The Wisdom of Anger
Session Details - December, 2017. We started with a mindfulness practice followed by the heart practice of the giving and receiving of compassion for self and others. Our discussion explored the topic of anger, how our MSC practice can give us the resources to look into our anger to perhaps allow it to lead us to wise compassionate responses.
Truly living mindfulness and compassion means connection, living with an open heart. Within this loving energy we experience pleasure but we are also are vulnerable to pain. So let’s get curious about the potential value of the pain in leading us to wise compassionate action.
Using the surfing analogy again, we know when to dive under a wave, when to swim over the top, when to turn around – catch and enjoy the ride. We also learn where and when it is safe to surf, the various reefs and rips to avoid, and depending on circumstances we may need to change our board or even give up all together.
Where in life is this cultivation of understanding and the resulting wise action needed more than in relationshipping with others, and in particular where difficulties (disconnect) arise?
Feeling the feeling:
The feelings associated with the pain of disconnection are many and varied; we often label them as anger, aggression, frustration, irritation, aversion or even hatred. These labels of feelings and the difficult sensations in the body can be further added to by an unhelpful inner dialogue – worsening an already difficult experience, for example when the constricting sensation of anger arise we may say:
• I should be able to deal with this
• I am a bad person to not be able to accept this situation and forgive and forget
• I am an angry person
• I should be compassionate and always think of the other
Due to the various causes and conditions both in our life and perhaps our genes, physical sensations can arise in the body seemingly fused solid with a story that is taken as fact, one that feels permanent and true. Without mindfulness these stories can remain unexplored or perhaps outside our awareness.
Difficult emotions bring a narrowing of perspective; fixed polarised views can come with a price:
• The shutting down of anger, ignoring, repressing or trying to get rid of it;
• Acting it out unskilfully.
‘Spiritual bypassing’, is a term used to describe neglecting the signals of change that our difficult emotions can be, instead misinterpreting the teaching of meditation and mindfulness to ‘check out’ instead of ‘check in’ with our inner world. Compassion is incomplete without the wise action component that comes from such discerning exploration.
Anger can be a signal, a signpost for us to read, learn, grow and act skilfully upon. With mindfulness and compassion can we perhaps learn the resources to turn towards our anger and see that some things in life are simply not acceptable – sometimes real change needs to be made, whether it regards the way we talk or treat ourselves or change in our lives and worlds?
The energy of anger is important, this is where the potential wisdom resides, but it can go either way; in the direction of harm, increasing the suffering of our world, or in the direction of love – fierce compassion, relieving suffering. Our world has enough suffering, we all have those days where we feel like Quan Yin – our hearts holding so much suffering – so with quiet determination, gentleness and love lets explore using the energy of anger with wisdom.
What is not acceptable in our world at the moment?
What is the balanced compassionate action you can take?
Restorative Justice, started up in California by Sujatha Baliga
Post a history of childhood sexual abuse Sujatha studied law and worked tirelessly to address the damage in others of such abuse. She met with the Dalai Lama and shared: ‘anger is killing me, but it’s motivation my work.’ He asked her is she felt she had been angry long enough? She said yes. He then suggested she now align herself with her enemies – not excusing their behaviour but understanding the conditions and needs of both parties. She then went on to develop the Restorative Justice system, bringing together those who have harmed and those who have been harmed to develop plans of action to move forward to repair harm and turn lives around.
Act Up in the US transformed the AIDs crisis in the 70s & 80s
What are other examples of channelling appropriate anger into skilful action?
Mindfulness is in the realm of perception – what is actually being received via the senses in this moment. Mindfulness can at times transform anger into calmness of mind, body and heart.
Most importantly mindfulness brings insight / clarity / greater understanding of this human life and this particular situation. Such insights can light the way for attending and befriending more vulnerable feelings that may lay below the surface of the harder ones and also reveal an need that may be calling for attention.
Wisdom is the result of such spacious explorations, pointing our way to our compassionate response, whether it is via acceptance or change.
When we start to see the numerous causes and conditions perhaps we see solutions rather than problems:
• What needs attention
• What view am I clinging to
• What inner story am I listing to
• What’s fuelling this anger
• Understanding impermanence, that this too will pass