Yesterday’s post touched on the fact that life’s path is made up of choices: we can behave or feel this way or that. Yet we repeat certain behaviors that are harmful to self and others, to nature and the world. Many of us go back in personal history looking for causes and explanations: I behave like this because such-and-such happened to me in school, at home; because my father did this, my spouse that, and the world the other.
For much of my adult life I’ve carried anger (rage even) just below the skin. Until not long ago, I’d quickly fly off the handle when I felt wronged or misunderstood. My behavior caused suffering to others and to myself. When challenged, I’d cite physical and emotional abuse as a child and teenager. No wonder I get angry, it’s in my nature, I’ve every reason to be angry, I can’t help it.
Anger may be a natural behavior in the context of one situation (such as prolonged abuse), but useless, harmful, and unacceptable in most others. So, what to do. A long time ago I sent myself to anger management courses and have, over the years, spent much time in therapy. In due time I developed a good grasp of the why of anger, but was at a loss on how of behave more skilfully.
One of the practical benefits of Zen practice — which comprises regular meditation, silent retreats, serving others, and being guided by the precepts — is gradually opening new ways of being with anger. A four-fold approach:
1. Less and less blaming on past experiences and the behavior of others.
2. Recognizing the windows of choice between automatic reaction and right action.
3. Apologizing to others and making amends.
4. Compassion towards myself as I learn to recognize and diffuse my reactivity.
All are grounded in the practice of mindfulness: becoming aware of emotions as they arise in the body, taking responsibility for my actions; and not beating myself up for being ‘imperfect.’
image: sonyaworld.com (fork in the road)