The Practice of Creativity

Getting Off Grudge Island

Posted on: September 29, 2013

We all want to feel more grateful. The powerful benefits that stem from a gratitude practice are ones that science now validates and that spiritual traditions have always claimed. More than a decade ago, Oprah introduced us to the idea of keeping a gratitude journal and recently social work researcher, Brené Brown has highlighted the importance of gratitude in her interviews with resilient people. But what gets in the way of practicing gratitude? I’d say grudges. Grudges are often not part of polite conversation. But, in order to become more grateful we have to work on our grudges.

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To live a creative life is to encounter frustration, jealousy, envy and to hold grudges. Grudges are a feature in our emotional weather system. They can be deep seated or have happened just yesterday: the biting comment from a trusted mentor that occasionally surfaces, the friend who doesn’t invite you to submit to her ‘zine though she’s invited all your writing buddies , the shopkeeper who says that your greeting card line looks ‘amateurish’. Having grudges is not the problem; it’s how deep they go and how long we hold them. And, that we forget there can be sweet joy in releasing them.

Getting off Grudge Island

In The Bodacious Book of Succulence creativity author Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy (aka SARK) talks about a place that many of us reside– the place in our consciousness where we replay, repeat, and sift through old hurts, grudges, resentments, and slights. She imagines this place as Grudge Island. All the inhabitants on the island are stooped over from carrying the weight of their grudges. SARK says that holding grudges “allows us to be right and live in the past” and that they “are companions of struggle and blame.”

In my creativity workshops, I often ask people to describe what their Grudge Island looks like, the nature of their grudges and the length that they’ve hung on to them.  After reflecting on this exercise, a participant once exclaimed, “Goodness, I don’t just visit Grudge Island, I’ve built condos there!”

The first time I did this exercise, I started out with two pieces of paper and a pen. I thought, oh, this should only take a few minutes. As I got in touch with recent and old hurts, I found myself reaching for more paper and markers. As I wrote, I began reliving and experiencing the anger, hurt and loss of the events that shaped my grudges.

By the end of the process I had filled 25 pages (front and back) of my grudges and ego wounds! I was indeed a longtime resident on Grudge Island! I held a thirty year grudge against a six grade teacher who had forgotten to give me information so that I could compete in the city wide spelling bee and a fifteen year old grudge against a young man who told me that getting a PhD was useless and would not serve the African American community. I wondered what new energy could emerge from releasing these grudges.

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The medical community’s interest in the connection between anger, grudge holding and well- being has increased dramatically over the last decade. Dr. Luskin, director of the Forgiveness Project at Stanford University, has lead pioneering research about how grudge holding affects our capacity to live a thriving life. Dr. Luskin notes, “Dwelling on a past conflict and the damage inflicted by another person, doesn’t hurt them, but it hurts you like heck. They own your nervous system, and they ain’t good landlords.” Studies suggest that grudge-holders tend to be sicker than their peers who are able to release grudges and forgive more quickly. If a person is a chronic grudge holder they can expect more visits to the doctor, cardiovascular disease and gastrointestinal distress.

I decided to destroy my grudge papers. I ripped them into teeny tiny shreds. This felt incredibly satisfying. Then, I began to knead them (also oddly satisfying). I then promptly took my ‘grudge dough’ and dumped the pile in the garbage. After I dumped the grudges, a very calm and peaceful sensation ran through my body. Feeling cleared of these grievances was a powerful return on my time and attention. The funny thing is that now, many years later; I can’t even recall the specifics of most of those grudges.

The more we share about our very human capacity to hold grudges, the more support we can receive for releasing them and experiencing the joy and vitality available to us in every moment. This energy becomes fuel for new creative projects.

Dealing with grudges first, makes way for gratitude.

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A version of this article originally appeared on September 25 in The Chapel Hill News.

Photo credits include Thinkstock

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Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

Author, Academic, Creativity Expert I'm an award winning writer.

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