Sunday, May 27, 2012

How to Dissolve Resentment

It's easy to get fixated on resentment in life. We resent not being loved; we resent snarky remarks; we resent our talents going unnoticed; we resent prejudice; we resent not being perfect. But resentment is the ground for us to work from, when we realize that resentment is a cowardly and ineffective attempt to avoid pain.

To be clear, I'm not talking about anger or saying we shouldn't be angry sometimes. When we see people being oppressed, anger seems the appropriate response. What I'm talking about is petty resentment, which often leads us to talk a lot of smack in the face of something we interpret as a personal affront.

It takes courage to work with our resentment, and it takes a mind that is aware of the object of resentment, our fear and the impulse to escape from it. At the bottom of resentment is pain and we need the courage to run straight into that pain. The way in is the way out.

The Shambhala Buddhist tradition uses the metaphor of the warrior to represent courage. The Bodhisattva warrior has a big courageous heart and s/he stands firm in battle, not matter what terrifying enemies are on the attack. The difference between this fearless warrior and the conventional warrior, is that this warrior is not so insecure. This warrior has the presence of mind to know what s/he is scared of and works with that rather than using aggression to push the scary thing away. The fearless warrior has a deep, primordial confidence that is totally genuine. It's not a pumped up kind of confidence that is full of hot air, because this warrior works with fear, not against it.

The path laid out before one who aspires to this kind of warriorship is to work with resentment. Every time we feel the impulse to complain, we should take that resentment and process it. Chogyam Trungpa recommended using the practice of Tonglen to work with resentment, which I find very useful.

In brief, the practice here is to notice your resentment and then breath it in. Breath it in so fully that nobody else on earth ever has to feel resentment again. Feel it in your whole body. Once you have done that, air it all out. Pema Chodron offers the following thought on the out breath: "On the out breath you may say, 'Let me give away something good or true that I ever feel, any sense of humor, any sense of enjoying the sun coming up and going down, any sense of delight in the world at all.'"

To some people working with resentment in this way may sound fluffy, but my experience has been quite tangible. This practice has helped me dissolve a lot of resentment, when I remember to do the practice. During silent retreat it was interesting to notice when resentment would bubble up in the most subtle way. If someone got the biggest cookie, I immediately recognized resentment peeking out and I'd start working with it.

Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche
If we remember to practice Tonglen to work with the most minor and petty little feelings of resentment, we will see immediate results. Furthermore, we will be ready to face the biggest resentments when they come along.

If you would like to learn more about Tonglen, check out the book called Tonglen by Ani Pema Chodron, or stop by your nearest Shambhala center and ask about how you can get personal instruction in this practice. There is also a chapter on Tonglen in the book called The Wisdom of No Escape by Pema Chodron, and there is an article by her here.

For a brief but pithy description of compassionate warriorship, check out this essay by Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche.


  1. "resentment is a cowardly and ineffective attempt to avoid pain." THANK YOU! I have been mystified by the resentment I've held the past few months about s relationship that didn't work out. I very much enjoy your blog and this post was particularly helpful. Again, thanks.

    1. Thank YOU for the encouraging comment Starpower. I'm so glad you found this useful!

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