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close call

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An incident yesterday, lasting less than 10 seconds, reminded me of the unstable nature of mental states. Walking home from a workout at the beach, sore and sweaty, the sun shining, not a worry in sight, feeling happy.

Turning a corner, I saw a horde of highschool students coming towards me in the boisterous and self-absorbed way so typical of that age. Emerging from their midst were four boys on skateboards, weaving in and out with little regard for pedestrians. I suddenly found myself extending my body and right shoulder into their path, clearly wishing for one of them to take a tumble. Two of us did made contact (ka-thudd!) but he rolled past me undeterred.

What happened here? I was astonished to realize once more how close anger resides below my skin and how easily I missed that split-second moment of decision-making between anger and action. (See discussion on May 1). Ezra Bayda offers a useful description of what comes next in practicing (and learning from) anger.

First … we have to realize that the very occurence of anger is our path. Anger arising is a signal for us to point the arrow of our attention inward. It’s an opportunity for us to see the ways we keep ourselves enclosed in the protective reactive shell out of which anger is born. It’s a cue for us to look at the ways we’re wanting life to meet our expectations, requirements, and desires. In order to clarify these pictures, we have to look inside, without self-justification and blame. And we need to do this with unrelenting honesty and precision.

And so the day’s work is cut out for me. As I go about my business I intend to let his words wash over me. Meanwhile, I’d be interested to hear how you practice with strong and slippery emotions. Anger, and its cousins greed and envy, seem to have a way of sneaking up when least expected. Approached Bayda’s way, they are grist for the mill of our unfolding.

source: Bayda, E. (2003). Being Zen: bringing meditation to life. Boston: Shambhala, p. 57.


6 responses »

  1. i read somewhere recently that anger relates to looking for love in our lives…

  2. How does that work for you, aurora … maybe in regards to the Fernwood Zendo post of today (

  3. ultramarathoning...

    at my age it is appropriate to consider last things. Among them was the question of burial arrangements, so I began by considering who the answer would be important too… Husband first… then ? If I survived my husband, If I was the last in the lineage and not he- then ?

    I asked who celebrates life with me?
    My family, living in a big dirty city far away had never made it for any celebration of any kind.

    Suddenly, in an instant… I realized, I had been waiting decades for people who were not coming. Watching at the window of their lives…I was so hopeful that I didn’t notice that they never showed any interest in coming. I hadn’t noticed that their phones dialed in but not out.

    And the next thing, I am on the phone roaring at an 89 year old woman. Where was the fruit of all those hours on the zafu!

    Sitting with it.
    Through the rawness
    Opening my heart
    to the depth of it.
    I found… not anger… but grief.

    Grief of the profound loss of my family,
    the loss of the family I had —
    the loss of the family I would have liked to have had.
    In my grief,
    I found
    my mother’s grief.
    then softening,

    I was a breach birth. She blamed my birth for not being able to have more children — especially a son to carry on my father’s name. At 89, she is still grieving for the son she didn’t have. Grieving the loss of the family she didn’t have…Grieving for the husband she survived… only aware of her losses… far beyond… beyond the reach of gratitude and thanksgiving.

    … no one speaks of this ‘strong and slippery’ emotion grief… Yet, I wonder if grief, isn’t the strong emotion often underneath the others, maybe we stop too soon?

    Perhaps, standing on the threshold
    Perhaps, it is really grief that answers?
    wearing a disguise…

    looking closely
    the monk
    and offers to prepare the tea…

  4. For me, I always find some thread of expecting something underlying those emotions, but this expecting is always tied in to the realm built by “I” and “me.” It’s the realm of how “I” think things “should” be, and when events don’t go that way…, well, this is where I usually find those emotions coming from. If I just let go of the “I,” if I just stop feeding it energy, I find those emotions don’t come into play.

    When I’m on the edge of losing it, when some thread I hadn’t previously noticed has been in play, then it’s harder. I have to visualize and give commands to my body. “I will walk through this and not respond.” “My right hand is staying glued to my leg.” “I will keep my mouth shut and not say a thing” This helps a lot.

    Those times when I find afterwards that I behaved like an ass, I try to look at how I would like to have behaved, and tell the lives that make up this body, that the next time X happens, we will behave like ___ instead. An important point with this is the necessity of clearly inputing how I would like to behave. “I will react calmly and deal with it patiently.”

    I have to input a clear description of how I’d like to behave, and then let it sink down deep within me. It’s weird, but just wanting or vaguely feeling what I’d like to do is really ineffective, It has to be clearly stated and then input. This is also the same with the questions I have about practice and direction.

  5. Ouch! Thanks for opening this discussion, Peter. My pattern – especially in my less aware past – often seems to run: Fear, Anger, Kill. And the most innocuous of creatures trigger this: flies, wasps, bees, spiders, silverfish. It doesn’t take too much imagination to realize that without strong societal taboos, I could easily add ‘people’ to this list. Yikes!
    So what has changed? It seems to me that the simple act of sitting has helped me to modify this behavior. And remembering that I am not my behavior. Just today, seeing a wasp in the room trying to get out, my first reaction was compassion. My second – wonder of wonders – was to get a glass and piece of card and so, with both of us protected from a possible mishap, to see the little creature on its way out the window
    Would that all interactions were thus. However, truth is that they are closer to the experience you describe, Peter. But today shows me there is hope. Ah yes, hope springs eternal …

    • hope, yes, and intention, determination, and (as Chong Go Sonim elaborates) this thing we call practice. And compassion and forgiveness towards our/selves, I’ll add. thank you for your dilligent practice, malcolm


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