Around 1993 I began searching for a way to heal what seemed to be uncontrollable reactions to life. Anger could bubble up and impact my response to people and life. My increased awareness that I needed to learn how to respond in a different way came with the break-up of a 12 year relationship. The path to enlightenment in this area of my life lead me through increased time paying attention to what I was thinking. I quickly learned that sometimes, my brain was just downright dumb. I thought things that were not true, but they seemed true to me. I might think something like, "He did that to me because .... " and my story became my reality. In truth it was just a dumb story based not on fact but on my imagination. The awareness began to dawn that just because I thought something, that did not make it true.
I realized that I held grudges against many people. I knew I was holding anger toward someone when I would think of them and would feel an onslaught of negative emotion. I might feel anger, sadness, fear, and even a need to retaliate. I knew these negative feelings were causing me to not be able to embrace life, to not enjoy each moment and to not love with all of my being. If I heard of good things happening to those I held a grudge against and I heard the inner thought "it is not fair", I realized I was holding a grudge instead of letting whatever they had done to me go. People may say, "I cannot forgive them they do not deserve it". They also say, "I can forgive but I cannot forget" Truthfully, you do not have to forget what they did, but you do have to forget that you can justifiably retaliate. Just because I get people to agree with me that I deserve to be mad, that the person deserves to have my anger, does not mean I should hold a grudge. People will agree with my justifications. After all, it justifies them holding a grudge against their nemesis.
I pictured my inner emotions as being like a big pot of stew with my essence being the pot. Because I had so much negative emotion that I still held within me, my pot was full to the brim. If someone else did something to anger, upset, scare, belittle, or slight me, my emotions would bubble over. Thus, they felt uncontrollable and very confusing. You cannot stop the stew from bubbling over unless you dip out some stew or turn off the heat. What happens if you just leave the heat on? Ultimately the stew will burn up and you will ruin your stew pot or essence. Have you ever met someone who just seemed full of anger and bitterness without a spark of enjoyment about anything in life? There is nothing left of the goodness that is meant to be our essence. If you turn off the heat, all your emotions become cold and lifeless. We are meant to experience emotion. What happens if you take out some of those ingredients that are filling up the pot. That could result in a lovely stew. You may have a nice, tasty meal to look forward to. Taking it a step further, what if in the process of making your stew you put in some spoiled meat, rotten vegetables or indigestible ingredients. You may take the level down by dipping out some of the contents. You could go for a jog, write in your journal, scream at the wall or fill in your own personal favorite way of "letting off steam", but the essence of your being is still not very savory. The negative emotions are like poison to the stew. They make it all have a flavor that is somewhat or a lot bitter and unpalatable.
This insight led me to begin to examine my emotions to determine what I was holding onto. Utilizing my imagery, what were the bad ingredients that were poisoning my essence? I realized that those bad ingredients had to do with the grudges I was carrying around. That didn't make sense to my dumb brain. My brain said, you are not holding grudges. Everyone knows its not okay to hold a grudge and not forgive someone. I was a good person. I would not be doing something that was bad. There are some exceptions to it not being okay to hold a grudge. We can hold a grudge if the person who wronged us never asks for forgiveness. We can hold a grudge if the crime committed against us was so egregious as to be "unforgivable". We can hold a grudge if the person asked us to forgive them but was insincere in that request. We can hold a grudge if the person blames us for causing their misstep with us. Using those measuring sticks, I was not holding grudges that were not okay to hold. Do you realize I discovered grudges but simply justified them? This is another example of my brain being "dumb". I realized this, and my analytical brain began poking holes in my justification.
I looked at what the great philosophers said about holding grudges. That lead me to understand that there is no good reason to hold a grudge. Why? Holding grudges poisons ME. It does not poison the person I am holding the grudge against. It poisons ME. It makes my essence unpleasant. After all, the grudge is in my essence, in my pot of stew. Jesus would tell me to forgive no matter whether the person I was forgiving stopped being bad or kept being bad. The Buddha would tell me the path to enlightenment leads me to LOVE and be compassionate to all living beings with no exceptions. Shakespeare would show me with his plays that grudges beget misery and death. The Beatles would tell me to "Let it Be". Lennon would remind me to "Imagine" a world full of love. There is no justification for holding a grudge that does not end up hurting me and, may I add, everyone who loves me.