This is me tugging on a thread to see what I come up with. The thread being: Is there a place for venting in the life of a mindfulness practitioner?
On our last two Zoom sangha calls, the topic of venting was brought up in two different unrelated occasions, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to explore it here on my blog. And for the record: this is a great topic to delve into and I very much appreciate the people who shared their thoughts and experience during our dharma sharing time on this. If the question I pose above had been asked in a group setting on a retreat to a Dharma teacher during a Q&A session, I would imagine myself thinking: now there’s a good question that can help benefit a lot of folks (which I do not say lightly, as most questions I encounter being asked during group Q&A’s are not of high quality).
First thing’s first. To delve into whether there is a place for venting in the life of a mindfulness practitioner, I must first give a reference point for what my own understanding of venting is, because I’m aware there will be vernacular differences here. Nicole’s definition of venting: to tell someone in charged tones/languaging the upset we’re experiencing – often in relation to another person(s) – with the hope of unburdening our self but the reality of fueling our struggle.
In my view, venting is most often (but not always) synonymous with rehearsing. I’ve not personally experienced venting equating to a true and actual release but more that it allows one to further strengthen their story and, therefor, their upset.
Often when venting takes place, we’re looking for a certain response from who we’re sharing with. Most often: we want others to get upset with us, to help validate how right/justified we are in being angry. This can be shown by the fact that often when we vent, we don’t just vent one time and then we feel better but we keep venting to whoever will listen.
This is tough one. Something I am personally and currently working on is: how to embrace/befriend anger when it arises as part of my experience (not something separate or something to pretend doesn’t/shouldn’t exist) without adding fuel to its fury. It’s an ongoing practice for sure.
In my way of seeing things, there is an important different between venting and sharing with a trusted friend the nature of a difficulty I am going through. To me, venting is a frantic, hyped-up, charged, angry uttering that involves very little – if any – connection to the foundational aspects involved in being a practitioner on the path of mindfulness. In my own personal relationship with venting, as a mindfulness practitioner, there are near-zero redeemable qualities to be had. Sharing with a trusted friend the nature of a personal difficulty, however, is something I see great value in.
Sharing with a trusted friend the nature of a personal challenge involves a few notable differences that are not present when we vent:
- we’re aware of how both the words we say and the energy we give off affect & impact the friend we’re sharing with
- we’re actively practicing mindful/non-violent speech
- we’re interested & invested in doing our own work to help tend well to the difficulty we’re experiencing, verses looking to just blame someone else for not being the way we think they should be
In the fourth of the Five Mindfulness Trainings in the Plum Village tradition, it states:
Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I am committed to speaking truthfully using words that inspire confidence, joy, and hope. When anger is manifesting in me, I am determined not to speak. I will practice mindful breathing and walking in order to recognize and to look deeply into my anger. I know that the roots of anger can be found in my wrong perceptions and lack of understanding of the suffering in myself and in the other person. I will speak and listen in a way that can help myself and the other person to transform suffering and see the way out of difficult situations.
I think it’s easy to read this and think: Great! I can never talk again! And I don’t mind telling you that I myself have taken it this way for a long time much to my own detriment.
We need to find our own balance that works best for us in regards to not speaking when angry. For example, I have identified for myself that I would do well to work on speaking when I’m angry but not TOO angry. For me, when I try to adhere too literally to the above part of the training, my tendency then falls into silencing myself for years, to my own eventual demise.
Gosh, it’s just so very important that we heed Thay’s continual encourgement that we use our own intelligence when applying the teachings in our daily life. If we try to apply them too strictly or too rigidly or too literally, we situate our self at great risk of misunderstanding the spirit of the practice and adding more harm to our self, others, and the world.
This is me now hoping my messaging and musings here translate to the take-away of how I am not at all a proponent of bottling that shiz up when it comes to our feelings of anger and upset but that I do think it’s important to be in touch with the how and why that propels us in sharing with others.
Perhaps we can whittle it all down to this self-inquiring question: Are we sharing our hardship in the true spirit of care, connection, and personal empowerment or are we sharing in the spirit of discord, separation, and victim-hood?
As my husband Mike would say, and I very much agree: it’s not the what, it’s the why.