Releasing Ourselves from the Burden of Bitterness

I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

As I was getting ready to leave to go get another Covid test, which I finally managed to schedule after my exposure last week, the phone in my office rang. I smiled in spite of myself as the caller announced herself to be the very person who was responsible for my exposure. I felt a tightness in my chest as I battled internally with the decision of whether or not to go through with the unfriendly, short way I had decided to treat this person after the incident.

I’ve found myself in this predicament quite a number of times throughout my life. I am wronged by someone. I decide that I will no longer be happy and agreeable with them, but maintain a cool distance. In some ways I suppose I expect this to “teach them a lesson.” It is a personal consequence I like to deal out to people who have betrayed my trust or friendship. Usually when the time comes for me to enforce this inner law, however, I have already gotten over whatever the issue was that inspired it. Sometimes I stick to my guns, other times I forgive and forget. Although when I do choose to let my anger go, there is a pang of guilt and self-criticism. I feel weak or foolish for not “sticking up for myself” or something. Even when I know that my plan was likely immature and would be ineffective anyway.

I felt that twinge of unease today as I happily took this woman’s referral and was very pleasant to her on the phone in my usual way. There was something different about today though. My unease quickly dissipated and was replaced with a swelling sensation in my heart space and a nearly tearful self-pride. This feels much better than being spiteful, I thought to myself. So what if I don’t “teach her a lesson” by withholding my kind nature? It would do little to no harm to her, yet it would be a shadow over my soul for the indefinite period of our future work acquaintance. I was so happy and relieved to be freed from that burden of anger and revenge that I had been harboring for nearly a week now.

Forgiveness is not an occasional act. It is a permanent attitude.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

To forgive someone is not only a gift we give them, it is even more so a gift we give to ourselves. The gift of letting go. The gift of unbinding the tethers we have wrapped around our own heart. Sometimes my ego tries to snarl “they don’t deserve forgiveness.” And sometimes this is able to sway me back towards anger. But today it only caused me to reflect on all of the many time in which I had not felt worthy of the forgiveness given to me by others. I felt honored to be able to pay that kindness, that compassion, forward. In this way, forgiveness is also a means for us to repay those that have forgiven us.

Human nature is not so simple that it can be reduced to positive and negative reinforcement. When I feel I have earned rejection and scorn, but am instead offered understanding and unconditional love, I am not emboldened or spoiled by this generosity. I am healed by it instead. I am inspired to be better and prove myself worthy of it. I’d like to think that we all share this hunger for redemption after a mistake.

It is not foolish or weak to offer kindness and love in the face of indifference or hatred. It is one of the most beautiful things that we are capable of. It is with this thoughtful, compassionate, patient energy that the great men and women throughout time have turned the tides of history and earned their place in our collective conscious. We cannot allow ourselves to be concerned with the personal motivations or inner growth of others. We may hope for the best, but ultimately it is a waste and a shame to darken our own experience in an attempt to shape or control another’s.

Give yourself the gift of forgiveness. Give yourself the gift of letting go. Don’t concern yourself with what someone else may or may not deserve. This is not for us to determine, nor is it our burden to carry. We are not the grand arbiters of justice in the universe. I’ve let myself believe such matters were my “duty” for quite long enough. Now I see that truly my only duty in this life is to give back all of the love, kindness, acceptance, compassion, and understanding that I have received (with interest).

Forgiveness : TED Radio Hour : NPR

Reframing Anger

You’ve probably noticed that my last few posts have been particularly pessimistic and angry in tone. I’ve been really struggling to accept a lot of the things that have been going on in the world as well as my personal life lately. Yesterday I was nearly incapacitated by my own rage when we received a call from the CPS supervisor saying “a worker” who had recently been at our office tested positive. Although I knew she probably had the virus, having it confirmed without a doubt brought my fury back to the forefront of my awareness.

I spent most of the day yesterday caught between frustration, despair, and white hot anger. Even though I was embarrassed of my behavior, I couldn’t stop myself. I was doing research on how I might possibly press legal charges, get the girl fired, or even dox her online somehow. My mind found not a moments rest yesterday. I could hardly concentrate on the words in front of my face while doing my evening reading. My thoughts just kept returning to all the ways that I simply cannot believe someone could be so selfish and awful.

I am trying to surrender today. I am trying to stay curious as to why exactly I am so angry. Sure my mind has been repeating all the reasons I have a right to be nonstop, but when I broaden my perspective, it still seems strange to let this comparatively small injustice effect me so deeply. Certainly it can’t be that I’m surprised by this girl’s actions. I’ve known basically my whole life that humans are trash and only care about themselves. If I had any doubt of that, you’d think working where I do for the last two years would have erased it by now.

In a certain sense, I feel embarrassed and just as self-centered as everyone else for my reaction. I see more egregious acts and injustices each and every day. Why am I not whipped up into the same fury for the children I meet who come in to tell us about being raped by their father for 4 years? Is that not a much more soul crushing and unbelievable cruelty committed by a human being against another? A far more unacceptable betrayal by a person that is supposed to care for you? I cannot pretend to tell myself I am just upset about injustice, when I clearly care much more when it involves an injustice, however slight, performed against me.

I am so very fortunate in so many ways. I must remember that no matter what may come. Spewing venom, frightening my loved ones with my rage, and using my time and energy plotting revenge are not things that are serving me. What happened, happened. There is nothing I can do about it now. I am being unkind to myself by allowing myself to be consumed by my anger. I may very well be sick. My quality of life may be harmed for the foreseeable future. But what good will souring the few days I have before then do? I should be cherishing this waiting period. I should be holding space. I should be fortifying my body, mind, and soul for the battle that is most assuredly being waged inside me right now.

Rather than being annoyed at my work friend for not being as livid as I am at the situation, I should be admiring his ability to let go and to smile in the face of injustice and adversity. Part of my rage is a result of the perception that without it, I am allowing myself to be taken advantage of and trampled upon. But as I read my book last night, I began to think about the types of characters that I respect the most. It is not the vindictive, aggressive characters. It is the characters that are most passive, loving, forgiving, and humble. I do not view them as fools for not raging against the terrible people or circumstances they face. I see that they are wise and well-adjusted for being able to maintain their inner peace and their loving nature no matter what.

The things that anger me most are actually opportunities for me to cultivate that same peaceful, compassionate, inner soften that I so admire in others. It’s hard. I won’t pretend otherwise, but I know that our challenges are what spur growth. In my heart I know that what’s important is not being right or wrong or “teaching someone else a lesson.” I cannot control other people and that is something I need to accept and move on from. Life may not be fair, there are cruel, selfish, monstrous people, but it is my duty to distinguish myself from these people. It is a joy and an honor to have the chance to be a light unto myself and those I love. I will not allow my anger to tarnish the naturally loving and abundant nature of my soul. Instead that nature will only gain strength from the negative encounters we all must face. I will maintain a grateful heart and a calm mind despite it all. This is my life. This is my practice. And I refuse to waste it on hate. I have faith in myself and my body to protect me and always do what is right and kind. The rest I must simply learn to allow.

How to Create a Peaceful Mind

Biting Your Tongue

One high school memory that still haunts me to this day is from my junior year photography class. We were going on a field trip to the Andy Warhol museum. I never like Andy Warhol’s art. I still maintain that he’s not a good artist, he just became famous for being a weirdo that people were interested in. I kept professing these kind of sentiments and complaining that this was where we were going. Eventually my teacher cut me off. Irritated, he said, “Bite your tongue.” I felt so ashamed and honestly wished I would never have to speak again in that class. I wanted to disappear.

The reason this memory sticks with me is because it seems to mirror similar situations throughout my life. There have been many times when I’ve ended up embarrassing myself or making my own life more difficult because I seem to be unable to bite my tongue. It is usually when I am feeling angry or irritated about something. It is very hard for me to just let things go for some reason. I feel compelled to voice my displeasure. Loudly and whenever I get the chance.

For example, today I have to stay late a work for what seems like the thousandth time because of a particular CPS worker that likes to take advantage of my friend and coworker’s good nature. We will stay after hours to do emergency interviews. Sometimes a child is in immediate danger and it’s necessary that we talk to them as soon as possible so we can make sure they have somewhere safe to go. However, this CPS worker just uses the word “emergency” to manipulate and control us so that things work better for her schedule and deadlines.

The interviewer I work with is a very nice, easy-going man. To him it’s never a big deal and he takes pride in the fact that he never refuses to do an interview. He always says that I don’t have to stay and he can do it all himself, but it just wouldn’t feel right for me to let him do that. So here I am, stuck doing two interviews at 4:30-6 or 7 today when our office closes at 4. And surprise, surprise it couldn’t be further from an emergency. The children are completely safe.

My problem isn’t even that I have to stay late without pay (we are a very small non-profit that only gets paid for 40 hours each week no matter what), it’s that this horrible woman continues to take advantage of us for her own convenience. In my nearly two years with this organization, no other CPS worker has asked us to stay late. Not only that, but this specific worker does it practically every single time we get a call from her. It just makes me feel so furious that someone even has the nerve to do this continuously to such nice people like my coworkers.

On matters of injustice or unfairness, I have an especially difficult time biting my tongue. It’s one of the reasons I still struggle to do so when I hear idiotic comments about veganism. I get a familiar rumbling, hot sensation in my chest that causes viscous language to spew out of my mouth like a volcano. It never makes anything better though. The anger continues to build. Not only that but when I speak out I also start to pile on feelings of shame and self-hatred. I’m embarrassed by my uncontrollable outbursts, and by the way others look at me when they see me so angry.

I’ve always clung to the idea of operant conditioning and to the idea that staying quiet and complacent is the same as condoning a behavior. At least those are the reasons I give myself to rationalize my violent reactions to these types of situations. I feel it is my duty to do something, to protect myself and others from injustice or abuse. I feel very passionately about it. But I don’t want to feel this way when the result is that I become spiteful and vindictive. The outcome is never restoring justice, it simply ruins my day and possibly the image that others have of me as a person.

When days like today happen, I have been trying very hard to use them as an opportunity for personal growth. These are the moments that I’ll need to utilize in order to begin to create new, more healthy, productive, socially acceptable pathways in my brain. It’s never easy. I still get caught up in brooding over all the reasons that I shouldn’t be put in this situation, finding fault, blaming others, and coming up with ways to make these things stop happening, or at the very least to get revenge. I feel a great resistance bubbling up inside when I try to transition away from these thoughts to more positive ones. Something inside of me is always dragging its feet, insisting that if I allow myself to be okay with this, it will happen even more, and the injustice will continue to expand and grow larger. Part of me still tends to believe that’s true, but even so, I’m missing the point. Does it even matter if these things happen to me more if they no longer produce such toxic emotions?

I am trying to stay curious. Rather than getting wrapped up in the spiral of self-justifications, I ask myself, “Why is this so hard for me? What is it that keeps me from letting this go? Wouldn’t I rather be happy than right?” That’s really what it comes down to, that last question. Sometimes it’s hard for me to remember that being happy is better than being the smartest person in the room or being right or even having control. When I start feeling like I am helpless and powerless in a situation that is out of my control, I just need to remind myself that I am always in control. Maybe not when it comes to what happens to me, but I get to decide how I react to those things. That is what is truly important.

As I continue on with this unbearably long day, I am going to choose to focus on all of the things I have to be grateful for instead of the few small irritations that I have to put up with occasionally. I love my job. I love the people I work with. I love (most) of the people in the other organizations we work with. I can get away with coming in 15 minutes late everyday. I can leave early another day since I’ll be staying over tonight. I got to work from home for nearly a year. My job is usually easy and not stressful. Yesterday I got to spend the whole day at the office chatting with my lovely work friends. We even got lunch delivered to us from Panera thanks to one of the board members. I am so grateful for having the opportunity to be a part of this place, even if that means learning how to bite my tongue sometimes. This is a valuable skill, one I genuinely want to learn. So I should also be grateful for these opportunities to practice it.

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