Monday, January 12, 2009

Some Thoughts on Anger

Often in the parting of two people, whether it be through divorce, a need for friends to go their separate ways, or even death, there is the potential for the separation to be surrounded, or even engulfed, in anger. Several of those who know the circumstances of my divorce have asked if I am angry at Mike. I can say with absolute certainty that the answer is “No.” First of all, I see no real reason to be angry. And secondly, anger only hurts the person who harbors it. I don’t need or want that kind of hurt.

For the last eight months or so I have been learning the practice of Zen meditation. Though I still consider myself an absolute beginner, both the practice itself and the readings concerning the practice have been critical in my ability to cope with the events of the past few months. In reality, my interactions with Mike have been based in true compassion and love, but as is often the case with life, when one aspect is shattered, it affects other places as well. I have to admit that through all that has gone on, I have been most surprised by some who have a great deal of misplaced anger.

In trying to understand both misplaced anger and incredibly deep levels of anger, I have turned to the writings of Tich Nhat Hanh. Following is a brief statement that he makes with regard to the nature of anger.

"Anger is rooted in our lack of understanding of ourselves and of the causes, deep-seated as well as immediate, that brought about this unpleasant state of affairs. Anger is also rooted in desire, pride, agitation, and suspicion. The primary roots of our anger are in ourselves. Our environment and other people are only secondary. It is not difficult for us to accept the enormous damage brought about by a natural disaster, such as an earthquake or a flood. But when damage is caused by another person, we don't have much patience. We know that earthquakes and floods have causes, and we should see that the person who has precipitated our anger also has reasons, deep-seated and immediate, for what he has done.

When we see and understand these kinds of causes, we can begin to be free from our anger. . . . What is most important is that we first take care of the seeds of negativity in ourselves. Then if someone needs to be helped or disciplined, we will do so out of compassion, not anger and retribution. If we genuinely try to understand the suffering of another person, we are more likely to act in a way that will help him overcome his suffering and confusion, and that will help all of us. "

Like most humans, I am imminently capable of anger. In fact, at times anger is easier to muster than joy. I hate that in myself. That is the thing that I have most tried to change. I have now come to a place where being angry hurts me more than having others angry at me (and there are many who fall into this category.) In both cases, I have control over how I am impacted by such anger. When I am angry I become almost paralyzed, incapable of meaningful thoughts or actions. That is a terrible disability and creates for me a life that I don’t want to live, a life I no longer can live. Having others direct their anger towards me is still painful, but it does not affect me in the same way. It reminds me that we are all connected and I have a responsibility to approach all others with sincere compassion and love. I am trying to see the roots of their anger, acknowledge my part in it, and do my best to see all others through the eyes of compassion.

In closing, I offer “10 Verses to Tame Anger” by Tich Nhat Hanh.

When you say something unkind, when you
do something in retaliation, your anger increases.
You make the other person suffer, and they try hard
to say or do something back to make you suffer,
and get relief from their suffering. That is
how conflict escalates.”

“Just like our organs, our anger is part of us.
When we are angry, we have to go back to ourselves
and take good care of our anger. We cannot say,
‘Go away, anger, I don’t want you.’ When you have
a stomachache, you don’t say, ‘I don’t want you
stomach, go away.’ No, you take care of it.
In the same way, we have to embrace and
take good care of our anger.”

“Just because anger or hate is present does not
mean that the capacity to love and accept
is not there; love is always with you.”

“When you are angry, and you suffer, please go
back and inspect very deeply the content, the nature
of your perceptions. If you are capable of removing
the wrong perception, peace and happiness will
be restored in you, and you will be able to
love the other person again.”

“When you get angry with someone, please don’t
pretend that you are not angry. Don’t pretend that
you don’t suffer. If the other person is dear to you,
then you have to confess that you are angry, and that
you suffer. Tell him or her in a calm, loving way.”

“In the beginning you may not understand the
nature of your anger, or why it has come to be.
But if you know how to embrace it with the
energy of mindfulness, it will begin
to become clear to you.”

“Anger is like a howling baby, suffering and crying.
Your anger is your baby. The baby needs his mother
to embrace him. You are the mother.
Embrace your baby.”

“Anger has roots in non anger elements. It
has roots in the way we live our daily life. If we
take good care of everything in us, without
discrimination, we prevent our negative energies
from dominating. We reduce the strength
of our negative seeds so that they
won’t overwhelm us.”

“In a time of anger or despair, even if we feel
overwhelmed, our love is still there. Our capacity to
communicate, to forgive, to be compassionate is
still there. You have to believe this. We are more
than our anger, we are more than our suffering.
We must recognize that we do have within
us the capacity to love, to understand,
to be compassionate, always.”

“When we embrace anger and take good care of
our anger, we obtain relief. We can look deeply into
it and gain many insights. One of the first insights
may be that the seed of anger in us has grown too
big, and is the main cause of our misery. As we
begin to see this reality, we realize that the other
person, whom our anger is directed at, is only
a secondary cause. The other person is
not the real cause of our anger.”