It’s a well worn expression and attributed to pretty much every sage in the quotations book… ‘Resentment is like drinking poison and expecting our enemy to die.’
Dr Gabor Maté in his book, ‘When the Body Says No’ takes it a stage further with research showing again and again that resentment and the stress it causes are major factors in the occurrence of a wide range of diseases and of the toll those diseases take on the body.
The danger of this finding, as Dr Maté takes great care to point out is that, it could lead to a form of denial or ‘positive thinking’ in which the underlying hurt is covered over by a blanket of ‘but I’m fine now’ that only allows the inner wound to shout louder to be heard.
And even more dangerously it could lead to a culture of self blame in which we start blaming ourselves or others for our illnesses because no matter how hard we try we can’t get rid of the resentment.
So what do we do about this…? How do we find an authentic and honest path through the resentment to allow the body to thrive and the mind to be freed, in a way that does not come from either denial or blame?
It starts, as everything does, with the question of what we are.
The reason resentment is so powerfully toxic is because it fixes the mind in an exhausting, stress-filled battle with itself. It has a memory, a representation of a person, a behaviour or a situation and it resists that memory or representation with all its might. It says ‘this is how this person or situation is and it is not acceptable’.
There is no escape from this. The more resentment there is, the more that memory or representation is fixed as objective reality. The more fixed it is the more the resentment builds. It is the ultimate vicious circle. And each turn of the circle is another dose of stress for the body.
But this identification with its own creations is only a temporary activity of mind. As that activity slows or ceases it reveals a spaciousness or witnessing presence. As Eckehard Tolle said, ‘What a liberation to realize that the “voice in my head” is not who I am. Who am I then? The one who sees that.’
This witnessing presence, which is completely overlooked while the mind is caught in the life and death tension of its story-line, is the space from which the mind can be understood – as an incredible super power of creation and conceptualisation, but not, indeed never, as an objective, unfiltered, undistorted recorder of reality.
So there is reality, which is happening now. And there are mental creations which are not happening now and which are therefore not reality.
And this leads us to four ways in which resentment can lose its grip:
- Freeing the honest ‘no’
Saying yes, agreeing, offering, complying, doing when really the inner honesty is shouting ‘no’ is a super highway to resentment. We do these things for people and then we resent them for it. But the reason we did them is because the mental creations of ourself and other, the belief in what we ‘should’ do dictated that behaviour. We did the thing because the conditioning made it impossible to do anything else. This turns the focus from resentment against the other to an honest, and ultimately healing, look at our own needs and insecurites. Eventually as concepts of self and other lose their apparent veracity, there will be nothing in the way of the honest ‘no’.
- The dictate of the programme
This look at our own words and actions starts to place the focus firmly on conditioning as the origin of all behaviour. Different teachers use words like ‘unit’ or ‘robot’ to convey just how ‘self-less’ this is, as in there being no deciding self. No do-er. Just behaviour happening because of a learned programme. We begin to see that there is no one to blame, because there was no one doing that learning. Learning just happened.
- The dictate of perception
This is another layer of freedom. Because, just as behaviour is happening with no self at the controls, so is perception. Our perception of other’s behaviour is dictated by our programming. It cannot be perceived any other way. But as that programming changes, as what was learned as truths about ourselves, others and the world but which is now seen for what it is, just a belief system, falls away then all perception alters.
- Turning it inwards
This is the ultimate freedom. As resentment starts to rise, the stress it creates in the body is a signal to turn inwards. It is an invitation to consider how that very behaviour being observed and resisted is no different in essence to our own behaviour. That we might be doing the exact same thing to that very person right now. It’s a bitter pill to swallow initially because so much of our desperately sought out self-security is looked for in being right and ‘better than’. But the mind,body,brain freedom of no longer living in the toxic and stressful isolation of resentment wins out as soon as it is realised what is on offer.
So no blame, no denial and no sips of that bitter Pino Risentimento. Just life continually pointing the way to the healing, the honesty and the sanity of what we really are.