how we learn to love the edits. We run the extra miles when they feel painful and sluggish because we know they will turn into the ones that feel sponsored by the wind herself. We have the excruciating conversations with our loved ones because they ultimately let us practice who we are, rather than practice hiding.

For the past few months I’ve been practicing writing each morning with a group of friends. Each of us alone but together. The words show up this way.

I like to think of Inspiration as a lover worthy of creative and dynamic courtship. Of steadfast devotion. Building habits goes a long way to romancing Inspiration, which to me feels 100% great every time I find her in my life.