Emotions - Working with Anger
seems to be an emotion that people have a lot of difficulty
with, so I'd like to talk about how to deal specifically when
such an emotion occurs. Say you're sitting and anger appears
and you think, "Oh no - anger!" - that's resistance.
But what about, "Oh, great, anger!"? Do you see the
difference? We are usually very accepting of the moment when
the bird sings, but with anger it is more difficult.
exaggerated this over the years just to learn how to work with
it, so that when anger appears, "Great, this is another
opportunity to learn how to work with this and make friends
with it, rather than try and batter it away into repression".
Then there's no freedom, because we're always unable to work
with it. If you're very clear, especially if you have a lot
of energy, when anger arises and there's no resistance, it's
very, very pure. The ability to just drop into the body and
feel it as body sensations - there might be heat, or pressure
or tightness, and you just get out of the way, it's like letting
a volcano erupt if it's very extreme.
few years ago, I did a retreat on the Big Island and during
the retreat the volcano erupted and I'd never seen it before,
it was like this liquid fire just pouring up into the air. It
was the first time in my life that I actually had the sense
of this energy and how to work with it, it's just like the energy
the earth has, and if you step out of the way, you can just
let this energy come and go. It's built up pressure usually,
it's heat and it's fire, and it's pressure and it's wonderful
if you can get out of the way. It's usually not that pleasant,
but it can be joyous just to feel it as an energy and let it
come and go. There's nothing more joyous because you're no longer
a victim of it anymore, you no longer have to run from it anymore.
This is a quote from Ryokan.
rain has stopped, the clouds have drifted away,
the weather is clear again.
your heart is pure,
all things in your world are pure.
this world, abandon yourself,
the moon and the flowers will guide you along the way.
your heart is pure, anger isn't a problem. The word anger is
just like the word Michelle, or rug or glass, they're just words,
concepts, and the experience of it is very different from the
word. What is your experience of anger? These things don't have
to be a problem if you're willing to explore them, they are
just energies. This first level of working with an emotion in
this way is when we're very clear. We're not identified with
it - when the anger when it comes, we just feel it very clearly
as sensation, it goes.
next level is when there's more thought involved with it. Often
emotions can be seen like the recipe of a cake, so if you take
flour and salt and eggs, sugar, cocoa, butter, and you mix it
up and cook it, you get a cake. If you take a past experience
and the memory of that and some thoughts about it and some body
sensations, usually you'll get sadness or anger, and in this
particular case, I'm talking about anger. Sometimes when an
emotion is occurring there's a lot of thoughts that go with
it. You might not be identified with it still, this is a level
that is moving from feeling it as pure sensation to having a
lot of thought with it, and if you see it as a recipe, if you
see that it's just thoughts and feelings and sensations, coming
and going, again you don't have to be identified with it, you
can just notice the thoughts and the physical sensations. You
might go back to the breath and let it come and go. Again, this
takes a lot of clarity, this is a strong mind at work that notices
it coming and going. It might not disappear very quickly, like
in the first case I'm talking about, usually they come and go
and don't stick around very long, in the second case, it's going
to be a little more sticky, like bubble gum, but still you're
not so identified with it, and it comes and goes.
third level is when we get more identified with it, which is
often the case. You know those signs that say, Beware of the
dog. I always think, beware of content. With emotions, it's
really like you need the sign, beware of content, because it's
the story and believing the thoughts about it that makes us
suffer so much. I'll give you an example of working with anger.
One time I was sitting a retreat and this treacher from Burma
came to this three month retreat I was doing. I'd done retreats
for nine years before this, and we'd never used notebooks, but
this teacher introduced this idea of writing down some of the
things that had happened at the end of the sitting, so everybody
in the hall had notebooks and pens. The idea was that you didn't
write until the end. But this woman sitting next to me couldn't
restrain herself and she'd write every few minutes and she used
a pencil and so I'd be sitting there and just the anticipation
of her picking up the pencil would drive me nuts, and she'd
pick it up and it would be that scratchy pencil sound and I'd
get completely swept away with anger. And I'd feel really right.
hardest thing about anger is when you feel right. You're totally
identified with it when you feel right. And there's always a
good reason why we feel right. "She shouldn't be using
the pencil, she shouldn't be writing during the hour",
and I'd get angrier and angrier because I'd get righter and
righter and she kept getting more wrong and more wrong. And
I would just be a mess, just furious by the end of this sitting
and then I'd have to go out to walk and come back and face it
again and again and again, angrier and angrier, and finally,
the white flag. I'm sure you know what I mean by the white flag.
"Okay, there's nothing I can do but learn how to work with
this, besides leaving the course?"
many things I want to say about this particular part of working
with emotion. When you notice that you get very involved with
the content, and for me in this case it was in being right,
but it might be sadness, like "my mother died when I was
eleven" - whenever there's a content going on and we're
very identified in it, that's drowning in it, that's indulging.
Usually I've discovered that that means we're avoiding the feeling.
a thought pattern repeats itself a lot, and we all have our
favourite top channels, channel four, seven, eight, over the
time that you sit you'll notice there's certain tapes that repeat
themselves endlessly. If you look closely, you might find there's
a feeling there that you're avoiding. And the moment you feel
it, it's like pulling this thorn out of the heart, it's usually
most people I've noticed, it doesn't mean that that tape can
occur and that they can just drop down and feel it and it's
over, usually it takes some time and patience of not wanting
it to appear, of not wanting it to get over, it's very tricky
because these are feelings we haven't wanted to feel, and it
takes a lot of compassion for yourself, so you might get a little
taste of how to work with anger in one moment and that's great.
And maybe a little while later you might get a taste of how
to work with jealousy and that's great, and then over time,
that white flag has tremendous power because we're at peace,
we're not at war with what's happening. We're not afraid, we
don't have to control, we don't have to push them away.
thing that's wonderful about our minds and life, is that at
any point we can wake up and see it clearly. We might be three
years into avoiding something, or five lifetimes, whatever you
believe in, and then in one moment you see it and you've learned
one other thing I want to mention about working with emotion
and that is if you've been practising a long time, and there
are very constant repeating thought patterns, sometimes it means
looking at the content, and not necessarily during a retreat.
Because going on a retreat is trying to do a very different
thing, but if you notice that something repeats over years,
it usually means that there's some change is needed in your
life and that you actually need to look at the content. And
this is very important because anything can be used negatively
or positively. Meditation can be used to avoid, you don't have
to use it that way, but often there can be a tendency to do
patience, which is a very interesting thing, defined as "the
ability to endure the desirable and undesirable" and it's
said to manifest as tolerance, and it's a wonderful quality
because I think it helps us to develop trust, there's our faith.
I think our faith and patience are very connected, and it might
be you learn this once in a sitting and you get overwhelmed
a lot, or you repress it or indulge it, and then in another
sitting you get a taste of how to work with it again. And in
the case of working with my guilt, it really did take me ten
years to learn how to work with it. Once you learn how to work
with it one area, you can apply it to anything. It's the same
story, it's that little white flag.
amazing about human beings is that we have these imaginary wars
going on all the time. You think of this territory that we call
our human body, and then there's a head that we all have, with
its imaginary war. If there's an imaginary war going, it's really
good to do whatever you can do to get out of it - it might mean,
if you're sitting, do whatever you can do to stop it, it's just
not worth it. You can't figure these things out. Content drives
us nuts, you can spend lifetimes trying to figure these things
out. It merely means dropping down to the feeling and feeling
it and letting it go, and that's the place that's most important
- learning to let it go. You can't let something go unless you
feel it, or see it, but the whole emphasis in Buddhism is in
letting go. That's the freedom.
one other thing I wanted to talk about. Last year there was
a friend of mine who'd been practising about as long as me,
and he came to me with a confession. He said for the first fifteen
years of his meditation practice he was using the practice to
feel adequate as a person, to get a sense of appreciation and
approval from the teacher and to find a feeling of family that
he'd never had in his own family. And I think that there's a
big step missing in our culture, and it's spreading throughout
the world, this missing step. In a culture that's spiritually
healthy, when adolescence hits, there's usually some guide to
help the person move from a child's psyche, which is unprotected
and soft and needs to be guided. There's a step that women and
men take in this process in their culture to feel good about
themselves as men and women, a process where the child learns
how to face the world and develop a mature psyche.
the old days, any properly operating mythology would help a
child move into the adult world and take a place there and feel
like they belong there and have a lot of faith in that. I think
most of the people I run into in terms of teaching have missed
that step and therefore in a healthy culture what would happen
is that once the adolescent finds that feeling of adequacy then
the next step is searching for something deeper, looking deeper
than life and death, that spiritual quest. Things are a little
mixed up now because many of us never had that initial step.
think we often expect meditation to yield more than is meant
to. I don't think that meditation will solve all our problems,
I don't think it is necessarily going to make one feel adequate
as a man or a woman or provide a home for people and when we
understand this I think that one can really go deeply into meditation
and I think that's what prevents people from going deeply in
this time, in this culture, because people are wanting it to
yield more than it's meant to, so they go into retreat expecting
so much and it's working on a very deep level. Meditation is
meant to change our perspective on life completely, it's very
deep, it's not working on those other levels, which are very
important because it's how we function in the world of form
and we bring back to that world of form all that we learn on
retreat. The happiness in this meditation realm is very subtle.
went to see the Miles Davis concert on Sunday night. He's really
a master in that world of jazz, and what I noticed that was
deeply moving to me was his use of silence. He had a muffler
on his trumpet, it wasn't that he had a really loud trumpet,
but he'd walk to the side of the stage and play the subtlest,
lightest sounds that were so moving, but you had to be so still.
When he was playing his most beautiful subtlest piece, people
were leaving, they were just pouring out of the hall because
they were afraid of a traffic jam I think, and he was playing
the most amazing piece of music that you would hear in a lifetime.
I don't think they were appreciating his subtlety. He would
just play a few notes and there would be silence for fifteen
seconds, it's like having your heart tickled, very light.
is bringing forth our inner potential or inner home, the happiness
is like that, it's not based on experience, it's based on being
free of experience so that no matter what's happening we don't
get overwhelmed by it. The freedom is not getting overwhelmed
by what happens but not having to go into a coccoon and die
while you're still alive.
like to end with a quote from Alexander Solzhenitsyen: "If
only it were all so simple, if only there were evil people somewhere
insidiously committing evil deeds and it were necessary only
to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the
line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every
human being, and who is willing to destroy a piece of his own
Author: Michelle is a Vipassana teacher. This is an edited talk
she gave at Koko An.
Source: BuddhaNet - Buddha Dhamma Meditation Assoc Inc.
Box K1020 Haymarket, NSW 2000. Australia.