The subject of grievances has come up a lot over the last couple of weeks in my daily study of A Course in Miracles (ACIM) and as I prepare for a Women's Circle on 'Letting Go' (of the things that do not serve us). With the subject on my mind so much, I've taken the opportunity to observe the way that grievances crop up in my own life and relationships, and how they affect the way I feel. I've also been observing their effect on other people. It's been quite an education! In fact, I have come to believe that everyday life (my own and others') could reasonably be described as little more than a stream of grievances - ranging from minor niggles, to full blown tantrums (and I'm not just talking about the children). Thinking about it so much this week, and seeing how often I have recognised the need to deal with this myself, I compiled a little exercise and a list of tools which you'll find at the end of this post, as well as a downloadable worksheet you can use to help process your own thoughts and feelings.
So we're clear what I'm talking about, I'll start with a definition. Grievances are "a real or imagined cause for complaint, especially unfair treatment" and also "a feeling of resentment over something believed to be wrong or unfair." This is Google's definition, but wherever you look up the word, you will see there are two common elements: (I) a perceived wrong, and (II) a feeling of resentment.
ACIM puts a lot of emphasis on grievances and says they are at the core of the ego's function. Indeed, we can see this if we look at ourselves and others. As normal, everyday humans, we put a great deal of value on the belief that if things were different in some way (if other people were different, if something else had happened etc) everything would be 'better'. In fact, so much of our lives is motivated by this belief. How many times have you thought that things would be better "if only..."? It doesn't matter what your personal form of salvation is perceived to be, we all do it from an early age. It starts out along the lines of 'if only I could do a cartwheel / didn't have spots / my parents could afford those trainers' and by adulthood we are blaming others for everything we perceive to be wrong with our lives, and seek to fix it with something external such as success, money, beauty, fame, the perfect body, the right car. Or we search for someone else who can 'complete' us! At the same time as longing for these things, we resent others for their success, money, beauty, fame....
The crazy thing about this is that by the time we reach adulthood we have experienced plenty of the things we were in search of, and know that none of it fixed anything! Each time, we felt only a temporary relief (through the acquisition or accomplishment), before the never-ending cycle of wanting, chasing, obtaining, and dissatisfaction continued.
You might be wondering what all this has to do with grievances. Let me explain. If your sense of happiness, salvation, peace, or whatever else you might call it, is dependent on something 'out there' then it is actually coming from a place of grievance. Without either (I) a perceived wrong or (II) a feeling of resentment, there would be no need for "if only...". Think about that for a moment. If you were happy with the money in the bank, you wouldn't be wishing for more, or resentful of others' wealth. If your wife hadn't cheated on you, you would be able to see your kids every night, not just on weekends. If you were happy with your life, you wouldn't want to change it. In ACIM it is explained like this:
"Each grievance you hold is a declaration, and an assertion in which you believe, that says, "If this were different, I would be saved." - (ACIM Workbook, Part I, Lesson 71. 2:4)
If I look at some of my own everyday grievances, I can see this in action. For example: If my kids didn't argue all the time, I wouldn't get frustrated and tell them off. If they could share without fighting over everything, we would all have a much nicer time together. If they could brush their teeth and put their laundry in the basket, without being reminded EVERY SINGLE DAY, I wouldn't have to nag them. These may seem like silly things, but how many of us spend our mornings like this? One by one, these small grievances build up and by the time the kids go to school, I feel terrible for yelling at them... but I feel justified, and will surely do it again because I still feel aggrieved (and as humans we'd usually prefer to be 'right' than happy).
Of course, many people are dealing with much bigger wrongs and resentments than clothes left all over the floor. Some are resentful about their parents and how they were brought up, others resent the bankers responsible for the recession, or blame their spouse for holding them back, and that's before we move onto the wrongs caused by war, murder, and all sorts of other societal malfunctions. When I took the time to notice it this week, I saw that we are all so surrounded by grievances - it's so 'normal' - we don't even realise it.
In fact, our minds, triggered and fuelled by these feelings, end up relying on an insane form of logic that causes us to react in a way that can be mean and hateful, even to those we love the most. In fact, it's especially mean to those we love the most. It's no wonder so many people feel anxious and depressed and it begs the question: What can we do about it? How do we step beyond this (ego-driven) insanity?
First it is necessary to recognise how pervasive this grievance-addition is within us, and the hurt it causes. I've come up with a few steps to help with this. For our purposes I am focussing only on the hurt we cause ourselves, as it's within our control to do something about that, but that's not to say we aren't hurting others too. For the following exercise, you might like to make notes in your journal or you can download the worksheet below.
STEP 1- Until we recognise the hold grievances have over us, we won't be very motivated to do anything about it. The first step is to notice them. Put your most familiar grievances into this structure:
"If only<this (something you wish were different)> then<that>."
eg. If only my kids didn't argue, then I wouldn't have to nag them.
STEP 2 - Note any other complaints, frustrations and resentments that come up throughout your day, whether big or small. Anything you wish were different is coming from an underlying grievance! If it helps you can use the same structure as Step 1.
STEP 3- Look back over the list and consider (a) the way that each of the items makes you react, and (b) how your reaction makes you feel. Be honest with yourself.
STEP 4 - Decide whether or not you are ready to release these feelings. If not, ask yourself why that is. What are you getting from hanging onto your complaints and grievances? Is it just that it's easier to moan, complain and play the victim? Or are you getting some other payoff? Be honest!
When you ARE ready to let go, proceed to Step 5.
STEP 5 - By releasing your grievances, you release yourself. You can do this in any way you like including just deciding to let go. People talk about 'trying' to release things, but trying never works. If you are holding a pencil and you want to release it, trying doesn't make any difference - you have to just let it go. It's the same with grievances. You can simply choose to do so and then do it. I realise it may be challenging, especially if there are long-held resentments so here are a few additional tools that might also be helpful:
- Use the power of intention. State aloud (to yourself, unless you really want to say it to the person who has aggrieved you): "I am willing to let go of my grievances against <name>" and mean it. Repeat this, with feeling, as often as necessary until you no longer experience the old emotions coming up.
- Forgiveness. It's understandable that you might feel resistant to forgive someone who has done something to hurt you in the past, but failing to do so will continue to hurt you. Do you want to do that to yourself? If you look back at your earlier answers, it is probably clear that those feelings do not serve your overall wellbeing. They might even be making you stressed or sick. Depending on your personal belief system and relationship with 'forgiveness' you may find a ritual such as Ho'opononpono ritual helpful.
- If you're a fellow student of ACIM, this article from Robert Perry pulls all of the forgiveness lessons from the complete and annotated edition of Course into a single place and is really powerful, however it's unlikely to make as much sense to those who are unfamiliar with the Course and its very specific use of language.
As a final note, I'd like to remind you that grievances are a core aspect of the human ego. Please don't beat yourself up when you start to become conscious of quite how much these thoughts and resentments show up throughout your day. The sheer volume made me feel very uncomfortable at first, but after a while I started to see the ridiculousness of it, and how easy it is to slip from one complaint or resentment to the next! Releasing myself will surely be an ongoing practice.