Saturday, 19 July 2014

Resent or Rejoice

There’s a woman I know who whenever our paths cross, which they do quite frequently, always shouts out to me “resent or rejoice”. It’s been going on for months now and I’ve got no one else to blame for this other than myself. She once heard me talking about my wish to find a word like resentment, but that meant the polar opposite. A word that meant to re-feel a positive emotion or event. Now the word she came up with was “rejoice”. So every time we bump into one another she says to me “resent or rejoice”. I’m beginning to wonder if I actually resent or rejoice in these encounters. Usually I rejoice in the spirit of celebration that she is sharing and in the fact that she is developing something that has grown from a loving aspect of myself. I’ve even begun saying the phrase “rejoice or resent” back at her.

“Resent or rejoice”, it really got me thinking about attitudes and approaches to life. Do I rejoice in the life I have been given and those who surround me or do I resent this life that I am a part of? Do we resent or rejoice in life?

Now personally I would much rather rejoice than be consumed by poisonous resentment, although I'm not sure that this has always been the case.

Resentment is a negative emotion that is re-felt and replayed, over and over again until it becomes all consuming. Frederick Nietzsche said of it, “nothing on earth consumes a man more completely than the passion of resentment.”

When I look at my life there have been examples, some serious and others ridiculous, that have consumed me for long periods of time. I know I am not unique in this, it happens to us all, things from our past can so easily control and even poison the life we are attempting to live today.

I know from truly looking at my own life and honestly acknowledging all that has happened to me and all that I have caused to happen, that many of these resentments I used to carry were really just justifications for the mess I was in at the time. By blaming others for my troubles, the things they had done, real or imagined, I could somehow raise myself above them and place myself on a pedestal. The problem of course was that I just remained lost in this sea of anger and my life went nowhere other than more lost. I was stuck on a ship, created from my own ill feeling, heading for trouble and unable to change direction. The bitter feelings were so all consuming that I could not hear the voices that were offering a different direction and my senses were closed to the joy present in the life all around me. What a waste!

Yes resentment is such a waste of life, as it so quickly becomes all consuming. It can take over your whole life. You will find many examples of this in literature. The classic perhaps being Captain Ahab. In Herman Melville’s Moby Dick Ahab is consumed by his rage against the “white whale” “Moby Dick” who in a previous voyage had destroyed his ship and bitten off his leg. So Ahab vowing revenge sets out on a voyage to hunt down the “white whale”. He becomes so consumed by his rage and need for revenge that as time goes by he no longer sees “Moby Dick” merely as the perpetrator of an evil act but as the “devil incarnate”, as the sum and substance of all evil that occurs in our lives.

This is near perfectly illustrated in the following passage from “Moby Dick”

“Small reason was there to doubt, then, that ever since that almost fatal encounter, Ahab had cherished a wild vindictiveness against the whale, all the more fell for that in his frantic morbidness he at last came to identify with him, not only all his bodily woes, but all his intellectual and spiritual exasperations. The White Whale swam before him as the monomaniac incarnation of all those malicious agencies which some deep men feel eating in them, till they are left living on with half a heart and half a lung...All that most maddens and torments; all that stirs up the lees of things; all truth with malice in it; all that cracks the sinews and cakes the brain; all the subtle demonisms of life and thought; all evil, to crazy Ahab, were visibly personified, and made practically assailable in Moby Dick. He piled upon the whale's white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart's shell upon it.”

Ahab grapples with the “white whale” until the end. He hurls his final harpoon and cries out “to the last I grapple with thee; from hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee.”

Now I know this is only a work of fiction. A great work of fiction by the way and one written by a man who had links with my own Unitarian faith. I understand that Herman Melville worshipped at “All Souls” in New York. A congregation that was served for many years by my great hero Forrest Church. There is something in this work of fiction that speaks to me and I believe to all of us when we look at the power of rage and the destructive nature of deep rooted resentment. We only need to look at the world we live in today to see example of this all around us.

Have you ever been consumed by such a rage?

The problem of course is that once you become consumed by such intensely powerful emotions it is very difficult to change direction. This is especially true if you believe the resentment is justified. Now while the anger may well be justified I am certain that the all consuming destruction it carries with it is not.

Resentment can close down all our senses to such an extent that we fail to heed all the warning signs around us and end up crashed against the rocks all alone. We may not end up with Ahab’s fate but we can easily find ourselves shipwrecked or lost at sea in a myriad of ways.

This brings to mind a story I heard a little while back about an old ship captain, in the days before modern communication, who one night saw what looked like the beacon of another ship headed straight for him. He asked his signal man to warn them and so he blinked to the other ship “Change your course 10 degrees south.” Moments later the reply blinked back “change your course 10 degrees north” to which the captain ordered the signal man to answer “I am captain change your course south.” To which the reply came back "I am seaman first class. Change your course north." This infuriated the captain, so he ordered his signal man to reply "I am a battleship. Change course south." To which almost instantaneously came the response, "I am a lighthouse. Change course north.”

If only we could just listen and perhaps change course for the good of our own and the health of those who share our lives. It’s not so easy though is it, especially when we believe that we are right and get a sense of superiority by this feeling of being right. If only we could see the damage that this does to ourselves and those around us, but alas so rarely we do as we become consumed by the rage and the hate.

Resentment is a destructive force.

So what is the alternative? Well maybe it is to find a way to learn to rejoice in all that is life. How do we do that? You may well ask. Well I think it begins by learning to see the joy in things, if not in our own lives then in the lives of others. It is so easy to get stuck in what is wrong and to therefore fail to see what is good and rejoice in it. This is such a terrible state for our minds to get in. As the poet Milton said “The mind is its own place and in itself can make a Hell of Heaven, a Heaven of Hell.”

Perhaps the key is to change course and not sail into the rocks or to be sunk to the depths by the white whale. The key I suspect is to change our minds. The key is to rejoice, rather than resent.

How does this begin you may well ask?

Well I believe that it begins by learning ways to celebrate our lives; it begins by learning to savour every breath no matter what is dealt to us. This begins by learning to offer that unceasing prayer “thank you”. It begins by following the advice of the Hopi elders who suggested that you should “Gather yourselves…See who is in the water with you and celebrate. All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.”

Maybe this is how we begin to rejoice, by looking at those in the water with us and learning to rejoice in who they are.

Pema Chodron claims that “Rejoicing in the good fortune of others is a practise that can help us when we feel emotionally shut down and unable to connect with others. Rejoicing generates good will. The next time you go out into the world, you might try this practice: directing your attention to people- in their cars, on the sidewalk, talking on their cell phones – just wish for them all to be happy and well.”

Maybe this is a way to set ourselves free from the anger and resentful feelings that leave us lost in the sea of life. Maybe this is one way to help us change direction and not leave us shipwrecked against the rocks. Maybe this is one way to begin to rejoice in life. Maybe it can begin by not so much looking for the things to be grateful for in our lives, but instead to offer gratitude for the good fortune of others who we find ourselves in the water with. Maybe it begins by wishing good fortune for the people we meet.

I have found that this really works as it begins to fill us with joy because when our minds are thinking of others good fortune it is difficult for us to be thinking of anything else. Why not give it a go? You never know you might just find that if you do your minds might just become freed from the shackles of resentments, and then you might just be able to learn to live and rejoice in the beautiful gift that is this day.

So what’s your choice to be today, do you resent or do you rejoice?


  1. What a fabulous read . . . thankyou. I can feel myself smiling from the inside and welcoming a wonderful new day!! :)

  2. wow! That's lovely...Thank you Kate