The summer of 2014 was intensely hot – not only as measured by the Heat Index, with many days soaring into the 90’s and 100’s, but also as measured by the turmoil that engulfed so much of the world: an airliner shot out of the sky over the Ukraine killing 298 innocent men, women, and children; war between Israel and Hamas that left more than 2,200 people dead; racial inequality manifesting itself in police brutality in New York City and Ferguson, Missouri, resulting in two men being killed; the West Africa Ebola virus outbreak which as of August 26, 2014, the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control reported a total of 3,069 suspected cases and 1,552 deaths; the Sunni jihadist group ISIS fighting government forces in Syria and Iraq, killing innocent men, women, and children, including the beheading of an American journalist – the barbarity of it all! In addition – on a personal note – the perceived lack of respect I experienced from one of my adult children during an evening phone conversation!
Reflecting on these events, I felt frustrated and helpless, and waves of anger began to surface as I thought of the lack of compassion, the cruelty, and the senseless acts of brutality perpetrated by my fellow human beings – but wait a moment, I’m a Zen practitioner who sits zazen daily – a monk no less! – aren’t I supposed to be immune from feelings such as anger, frustration, helplessness? Not so! We all know what anger is and we’ve all felt its effects; whether a fleeting sense of annoyance or as full-fledged rage. Anger is recognized as a completely normal, usually healthy emotion. However, when it gets out of control and turns destructive, it can lead to problems and affect the overall quality of your life – in relationships and elsewhere. Anger is such a powerful emotion that it can make you feel as if you’re at its mercy. Anger is “an emotional state that varies in intensity from mild irritation to intense fury and rage,” according to Charles Spielberger, PhD, a psychologist who specializes in anger. Like other emotions, it is accompanied by physiological and biological changes. When you get angry, your heart rate and blood pressure go up as do the levels of your energy hormones.
So what can we as human beings – as Zen Buddhists – do when anger and its associated feelings occur? How can we deal with anger effectively? How did the Buddha deal with anger? It is important to emphasize that Gautama Buddha was a person – a human being. Some people think that Buddha was some kind of deity or superhuman being. However, as a human being, Buddha suffered and had troubles. He still experienced “negative” feelings such as anger. However, the anger ceased right away. He got upset, but the negative feeling did not control him very long. This time factor is important. Some people get upset and their attitude is, “I will never forget your insult. As long as I live I will remember your insult.” Such a person is trying to keep all the insults and anger for his whole life. Others might keep them for a few years, others for maybe just a couple of weeks, others for maybe just one day. The Buddha forgot it immediately.
As human beings we cannot rid ourselves of all negative feelings, but we can learn to transcend them. To do this the first step is to sincerely make an introspection of our own lives. We must do as the Buddha did: experience the reality of the sources of suffering in ourselves. This month’s teaching, What to Do When the Anger Gets Hot, by Ngawang Gelek Demo Rinpoche, offers us an approach to recognizing our anger, analyzing it, and meditating on it – in short, a way to deal with this unpredictable and powerful emotion.
Be kind to yourself.
What to Do When the Anger Gets Hot – Ngawang Gelek Demo Rinpoche
Americans think it is beneficial to “get in touch with” their anger. That’s just the first step – recognizing your anger. The second step is analyzing and meditating on your anger. Analytical meditation must be combined with concentration meditation. So analyzing your thoughts, your ideas, your emotions, is absolutely important. With this you recognize what is really hatred, what is really anger. You’re going deeper and recognizing that “I am angry, I am hating.”
This approach also depends on the mind. When the mind is at the bursting level, you don’t do anything. Just let it be. For the time being, watch TV or watch a movie. Try to divert your attention, because when the anger is really strong you cannot challenge it. It you try, you may get defeated, and that’s when people say, “That’s it! I cannot take it anymore!” And they hit the ceiling. What you’re really doing then is giving the OK to anger. My suggestion is never to give the OK to anger, and divert your attention when it’s really hot. Divert. When the anger’s not that hot, but still there, at that moment you can recognize it and the feelings that you get before and after. Then analyze. You’ll see all the disadvantages – personally see them; I’m not talking about believing in religious principles, but about simply seeing the disadvantages. Your peace of mind is lost. You can’t do anything you want to do. You can’t concentrate. You can’t do your job. You can’t talk to people straightforwardly. Or you have to cry. You have to do all these things and you see all the consequences of that. You really see it. Then ask: Do I still want that? Then you make a decision: “I do not want it.” It will come back. But that doesn’t matter, Keep on repeating the process. That’s how you train your mind not to get angry.