A student writes:
"Thanks for the Buddhism Connect teaching recently about anger. This topic is one of the most difficult for me and one I often struggle with.
What I've come to think recently, though, is that rather than feeling guilty about feeling angry, I should accept it and look on it as a trigger of awareness."
Yes - that is important.
The trouble with feeling guilty is that we use our energy to try not to feel so bad instead of just turning towards the guilty feeling and letting it speak to us clearly.
Sometimes the guilty feeling is more about wanting to put something right but not having the skill to do it and so instead of putting it right and acting appropriately we sit on our feelings and let them fester.
It is important to work out what is wise and sane in our response and try to relax into that and trust it without getting caught up in judgements that tell us we shouldn’t be feeling anything - we should not have strong feelings, we shouldn’t judge and have opinions and so on.
We need instead to somehow open to ourselves and to the situation and try to feel it as genuinely as we can and that feels painful and scary sometimes - to just be with the whole situation and feel those emotions so strongly but not mind about that.
Letting the emotions tell us something about the whole situation instead of just thinking, 'Oh this is anger, I am angry, I am an angry person, this is my problem - I am such a nasty angry person etc. etc’.
All that is thinking and is all about just one part of the situation. Also it leads to a cutting off or turning away from the situation as it is.
Maybe it is much more important to be talking to the person you are having trouble with than in suppressing your anger.
Maybe what you need to be looking for is greater skill in communication and staying in touch with the other person and what they are feeling and at the same time staying in touch with what you are feeling and how you are expressing that.
There are so many ways in which we can be more open, clear and sensitive than we are at present. It doesn’t help to just feel we are nasty angry people.
The nasty angry person is like a character that comes ready formed into the centre of the mandala and as long as it is allowed to be the centre it seems like who we really are - extending back into the past and on into the future.
But when you turn towards it - it is no longer in the centre and your basic sanity takes its place at the centre. From there you can choose what kind of person you want to be.
It’s a matter of giving time to find that place of sanity within us. Then it’s as if anger gives itself up rather than we have to give it up.
"Very often when I feel angry about something or with someone it is because I can see that something somewhere is not right.
Maybe it is a situation which I feel should change, or a person's behaviour.
Sometimes there is nothing I can do. In this case, my anger might soon turn to sadness.
But when there is something I can do - and should do - the strong intention and energy which is present in anger can be a help in taking firm and positive action.
This is not the same as acting in anger, it is using the energy which anger provides to act skillfully and in a compassionate way, to bring about some positive change."
That is exactly what I mean.
"The occasions in the past I still feel anger about are those when I did not have to courage to do this, or where I am still genuinely unsure how best to act.
Does this make any sense? Am I thinking along the right lines?"
Yes it makes complete sense doesn’t it?
I think the one about being genuinely unsure of how to act is very interesting. Allowing ourselves to be genuinely unsure is a scary place to be isn’t it?
People don’t usually thank us for being in that place and it’s as if we have no idea of where our inaction will lead us - we never have the peace of mind of thinking, 'Oh I made the right decision' - actually that is a very important point.
As people on the path to Awakening we have to give up that sense of wanting to be patted on the back. We have to learn that that is often just attachment to praise and blame, good name or bad name, success or failure.
Instead we do of course look out for signs that our action was as skilful (pats on the back sometimes are signs we did act skillfully - but not necessarily) - and we look out for ways to make up for mistakes in judgement and so on (in other words not looking for a pat on the back shouldn’t be just complacency). But all that is quite different from feeling we absolutely need that pat on the back.
What do you think?
--- By Lama Shenpen Hookham