Recently a dear friend sent me a question about what to do with his anger so I’m responding here from my p.o.v. I hope you all find it helpful, as anger is as deadly and dangerous as any weapon of mass destruction. Yesterday, I thought I might get accidentally shot at Staples when a man went off in an unknown rage … at 9 am on a beautiful morning. Anger can also kill us, bringing disease and unhappiness to our own bodies.
“Compassion is the sign of strength. Anger is the sign of weakness.” (spoken in English by The Dalai Lama. May, 2013, at Youth Engaging Compassion conference in Louisville, Kentucky)
My friend DK wrote: I love the quote from the Dali Lamma… Anger is weakness. What to do when we feel it? And is anger derived from various means different, and different in how we can deal with it? So much of my anger comes not from hatred or from percieved wrongdoing but from just plain ol’ frustration and irritation, such as inattentive drivers and a lack of movement or “delay of game”. What do you do when you feel anger? I am sometimes inspired to action by anger, but sometimes there is nothing to do. What then?
My response: I had a great lesson about anger early on when I began working with my spiritual teacher. I was standing in line to receive her blessing, along with thousands of others. As I neared where she was seated I felt very deeply in my heart such peacefulness, a result of having found a path to which I could respond, and from which I drew great strength: her teachings of the ancient philosophy of “See God in All” that is based on the world’s most ancient scriptures, the Vedas of India.
I was next in line, and could feel the energy of anticipation, of wanting more peace, more beauty, more understanding. I knew by then this is what awaited me the more I listened and opened to this teacher’s illuminated perspective. Suddenly I heard my beloved, serene, majestic teacher YELLING to a person who was standing alongside her. She yelled in as loud a voice as a linebacker while continuing to hold a handful of long tail feathers which she used to bop the head of the person then in front of her, who was kneeling, ready to receive this great teacher’s blessings in the traditional (for India) form of having peacock feathers bopped upon the top of one’s head, signifying the “awakening” of a person’s consciousness who works with a teacher in this meditative lineage.
In this instant I was utterly flabbergasted! She, my beloved, remarkable, one-of-a-kind spiritual teacher — angry!
You could have knocked me over with one of her feathers because I had always thought “It’s so unspiritual to be angry” and was trying with all my might to suppress any smidgeon of this negative emotion whenever it arose within me, nasty and stinky, always ruining my hard-found serenity. I’d especially been vigilant about keeping anger under wraps these last months since meeting and committing to working with my teacher.
As I stood in line, mouth agape, I watched as my teacher continued to ream out one of her assistants who had just arrived. Meanwhile, the teacher, while yelling to her assistant who stood close to her side, continued to bop the student who knelt in front of her, ready to receive his spiritual teacher’s blessing.
My amazement took over any quiet expectation I might have had just one instant before. I continued to watch and listen. I wondered how the man felt who was kneeling: if he felt short-changed, or even angry, that the teacher wasn’t fully focusing on him right at that moment, which he must have fully anticipated as I was excited about my upcoming moment before her.
To her assistant my teacher was clearly, loudly, angrily stating why she was disturbed with the woman’s behavior. The teacher addressed the situation head-on. The person getting reamed out had done something she had been repeatedly warned not to do, a function of her job as hall monitor. The teacher expressed her anger, dismissed the person, who was told to leave the large hall because of her transgression — and, in the very next instant — the teacher resumed her previously held concentration and deep presence and re-focused all her attention on the man who was still kneeling in complete and patient stillness.
He had been continually receiving the feather dusting as he waited for the teacher to finish expressing her angry words. In this next instant the teacher’s anger was totally and completely gone, rippled away like ice in a sudden heat wave of love. Like a thunderstorm heard far off in the distance, the room still resonated from the boom of her anger. The teacher then looked just as lovingly, just as intensely positively as she had moments before been fearfully angry. Now she shot her arrow of love at the man before her, and spoke gently to him, as if she never felt, or had demonstrated her anger just moments before. I was doubly astounded!
Then the man thanked the teacher, arose, and walked off.
I wondered if perhaps his life’s journey had needed that particular lesson about anger, as mine certainly did. But I didn’t think any more about that other person’s individual journey because now it was my turn. I greeted my teacher and looked right into her eyes, as was my way. Others might kneel and bend their heads in supplication, but I met my teacher face to face, eyes engaged fully with her pools of love.
I wanted to see the effects, if any, of her anger, so I looked for any residue of an anger that had been so clear, so succinctly felt just moments earlier. I wanted to know more about how she had used her anger for what it actually is: a natural emotion that results when things are perceived to be “not right.” Within my teacher’s eyes I found not a shred of anger, not even a hint. They were clear and filled with the pure, unrestrained, unconditional love I had noted in her eyes from other such encounters I’d had up close with her in previous months, when I’d gone to receive her blessing at the end of a teaching session and got bopped myself. And now I felt the peacock feathers dusting the top of my head again, and smiled with relief. Anger had not stopped the flow of love. God was still within me, within my teacher, and within All.
As I walked away I realized I had been given one of the biggest lessons so far in my quest of achieving higher insight, the search of which had always been a passion of mine. My teacher had shown me (and probably the man who received his feather-dusting at her feet during her loud wrath) — that anger, in its pure and affect-less state, is a tool, a spiritual tool even, that can be used to “correct” even the worse “wrong” in this challenging world of ours. In some cases this “correction” might mean for us to let go of the anger after we quickly note and express it, as the teacher demonstrated so well that day.
To suppress anger, or deny it is the worse thing a person can do. No spiritual growth will be made if this happens. Our anger, as well as our tears, shows us where we’re supposed to do our work. For each individual, the path that our passions show us is different. We must learn to accept and work with our negative emotions, but not to retain them. In my case, in that flash-incident of witnessing my teacher’s anger, I came to realize that whenever I feel anger within my being, I now knew that anger is a healthy sign that a correction needs to be made. And since that day when I saw how my teacher “used her anger” I’ve often, as a result, contemplated what exactly “that action” is meant to be.
Ahhhh, here comes the challenging part for those of use who want to be good people, worthwhile citizens of the Earth, and spiritual warriors all at the same time.
Sometimes, when I feel anger towards others’ actions, it is a sign that the action I’m supposed to take is to grow more. And to quietly, peacefully … detach. Not to respond with anger toward the source of my anger, in other words. Yes, my teacher quickly “reamed out” her assistant (after all, she is the teacher, in that context). But my job, as a spiritual activist is to identify that the strong emotion of anger is within my heart, and to acknowledge that yes, I am supposed to do something about it.
I am not anyone’s teacher. I am just a person who loves life, and wants to help make our world a little bit better. Let the teachers do the admonishing, in my opinion. We warriors can take a different tack.
The spiritual action of detachment is a double-edged sword, just as everything is on the Road Less Traveled. It appears as if there’s nothing happening on the outside, were one to be observing someone practicing detachment. But for me, when I practice detachment as a response to another person’s actions (someone close or a stranger, a government offense or a corporation’s, etc.) inside my heart, mind, and soul a LOT more is happening than is apparent on the outside.
When anger rears its nasty head within my otherwise peaceful life I know I’m supposed to do something more than “merely detach.” My form of detachment is to take that HUGE amount of energy that anger brings into life, and focus it, forge it, hone it, and direct it toward whatever aim the anger points out and needs help from as many awakened folks at this time as possible. Starting with me.
I have a relative I’ve had communication problems with, and recently had a flareup of my age-old resentment because of our badly strained communication. Or rather, our lack of being able to communicate. Because it’s a close family member, I can’t simply write this person off, never to talk or see him or her again. No. Instead, I chose, very consciously, and very deeply, to detach from ever trying to “work things out” because that has already failed numerous times, and my efforts have been many. My new form of detachment with this person, therefore, is a friendly acceptance of another person’s inabilities. Simply that. No judgment. No more anger. Just seeing this person for whom s/he is.
With the impending involvement of the US military in Syria’s civil conflict, or seeing how people or businesses ignore the signs of Nature needing our protection before we toxify ourselves into irreversible pollution — my detachment (so I won’t walk around an angry, picketing, radical or plain ol’ grouch) takes on the form of speaking truth when false information gets spoken aloud in groups, writing blog posts, finishing writing my book that will hopefully add to the upward spiral of consciousness-growth. Thankfully we have so many more positive thinkers at this time than ever before. My detachment is NOT about being so angry that I am paralyzed and can’t accomplish anything. This type of anger, the type that makes a person toxic, when a person holds onto their anger as a defense, as ammunition — is only self-destructive and usually results in worsening whatever situation is at hand.
Concerning any political conflict, we can only trust that we, the American people, did our job correctly when we elected our government officials. That’s what democracy is all about. If we don’t like what our president does, or says he’s going to do, I have to think there might be something I don’t know that he does … and I’m going to trust that he knows what he’s doing. It’s a game of charades anyway, the political game. A lot of posturing, chest-puffing, rooster-calling goes on. My “game” is the spiritual one, and I’d rather use the uprising of energy that gets stimulated from anger, to funnel that rush of enthusiasm (energy galore!) into sending my mental, spiritual, physical activism toward peace — prayer, chanting, meditation, writing, talking, tweeting, blogging about compassion, etc.
Or just talking to another person about why anger is not the answer, but yes, anger is the impetus, the rock-drop in the mirror-surface pond that result in peaceful, long-lasting change.
As far as dealing with the bad effects of unscrupulous folks and institutions that I know particularly trouble you, DK, I truly believe One Person has just as much effect as a HUGE group, rally or nonprofit foundation. In the end it’s HOW we live our life that matters. Not what we do, not what we accomplish or how many so-called successes. To me, success is a person’s simply attaining inner peace. And if even One Person can do that, and pass it on to one other Person, ahhhh, now that’s a successful life well lived, if you ask me.
So, this is my thinking about anger, and specifically how it relates to the way you asked about what to do with it, my friend. I’m going to use this letter as a blog post on Lord Flea, and I thank you for inspiring me to think, and write about a subject that’s so important to all of us.
Love to you all from your pal Lord Flea, aka teZa Lord