Harnessing the wild horse of anger

I was talking recently with a friend who was telling me briefly how she is finding putting practice into place quite hard, especially when she comes into a situation where she gets angry or emotional. Amen to that! The hardest time to practice isn’t when life is easy, it’s when life is kicking the shit out of you.

The hardest time to maintain focus, calmness and clarity is when you’re being pulled in a thousand directions and you feel that everyone wants a piece of you.

I’d love to say that I’m a bastion of good will and compassion all the time, but the fact is that I’m flawed, and incredibly human. There are days and moments that will always reflect that. What seems to have helped me most is maintaining a consistent approach to practice and taking time each day to meditate with love and compassion.

There is a great book called “Advice from a Spiritual friend” (Geshe Rabten & Geshe Dargey) which focuses on this and briefly explains that there is a lasting impact of meditating on love and compassion for others. When we turn our mind inward to reflect on how we can benefit others, rather than outward to judge others against our own values, then there is a shift. This shift is subtle and takes time, consistency and a willingness to be honest with our own shortcomings. Easy to say, hard to do, especially when we are angry.

What’s the first step to transforming anger into something beneficial?

Well, if you’re coming at it from a Buddhist point of view, it’s to recognise that any anger or ill-will is suffering manifesting itself through our attachment to a world view. Usually anger arises when we feel we’ve been mistreated, or there is an injustice. But for that feeling to arise, we have to be attached to the value that underpins it, and in a sense, we must be convinced that the value is right. It might be, but whether the anger serves us in the long run is another question.

When we are angry, we see our differences with vivid colour and magnification. When we love, we see our similarities, our commonness, our humanity.

Transforming anger means unraveling our perceptions and leaving a space of openness to understand one-another, to seek out a place in the middle where we can reflect on our sameness. By this I mean, we identify with the truth of suffering, we know that all of these interactions are as a reflection of this truth and that on some level we all want happiness.

This is our sameness.

If we look at each situation as an opportunity to concrete the practice then whenever a situation arises that is difficult, it can be transformed into a blessing. It can be a moment to hold a mirror up to our own ego and to tease it out and see what underpins it. If you look long enough, you’ll realise that the views we hold are baseless, without an independent foundation, and shift over time.

So then, why waste this precious moment being angry about something that in all likelihood you won’t remember in 6 months, 1 year or 5 years? This isn’t an instruction to dismiss our feelings, rather it’s the opposite.

There seems to be a perception that when we practice meditation we are trying to quieten everything, but actually, what we are trying to do is to understand them and then maintain a sense of balance and non-attachment.

Ultimately, we even need to let that go 😉 Remembering that everything is part of the journey, perhaps the smallest step is the most important. Today before you start anything else, just take a moment to set your intention. “Today I will be mindful of everything before me. I will practice love and compassion, for myself and others” Then, when your day is done, take a minute to check it out. If you lost it a few times, try to understand why (without a sense of guilt or shame, but with acceptance) and then commit to trying again, and again, and again. Such is the journey of life, destined as we are to repeat these things until they no longer serve us. Have a wonderful day.

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