The Angry Baby

Image result for angry baby tiger

As a mindfulness instructor, it’s challenging to come up with an “elevator speech” or lesson about anger. Many people come to me seeking to become rid of their anger. This is not the goal of mindfulness training.

Anger is a reflexive emotional response to disappointment and aggression (real or perceived).  The yogis explain the powerful emotion springs from the four primitive fountains, which are inherent to all sentient beings: food, sleep, sex, and self-preservation.

Self-preservation is the most powerful urge. It makes sense, there is an inherent drive to keep oneself alive.  Eastern Philosophy would argue, many times (especially in the developed world) the reaction is to threats which exist only in our mind. The ego perceives the potential death of one of our many personae.

Physiologically, our amygdala switches on the sympathetic nervous system and our body is flooded with cortical hormones. It’s the classic flight or fight response.  This isn’t inherently bad, it serves an important purpose–it’s how our ancestors survived so we can be here to discuss this! 

The problem is many of us are overly reactive and every little ego-death causes us to fly off the handle. We’re literally a bunch of raw nerves.

So, shouldn’t we try our best not to feel anger? 

The answer is no! Anger is a signal that something is wrong (even if it’s in our imagination). We don’t want to become numb. We need to learn how to feel the emotion without becoming consumed by it. We should learn to react skillfully. 

The first step is deciding that we no longer want to be a slave to our emotions. Talk to yourself, connect with what is meaningful to you. Tell yourself when you are you’re possessed by anger that it takes you away from what matters. It puts strain on relationships and impedes connection.  

Next, (and you may need to find a teacher to guide you) you practice observing yourself when you’re feeling angry.  This isn’t easy and it takes willpower. This is one of the reasons systematic yoga meditation is powerful and effective: during the body scan you methodically move attention throughout your own body.  This helps you to develop a sense of actually inhabiting your body–most people are a little disconnected from their amazing human suit.  Over time you can use this skill to observe your body when you are feeling angry.  Perhaps you feel your chest tighten and your heart rate quicken.  This can signal you to use another technique from systematic yoga meditation, deep diaphragmatic breathing.  This counteracts the fight or flight response and helps to calm the nervous system.

In deeper stages of meditation you become a witness to the mind in its natural habitat, allowing the thoughts to come and go. This affords the ability to see thoughts and emotions as objects that are inhabiting the mind–they are not the mind itself. In a nutshell, you can observe anger in the mind with awareness it is not the entirety of the mind.

At this level of practice, you create a little space from anger. In that pause, which you develop during meditation, you can choose to act from the anger or to allow the wave of anger to arise in the mind and body and, when it abates, continue with a wise course of action.

Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh explains,  “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.”

The anger isn’t evil; however, we may do evil while in its clutches.  Anger is shaktithe power of creation.  However, we can choose to create while blinded with anger or allow the anger to wake us up and enact positive change.  The anger can catalyze a course of action fueled by that which brings us closer to our higher self.  This is acting from love–this is acting skillfully.  But, in order to do this we have to broaden the space between the trigger and the anger–it has to become less reflexive.

Ignoring anger is just as detrimental as continually exploding.  The stored up anger has to come out–remember it’s the creative power of the universe.  It will manifest either in an H-bomb or in other deviant behaviors.

Rumi lovingly metaphorized emotions as visitors in his oft-quoted seminal work The Guest House:

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

Will you pause and listen to the guide or allow it to take over your mind while the Real You watches idly by?

 

Are You Your Relationships?

WorldOneness4

I eliminated duality with joyous laughter
Saw the Unity of here and the hereafter
Unity is what I sing, Unity is what I speak
Unity is what I know, Unity is what I seek

Rumi

Part 7: 30 Days of Peace

Appearance plays a particularly interesting role in the Himalayan Tradition. The Master’s of these practices elucidate, from their direct experiences, that All that exists is One Power, One Presence, One Consciousness (call out what you will, I will NOT anthropomorphize). But, it appears to present as multiplicity.  This appearance goes by many names: maya, avidya, shakti, illusion.

The cosmological apparent multiplicity is mirrored in the microcosm. People appear one-way outwardly. But, what is going inwardly may be entirely different.

We all have different expectations for our relationships. Most of them are made from our attraction (raga) to about particular outcome: we expect loyalty, companionship, perhaps even financial support.

Some of these expectations are stated when we commit to a relationship, some of them are implied. But, this can lead to assumptions.

Furthermore, there are societal expectations and norms for where what kind of relationships we need to be in based on constructs such as: age, sex, race, and socioeconomic status.

People can disappoint us (which leads into a whole different post about expectations and attachments). They may even harm our bodies (I write this with the assumption that readers of this post know they are not merely a body).

If we allow it, all of this creates stress.

It’s no wonder many wise sages sought refuge in monasticism! Even there, unless you’re a hermit, there are still vows, obligations, and relationships with other monks!

The irony, and purpose of this post, is that it’s all the Power of the aforementioned illusion, the Leela, the Play of Consciousness.

We started this post discussing Unity, not connection–that would denote that the One could be separated.

What’s really going on is utterly magical. Through its own will the One manifests as many. Therefore, relationships are a way the One expresses its magnificence.

This is important for a seeker to understand.

We are relationships. We are the result of relationships. We create and sever them. Our actions may create humans that, in turn, share this web of karma. It sounds really ominous; but, it’s actually beautiful… We are every apparent individual that exists. We are not separated.

When we remember this we can practice lovingkindness to everyone. So many master teachers have tried to impart this wisdom. Because, as stated in many previous posts, there are no others.

One practice from this tradition is a meditation on the Four Attitudes.

  • Friendliness : an attitude to cultivate with the general public
  • Compassion : an attitude to cultivate with those who are suffering
  • Gladness : an attitude to cultivate with those you are envious of
  • Neutrality : an attitude to cultivate with those you have strong negative feelings towards

During your seated practice you can bring forth the image of a person who evokes these responses in you. You breathe and hold their image in your mind-field. Allow the attitude to fill the space and send the recipient the blessing of your positive wishes. Neutrality is the most profound of these attitudes. If you can become neutral, by remembering those who cause pain are also in pain, you may eventually progress to compassion.

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