Saturday, January 07, 2006

How do we get rid of our anger?

Many people come to the practice of Zen or to any religion for that matter because of a profound feeling that something is wrong. There is something wrong with "them"....the is something wrong with "us"...therefore what "is" needs to be fixed.....more so for what is "wrong" with others over what is "misunderstood" about ourselves.
But the essential feeling of "wrongness" in ourselves is what motivates most practice...we practice to fix what is "wrong" with us so we can fix what is "wrong" with the world and everyone else. There is something wrong with us because we feel anger....there is something wrong with him because he is angry......anger, sadness and suffering are essential to our being, someone once said that "all life is suffering". This sense of wrongness is not "wrong" because it drives us to seek something better, or at least it drives us to seek a solution, it forces us to begin to the swelling of a bruised ankle and the pain that keeps us off our feet for a while or lets us know when we are hurting ourselves more. Pain is not "bad"in its essential nature, anger is not "bad" by its nature. Anger is natural, it is neither good nor bad by its nature. So getting rid of anger is not the goal, anger has a purpose and a function.

I remember a developmentally disabled kid who was not under my direct care, but in the area where I worked. He used to pull down his pants all the time. His well meaning care takers decided to put a lock on his belt so he could not remove his pants. It kept him from removing his pants, even in the bathroom, which lead to some unfortunate problems that had not existed before......the problem was not that taking off your pants is bad, it is that there are appropriate places to do so and to not do was a matter of discrimination...rather than teaching the kid discrimination, they made the problem worse.

As the writer of "The Merging of Difference and Unity" tells us "all things have their function, it is a matter of use in the appropriate situation". Well what can be the purpose of anger? you have noted anger usually results from hurt or fear. Fear most often results from an experience of all have noted, an animal with no experience with humans does not fear them. Hurt gives rise to fear which gives rise to anger. Anger functions properly to protect us (and those we care about) from hurt.

What then does anger tell us if we listen? tells us there is an unhealed hurt existing somewhere...there is a fear there that needs to be addressed. Now should we fear crossing a busy street?.....yes a certain amount of fear is healthy, and anger is a natural response to a driver speeding down the street where your children are playing. One should not try and eliminate anger, or leave anger somewhere.

Just dropping anger like a rock is no more of an answer than taking drugs so you can continue to walk on an injured ankle. What ever triggered your anger will continue to trigger your anger whenever it arises. One could address the anger by many dysfunctional methods ..the ones we often choose..we can suppress it, we can kill our children so we no longer fear so tremendously for them in an increasingly hostile world, we can shoot the driver and stop the car. Shooting the driver or the kids does not work either..there are always more children and more drivers, and no end here to our anger.

Or we can sit down with our anger, and use it as a tool to probe where we are hurt....I fear for my children, that is where this anger arises, what then can I do that is best for myself and all beings to protect my children?....well what about forbidding them to cross the street or go anywhere near the street? nah that will not work in the real world...What about sitting around working on my anger? darn that does not work just keeps popping up........what about knowing they are not "my" children and when I think about them I get angry, so I should just forget about them? nah that really does not work either..........what about lowering the speed limit, having the city put up warning signs,increase enforcement, or put in speed bumps?...well one or all of these might be effective... maybe I should work towards a truly effective method to reduce my fear, and in doing so I will reduce my anger..and by the way my neighbor is angry about that too, and of course I might save a child in the process, not to mention the life of a driver which would be ruined by his carelessness should he ever hit a kid. Now I have used my anger to reduce anger in myself and my neighbor, protected both the driver and the children....who could possibly say the anger that motivated this action was bad?

Sometimes the fear that makes us angry is not even elder daughter is afraid of worms.....wave a worm at her and she becomes angry. Forbidding worms in her presence is not a practical long as she fears worms ...worms will make her angry. What needs to be healed here is not her anger, but the fear of worms...she is not willing to work on this right now.....but should her anger ever become her concern, the way to fix it is to fix the irrational fear of worms. If we fear men for example for some happening in our past, or fear intimacy, or fear anything, we have a hurt that needs healing. Our anger points to these injuries. Some fear is rational...if it is rational, then find realistic ways to protect yourself (or others) and reduce the fear when it results in anger, if the fear arises from a real hurt that needs healing, get the help we need to heal the hurt, if the fear is irrational there are ways to fix that as well.

Anger is a poison, but like a poison it can be used for both good and evil. Most medicines are poisonous in some dosage. It is a matter of use in the appropriate situation. It is only when we spread it around with no thought, no control, no discrimination that anger poisons everything.

All things have their function, even anger.

Now we shall move from the realm of psychology to Buddhism. Much of our fear comes from incorrect understandings...where Buddhism comes into play is where fear stems from the feeling that "we" are separate from them. We are alone, we are something more than a pile of skandhas..... When anger is directed at "them" then it is not being used appropriately. When Zen directs us to look at what is, then we reduce great amounts of fear, and thus great amounts of anger. When we look at what really is we become not angry at the driver for driving too fast, but ourselves for not calling the street department or whomever is responsible for taking care of speed bumps, perhaps we will even get up off our cushion and make a few calls. (or write a few posts).

When we sit down to let everything go, the last little thing that identifies ourselves to ourselves, the last thing we have to know so we can forget is our own hurts...they are what at the most basic level identify us to ourselves. since the last thing we let go of is "our" pain the last thing we really let go of is "our" anger. Often during the process our practice even makes us more angry, as we bring forth the last of our hurts to be let go, we bring forth more and more essential anger. It is a part of the process, neither to embraced nor shunned, just is....neither good nor bad. (remember the warning that not everything that comes up is pleasant?) Sometimes the fear at this point get so great that one avoids sitting, this is one more place where a teacher who knows what is going on can come and help one through this part of the process. It is also a part of the teacher's role to be the thing there for the student to be angry at, to give the student a place to put the anger, while the surprised student learns to deal with what is happening.

Buddhism offers us the eightfold path, not as a cudgel to beat others who are wrong with, but as a well marked path to end suffering (note: not "our" suffering). Every Buddhist is on the path, some in comfy places, some in one has finished the path while they are alive, nor should anyone be expected to act like they have.

So anger is not something we need to get rid of, it is not wrong to be angry, being angry is just being angry. Now what will you do with your anger? Will you use it or will it use you? It is a matter of use in the appropriate situation.

Be Well