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

Emotionally Immature

I don’t understand how other people deal with difficult emotions and confrontations in relationships. No matter how much I try, I always seem to be blind sided by my own reaction to things. It feels like my emotions twist around my vocal chords like vines and leave me speechless. I utterly shut down like a child. I could totally imagine myself crossing my arms and dropping down onto the floor where I was standing. I pout! A twenty-eight year old woman and I can’t keep myself from pouting about things that don’t go my way. It truly feels beyond my control.

On Friday when I thought I might have Covid, part of me was really happy that I would have to miss the dinner my boyfriend invited me to with his family. I even somewhat enjoyed not finding out until a day after I was supposed to. I hesitated to tell him my results because I wanted some more alone time. Then when I did tell him, I happily began preparing for him to drop everything and come see me. When it turned out he wasn’t going to do that, offering to hangout for just a few hours the next day, I was furious. I wanted to not respond at all. It took me tremendous effort to write back a short, passive aggressive reply instead. If I couldn’t hang out with him that night, well I didn’t want to see him at all. Very mature. After that brief message, I proceeded to ignore him for hours. I nearly made an excuse to avoid the Facetime we planned earlier too. One small thing, and I am ready to throw our whole relationship in the garbage out of spite. I genuinely don’t even know why that made me so upset. I enjoy being alone anyway.

It’s so embarrassing confiding these instances to my friends and family as well. Hearing them all echo back “just talk to him about it” or “tell him what you just told me” makes me feel even more childish than I already do. I can’t explain why I’m not able to just express my frustration with the person in question like I am with unrelated individuals. Not only am I afraid of how they’ll take such a conversation, I’m afraid of what I might say. I can get pretty hateful in the heat of the moment.

The longer I sit on these things, the worse it becomes. I add each succeeding irritation on top of the last, until explaining why I’m upset when something small happens becomes nearly impossible. My anger and frustration is also compounded by the fact that I’m just as mad at myself as I am at the other person. My instinct is to scrap the whole relationship rather than work through and face these nasty feelings.

I’m painfully aware of what low emotional intelligence I have, but I don’t know how to improve it. Certainly avoiding all of these encounters isn’t working. I managed to go through with the Facetime call last night and ended up enjoying talking to him. But it feels like I either blow up and destroy everything or drop it and pretend I wasn’t bothered. I did the latter yesterday. When I’m in the depths of my emotion, it feels too unsafe to acknowledge it, but when I calm down, I don’t want to dredge it up again.

All of my mindfulness and yogic practices go right out the window when it comes to interacting with other people. Just trying to take deep breaths when I am left alone in a room with a new person is a great challenge for me. Trying to calmly articulate what has me upset with someone? I might as well try to speak a foreign language fluently. My emotions just feel so big. My prefrontal cortex is short circuited and my aggressive little lizard brain takes over. And I don’t know what to do with that. I truly become unable to find the words that I need. My only options appear to be lash out or recede into myself.

Maybe today, I’ll try to find some kind of exercises to improve emotional intelligence online. Even that idea makes me laugh at myself though. I always want some kind of textbook to teach me how to be a person. When in reality, what would really probably help me more would be to make an effort to stumble through my messy emotions and actually tell my boyfriend how I’ve been feeling. I’m always so afraid of embarrassing myself or seeming stupid that I avoid all of the life experiences that could help me grow. I need to accept that some things must be learned through practice, trial and error, and taking the chance I may look silly at first.

No one else expects me to be perfect besides myself. If I were a baby again, I’d never learn how to walk or talk for fear of those initial trips, tumbles, stutters, and babbles. I must continuously remind myself that it’s okay to make mistakes. It’s necessary even. There is no cause to hold every personal error against myself. I’m the only one who cares. Once again, I’m the only thing holding me back.

Emotional Intelligence: 10 Things You Must Know