Mary Carol is at a local event. From across the room, she sees someone she used to work with and immediately recalls how he treated her. Her memories are definitely not positive. She recalls how he was a member of a work group. She was one of the group’s leaders and facilitated the meetings. As she looked at him, Mary Carol recalled how he would refuse to follow the agenda that the whole group had agreed on. And when she tried to get the meetings back on track, he would ignore her and monopolize the conversation. When she contributed ideas, he would speak over her and disregard her. When she opted to stop facilitating the group, a large part of her decision stemmed from her feeling disrespected by this man.
With these hard feelings in mind, Mary Carol considers pretending that she hasn’t see him. But the polite thing to do is to acknowledge him, and so she does. To her surprise, the man does not even remember her. She reminds him of how they had met in the past, and he does not even remember her as being part of the group. He gives no indication that he remembers her or any of their interactions. However, he is polite and appears to be interested in her current projects.
At the end of the event, Mary Carol walked away amused. It did not matter if he was pretending not to know who she was, or whether he truly did not remember her. What was significant was that she had been carrying hard feelings toward this person. She had not thought about him for a few years, but when she saw him, her anger and resentment rushed to the surface. And yet, for him, nothing. And this helped Mary Carol to realize the value of letting go of hard feelings. Thinking poorly of this person was only holding her back on her path.
Mary Carol takes a moment to observe her experiences and to let go of any lingering resentment or anger toward her former colleague. She takes a deep breath and allows herself to move on. She knows that this moment is an opportunity for her to release any unnecessary and harmful resentments.
Later, Mary Carol would reflect upon this encounter. With deep appreciation, she recalls some of the Buddhist teachings on suffering and attachment and impermanence. Although she was not aware of the difficult feelings she was harboring, she is grateful for the opportunity to strengthen her practice. More accurately, once she took a deep breath and acknowledged her feelings, she appreciated the opportunity that had just been presented to her.
At this point, you might be wondering about the relevance of this story in a column about death. When the sentient beings we care about die, we expect to experience grief. We know that death is inevitable, yet there is this gap between the intellectual knowing and the emotional acceptance. And clinging and aversion help to create that gap. We want to avoid the painful feelings associated with loss; we want good times with our loved ones to last forever. In the past, when discussing the death of sentient beings, I have called this Death with a capital “D.”
I started making this distinction as I began to explore impermanence, and how we can use everyday impermanence to prepare us for what is to come. I have used the term death with a lower-case “d” to describe these less dramatic life experiences.
Most of the time, I have discussed impermanence as something that happens to us. That is part of the picture. Now, I would like us to consider the impermanence and death that is beneficial to our well-being. That is the type of death that Mary Carol gave to the anger and resentment she felt for her former colleague. This is a good death—not to be confused with a sentient being having a good death, allowing him or her or them to have a better (or no) rebirth.
Here, a good death refers to the benefits of releasing feelings that are holding you back. I am purposefully not using the term burying those feelings. Where I come from, that would imply stuffing those feelings away deep inside your subconscious, with the hope that you will never face them or feel discomfort from them again.
You know that the feelings you are trying to bury will eventually work their way to the surface. If you are lucky, they will come up in a safe setting, such as when you are on your meditation cushion. Or not. Maybe they’ll come up when you look across the room and see that former colleague.
It is clear that Mary Carol had unresolved feelings toward her former colleague. And that she was unable to work through her hard feelings during their time together in the work group. Handling those feelings at that time would have been ideal. With the passing of time and the development of her practice, she did not let the next opportunity go. Anger and resentment arose, and she actively worked with those feelings to face some permanent impermanence. This is an example of purposefully and proactively seeking impermanence.
What arises, ceases. Sometimes you need to give cessation a nudge.
In the case of hard feelings, let them go and give those feelings a good death.
Margaret Meloni: Death Dhamma
The Death Dhamma Podcast (Margaret Meloni)
Related features from BDG
Remembering the Whole Person: Honor and Celebrate the Life of a Loved One
On Homecomings and Release from Suffering – None of This Is Easy
The Promise of Impermanence
Related videos from BDG
The Death Dhamma Podcast Season 1
The Death Dhamma Podcast Season 2