"Mindfulness and Meditation allow us to open our hearts, relax our bodies, and clear our minds enough to experience the vast, mysterious, sacred reality of life directly. With Practice we come to know for ourselves that eternity is available in each moment.

Your MMM Courtesy Wake Up Call:
Musings on Life and Practice
by a Longtime Student of Meditation

Saturday, May 16, 2020


We can suppress anger and aggression or act it out,
either way making things worse for ourselves and others.
Or we can practice patience: wait,
experience the anger and investigate its nature.
---Pema Chodron

“Just because anger or hate is present does not
mean that the capacity to love and accept
is not there; love is always with you.”
---Thich Nhat Hanh

The Universe is exquisite.  

Once you hitch your wagon to Practice and roll out, you are going to get the lessons along the way that are needed to take you deeper --whether you like it or not!  This might be especially true if you have the unbridled chutzpah to publicly ramble on about your experiences. 

More than once here in this blog, I've spent time presenting the notion that simply "cutting loose of the storyline," is the ultimate fix.  When we have enough presence of mind to refocus our attention from the realm of discursive thought to explore what is going on in our breath, body, and heart, sometimes hell dissolves and heaven is revealed in the blink of an eye.  (See Your Courtesy Wake Up Call: Once Upon a Time...)   

The operative word here is -- sometimes.

As the years roll by and the Practice deepens, I have experienced an instantaneous transformation quite often.  Yet, during the last past week, Life has interjected a pretty dramatic bevy of upset apple carts and broohahas into the Grand Mix.  It seems a bit of Karmic Comeuppance was necessary.  Hopefully, getting my tail burned with my own anger will burnish my humility and compassion a bit.  It's certainly been enough to remind me that it can take a lot of work and a whole lot longer than a "blink of an eye" to learn something from a situation -- and regain a sense of wonder about it all.  

The lesson?  

Being a calm and kind, clear and compassionate, human being is NOT that easy.  It is a daunting discipline.  It takes commitment, courage, patience, skill, time and effort.  It takes Practice.

Then and Now

As a child and a young man I had what folks might call an extremely bad temper.  Having grown up in the midst of a lot of anger and physical violence, I would react to things in my world with bursts of violent emotions -- and even violent behavior.  Throughout childhood, I could fly into a rage and smash things and strike out with the worst of them.  My kid brother and I fought like cats and dogs. Our last furniture breaking brawl took place when I was in college.  

It would still take years to quell those patterns.

Perhaps, the deepest gratitude that I have to the Practice is that I am no longer likely to get extremely angry.  Annoyance and irritation usually is about as bad as it gets.  I'm grateful that it usually doesn't spill out of my mouth without immediate recognition and re-calibration.

Yet, life being life, usually doesn't mean never.  Recently, I hit a deep pool of anger for the first time in quite awhile.  I was angry.  Really angry.  Thankfully, after launching a few unkind words, I withdrew.  ( I wish I had withdrawn before I launched those misguided missles, but, obviously there were deeper lessons to be learned.)
Breathing Fire

I soon found out that merely cutting loose of the story lines wasn't going to dispel the emotional energy.  Although it certainly helped to repeatedly allow the story lines to go their merry way without attaching much attention to them, the cauldron of emotional energy seethed on.  

I discovered that this would call for some patience.  I had to summon up  the willingness to make some time and space to really feel that anger.  I needed to allow the anger to run its course embraced by as much mindfulness and heart as I could manage.  As it was, I had the liberty to pull the plug and observe last week's personal Day of Mindfulness before re-engaging. 

During that time, hours of Shamatha/Vipashyana and Tonglen practice helped.  I was able to feel and examine the nature of the patterns involved in that anger, to feel it in my body, to stay with it rather than withdraw.  It wasn't a "quick fix."  I had to accept that I wasn't St. George.  I was the freakin' dragon.  I had to breath fire for awhile. 

Yet, over time, in the clear, kind, and compassionate embrace of mindful awareness, staying with the bodily sensations and feelings in my heart, the anger began to morph into bursts of fear, pain, discouragement, and a profound sadness.  Then, at a certain point, the tears emerged.  

I felt my heart open again.  

At that point, grief and gratitude were indistinguishable.  Taking a deep breath, adrift in a boundless and mysterious sense of well-being, I relaxed.  I saw clearly, once again, that we are each Bozo and each Buddha.  Embracing both, the incredible beauty of our fragile majesty as interconnected human beings once again emerged.    

There were rainbows playing through my tears as the sun streamed in the window. 

Working with Anger: Two Good Articles

There is a long tradition of developing the skillful means to work with anger in many of the schools of Buddhism.  The Lion's Roar, a magazine which offers a "Buddhist view for people of all spiritual traditions who are open, inquisitive, passionate and committed" has two articles available on-line that offer ways to look at and work with anger (and the whole continuum of aversion).  

"The Answer to Anger and Aggression is Patience" by Pema Chodron and "Loosening the Knots of Anger" by Thich Nhat Hanh may be helpful.  Even if anger isn't "your thing", you may find these articles helpful in working with other powerful emotional energies.

Sitting here at age 74, having been fortunate enough to stumble across similar teachings decades ago, I can say from my own experience: We can move beyond our conditioned patterns.
With commitment, effort over time, and great gentleness we can open our hearts to the Love, Forgiveness, and Good Will inherent in our species.  It's worth the time and effort.

It just takes Practice.


Don Karp said...

A woman who I follow and admire (kellybroganmd.com) said that in these difficult times, there is a great opportunity. That is to learn to hold opposing viewpoints and not project anger on the one you with which you least agree.

Sounds very rewarding, but not easy.

My viewpoints seem to change from week to week, depending on which articles and videos I've watched.

The hardest part for me are friends who take very mainstream views on the pandemic and are not open to looking at anything else. With those, I try to refrain from bringing up this topic.

I hope I don't lose a whole bunch of friends over this

Lance Smith said...

Hey Don,
Yup. I hear that. The deep polarization that characterizes our political climate today continues to be played out.

As always, the ability to "hold opposing viewpoints" with grace and equanimity is a daunting discipline. Being able to stay open-minded about those who are not open-minded is particularly challenging. (I'm can be quite bigoted about bigots, fundamentally in disagreement with fundamentalists, etc. LOL)

As always it's a Practice. It's simple (relax, don't be attached to your own viewpoint, stay connected with your heart and your care for others,etc.), but NOT easy.

Stay safe and well, amigo,
One Love,

Sammy said...

I appreciate your lesson her and your approach. approach. Thank you. I do want to make a distinction however - it it offers ripe ground for more growth...The issue I see with some of this approach is that some people take it - “ that is, to learn to hold opposing viewpoints...”, as their purpose in life - “to learn to make up and hold opposing viewpoints”, irregardless of learning if their viewpoint on the current issue is even correct ie. “The Truth”. I can appreciate the sentiment of patience and compassion amidst holding an opposing viewpoint - that one has researched, vetted, and validated, but I dismiss the legitimacy of making “ones purpose” - to that one of holding opposing viewpoints for the sake of holding opposing view posts (disharmony and instigation) - as a legitimate useful purpose in society, or in ones own life. I’m not at all saying your suggesting the latter, I’m just pointing out the distinction - as I see all too many people making this their purpose in life - essentially childish trouble makers wrought on dissension for the sake of dissension. I’ve found that letting go the need to belong to groups the function with that need / mentality, reduces the need to hold opposing viewpoints or even feel anger. How novel. Thanks.

Lance Smith said...

I hear that, Sammy. As a friend once said, "Ya don't want to be so open-minded that your brains fall out." There is still the need to do the work to establish one's own point of view, one that is coherent and consistent with the objective data and one's own values. (Although a strong attachment to that view can blind one to new information and necessary modifications.)

There is also real need to establish limits and create boundaries. I, too, choose not to hang out in spaces where there is a lot of abusive and disrespectful language and behavior. Why bother?

Thanks for chiming in.

Carol LaCroix said...

Hey Lance; I don't know what your anger was about, however the planets were in such a state that they affected even the calmest of souls. I found myself having to have an EKG and much crying as many I spoke with had their own session of tears during the middle of the month. The last days of the month things simmered down. My new mantra for trying to live through the chaos humanity is got itself tied up in.....observe, accept, release, transform.