Saturday, February 16, 2013

Giving up Bitterness for Lent

It feels damn good to scream at that driver who holds you up at the right-on-red while the street to left of him is as empty as the vacuum of space. Finding new and fitting things to exclaim about his parentage and general state of inelegance occupies the long seconds while you wait for the light to turn green.  Bitterness is a great luxury. 

Life is full of small and large injustice. We have all lost something that was vital to us through the actions of another person. To hate and fester is human. If the injury is large and disrupts our foundations, the bitterness at first give us the strength to isolate ourselves from the hurting kind and move on, but that is not the only way to move on. The more difficult path is to remove ourselves from those who act against us, but do so without harboring anger and with the idea that forgiveness is always an option even if the wrongs can not be undone. 

The idea of giving up something in order to purify the mind and empathize with those who have suffered is not only beneficial to those who are religious. There is a transcendence to be had from extraordinary empathy. Since this is Lent, I am going to use the Christian ideals and holiday to frame the discussion.  However, this post is largely inspired by a Muslim, Rais Bhuiyan, who was shot in the face by racist Mark Stroman who was literally hunting Muslim convince store workers in a twisted bid for vengeance for the September 11th attacks. Bhuiyan survived the attack but lost his right eye and still carries 35 pellets in his face. Stroman was sentenced to death for killing Vasudev Patel a native of India who was shot, like Bhuiyan, while working at a convince store. Bhiuyan sued to halt Stroman's execution, stating that his religious beliefs as a Muslim told him to forgive Stroman--that Stroman could learn from his horrible mistake and thereby help others not take the same path. Bhiuyan's bid to save his would-be killer's life did not succeed, Stroman was executed by lethal injection, but Bhiuyan's example may yet inspire salvation. Bhuiyan was a man who had given up bitterness. He had done so through faith and was motivated to make a better world for all people. 

One of the origins of the 40 days of Lent comes from Jesus's going into the desert to fast for 40 days in preparation for his ministry. In that story (thinking of Luke Chapter 4ish) he is tempted by the devil with food and visions of power and rejects all of them to begin his ministry of love. 

To empathize with Jesus's suffering and perseverance many people give up something that is a luxury - Chocolate, Facebook and Coffee are often the additional perks given up besides meat. Some people decide that taking positive actions like good works, prayerful meditation, and charity are more meaningful acts than sacrifice alone. 

In the spirit of empathizing with Jesus (and Mohammed and Yom Kippur Atonement and all those who suffer in the name of a better world) I am giving up bitterness for Lent. For me this is opportunity to become more like Christ, who according to Christian holy texts had all manner of reasons to be bitter but instead chose to love the world and act always to make it better even for those who tormented him. 

 I think that this will be much harder for me than giving up any tangible privilege. It will require an ever adjusting strategy as bitterness is a very goto response. I will update this post as I struggle and succeed. I hope to grow from this far beyond the six weeks of Lent. 

Struggle 1. You have to be aware of what makes you bitter to avoid the chain-reaction of feelings and brain chemicals that land you in anger. This idea was imparted to me by a wise man who occasionally comes bearing french fries for my kid.  First I thought, I'll try to do this by making a list of those things that make me bitter and then try to avoid those situations or be mindful of them. This particular way of reaching awareness was NOT a good idea for me! I ended up dwelling on those people and situations rather than finding positive ways to handle them. So what else could our trusty french fry deliverer have meant by "recognize what make you bitter”? How about Strategy Two: pay attention to the feelings that lead to escalating anger rather than the situations. For me, hurt/disappointment is the largest trigger. So I am trying to recognize when I feel hurt before the feeling escalates to anger. Having a thought relay, that searches for why I am feeling rather than just feeling it, at least slows down the trip to anger even if it does not stop it completely. This did actually help this week when I found out something that I really like to do is going away. I am channeling my disappointment into finding a way to do the same thing through different means, which gives me a chance to do what I like and also to have discussions about the issue uncluttered by anger. There is much wisdom in the Fry Man!