I am full of resentments this election cycle in the U.S. I resent the candidate whose way of being in the world triggers all of my trauma issues down to their deepest core. I resent the loyal masses of followers voting for said candidate, including family and friends who belong to this group. I resent the lies and twisted misinformation being spread around as Gospel truth and I resent that the country I love so much has created a climate for this phenomenon to even happen.
I also resent members of my own political party—people who, directly or indirectly, are chiding me for not being a stronger supporter of our own party’s candidate. As a citizen, I have a right to see who I am voting for as a lesser of two evils, yet expressing sentiments of this nature has often led to complete invalidation of my feelings. As social media goes, I’ve had to unfollow more members of my own party than the party I oppose, disgusted with their feeding into the vitriolic exchanges and not taking the higher ground.
Although I’ve engaged in some blog writing and social media debate during this seemingly endless campaign, a few weeks ago I made a deliberate choice to engage in some form of a lovingkindness meditation whenever I felt the urge to post about politics. Lovingkindness is a Buddhist-inspired meditation practice made popular in the West by meditation teacher Sharon Salzburg. In lovingkindness meditation, we are challenged to recite the following verses, first for ourselves, then for someone with whom we are close, then for someone where there is a neutral connection, and THEN for someone whom we find challenging. The verses, in the outward form, flow:
May you be free from suffering
May you have physical happiness
May you have mental happiness
May you have ease of well-being
Translations of the verses vary; this is the wording that I am most likely to use. In this beautiful practice, you can continue to send the verses out to your city, to your state, to your country, and to the world entire. This election cycle, the more sickness that I have felt from engaging in discourse, the more I’ve experienced relief from extending my lovingkindness outwards.
There is a great deal at stake in this election for people like me and I do not mean to suggest that I take what is going on in my country lightly. On the contrary, because I take what’s happening to my nation very seriously and because it seems like human intelligence alone has brought us to this place, a greater, spiritual solution is required. The great thing about the lovingkindness verses is that you do not need to be religious or even believe in a Higher Power to engage in the practice of wishing someone well, even someone you disdain.
As a woman in long-term recovery following primarily a 12-step path, the idea of embracing a spiritual solution where all other human ideas seem to fail has been life saving. One particular teaching from 12-step tradition parallels the spirit of lovingkindness meditation for me—praying for someone that you resent.
The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous describes resentments as our number one offender. The prescribed solution, often read as the classic page 552, is to pray for the person or the thing that you resent. We are challenged to pray for them, every day for two weeks, and to pray even when we don’t mean it. At various points in my recovery journey, my prayers for the people that I resent have often started as curse-laden diatribes and often I must pray for the willingness to start praying.
Eventually the willingness will come and in time (sometimes longer than two weeks) I will not feel so much hate in my heart. Early in my recovery and in my work as a clinician, I found myself in a position to pray for the willingness to start praying over a very petty resentment about a friend who was annoying me. It was a resentment nonetheless, making me boil inside. About two days into the prayer I was filling in for a treatment group and one of our clients shared with us that their son was murdered several months prior, which was an impetus for relapse. The client shared that the most helpful thing for him was to continue praying for the healing of the individual who murdered his child.
It struck me like lightning—if this individual can pray, with sincerity, for the person who took his child away, certainly I can pray or meditate on any resentment that I might experience. When I struggle to do that, even to this day, I think back to my client and the valuable lesson they shared with me.
Resentment literally means to re-feel something and it is not lost on me that when public figures remind us of figures in our past who traumatized us, those feelings are big and bold and paralyzing. For me, I’ve learned that as big and bold and paralyzing as they are, they ultimately keep me stuck unless I take action.
Praying and meditating are action steps. If these words feel too loaded for you, consider how the practice of “wishing them well” may serve you better than wishing them some evil or horrible fate. In recent weeks, I’ve reconnected with the logic of the resentment prayer in a new and beautiful way. I find myself in a place where I have already voted my conscience, have spoken up a few times in a way that feels genuine for me, and I know that regardless of what happens on November 8 here in my home country, there is going to be a tremendous amount of fallout.
My Facebook feed will continue to explode, the public dialogue fed by our fear-laden media will continue to spin out of control. And in the midst of it all, I can share my lovingkindness with myself, those closest to me, the world around me… and most importantly, with those who fuel my resentments.
I want to continue honoring the example of my first sponsor, Janet L. and a core lesson that she taught me on 9/11/01. I was going to meetings, yet not completely committed to sobriety. We were both working in Bosnia-Hercegovina at the time, and the organization we worked for called a meeting of all Americans living in the region that evening. A senior member of the American crew, Janet spoke up and reminded all of us that in addition to praying for the victims and the rescue workers, we must also remember to keep praying for the terrorists and for those that put the attack into action.
Most people at that meeting looked at her like she was crazy. I saw the genius in what she had to share—clearly informed by the fruits of her recovery and embracing the teachings of those like Viktor Frankl before her. One of the greatest lessons Janet taught me in the time I’ve worked with her is that hurt people truly hurt other people and instead of shaming them for it, the real solution is to pray for their recovery. May our country and our world someday see the value in this teaching.