Professing * Reflecting

Monday, August 06, 2007

Oh, the soul-crushing anger and resentment

I cannot really blog about the ins and outs of my particular situation as I prepare to go up for tenure, except to say that there are certain elements of it that are completely out of my control and that bring on big nasty feelings of anger, resentment, and frustration.

I am sure there are going to be many moments of quiet seething when I would like nothing more than to vent here. Last week I wrote a post about stumbling across Pema Chödrön a lot over a very short time and feeling like that encounter meant something. Since then, I have been reading a few of Chödrön's books and learning how to meditate. Instead of blogging the unbloggable when I am having one of these tenure hell moments, I think I might blog something from the Pema stuff I have been reading or along those Buddhist lines (maybe even as it relates to the big-rigging, who knows). So, each time you see a Medusa going Buddhist post, you will know it is a sort of code for MY HEAD IS ABOUT TO EXPLODE AND I WOULD LIKE NOTHING MORE THAN TO RENT A HOLE IN THE UNIVERSE WITH MY SCREAMS OF RAGE. (I know, the irony, but the Buddha strikes me as having a perverse sense of humor so I think it's okay.)

So here's today's lesson. What to do with feelings of frustration, anger and resentment? First, meditate. I have been learning the technique that Chödrön teaches. It's simple:

1. Six points of posture: Sit on a flat surface with legs crossed comfortably if you are on the floor and flat on the floor with knees a few inches apart if you are in a chair. Your torso is upright, with a strong back and an open front. Don't lean back or slouch. Your hands are open, palms down on your thighs. Your eyes are open, awake, and relaxed to all that occurs. Your gaze is directed slightly downwards four to six feet in front of you. Open your mouth very slightly so your jaw is relaxed. The tip of your tongue can rest on the roof of your mouth.

2. Light attention to the out-breath: Rather than clearing your mind or meditating on an object, all you have to do is put very light attention on your out-breath. The attention should not be forced and your out-breath should not be manipulated. You should be in the present, aware of your surroundings, with only a certain amount of attention directed to the out-breath. The philosophy behind this is that the out-breath brings you as close as you can come to "to simply resting the mind in its natural open state" while still having an object to which to return.** If you get distracted at any time, bring your attention back to your body and run through the six points (seat, legs, torso, hands, eyes, mouth) of posture. Then return to the out-breath.

3. Label your thoughts with "thinking": This meditation is not meant to be used to avoid or repress thoughts. You will find your mind wandering and sometimes you will find yourself "planning, worrying, fantasizing--completely in another world made completely of thoughts." That's fine. Just say to yourself "thinking" and return to the out-breath. Don't judge yourself or any of the thoughts. In this way, you learn maitri, which means loving-kindness or unconditional compassion. In this case, you are practicing unconditional compassion toward your own thoughts.

That's all I have learned about the technique so far. I have been trying it out for 20-30 minutes a day, and I have found it to be incredibly helpful. I am not as anxious and I feel more focused throughout the day.

As for dealing with the anger and resentment specifically, I have been trying to keep the following (from Chapter 11 in the book I mention below) in mind:

Any obstacle we encounter has the power to completely pull the rug out, to completely pop the bubble of reality that we have come to regard as secure and certain. When we are threatened that way, we can't stand to feel the pain, the edginess, the anxiety, the queasiness in our stomach, the heat of anger rising, the bitter taste of resentment. Therefore, we try to grasp something pleasant. . .There is something aggressive about that approach to life, trying to flatten out all the rough spots and imperfections into a nice smooth ride.

**This is the technique Chödrön learned from Rinpoche. It's described fully in Chapter Four of When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times.

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