Monday, June 28, 2010

Anger as Entertainment



I have had one of those days where, for whatever reason, the longer the days goes, the less I want to interact with others. In fact, the past three or four hours, I've had waves of crankiness that haven't been so pleasant. Crossing a busy street, and getting cut off by cars in both crosswalks when the light was green didn't help. Nor the struggles I'm having with my second ESL class, which recently became a combined level class due to a colleague resigning. The old "leave the position empty" and "reallocate" game.

What's interesting about all this is that I work up early and did a longer period of zazen than I have been recently. Most mornings, I'm lucking to get 10 minutes and/or chant the refuges and bodhisattva vows before going out the door for the bus. Not only did I sit a half an hour, but also did a longer chanting service. I've always been more of a evening/night meditator, so whenever I can start a weekday morning doing both a morning sit and chanting service, it's always a plus.

Given this, the emotional contrast between this morning and this evening is vast.
Pema Chodron, writing about karmic momentum, has some interesting commentary to consider. She writes:

We entertain ourselves with anger, with fear, with grief —All kinds of thoughts are better than nothing— is our motto. The bodhichitta practices, and actually all meditation practices, are about learning to stay still and going through what I always refer to as the detox period of finally connecting. Sometimes it feels like stillness and peace, but if that happens it will also alternate with this restlessness and this unease.


Curious. I didn't feel like I was "entertaining" myself. However, if we broaden the definition a bit, it actually fits. With the class, the anger was really a diversion from experiencing disappointment, loss of my old, higher level class, and also just exhaustion with the seemingly endless rounds of change in the student body. In term of the cars in the crosswalk, the anger was a response to pedestrian unfriendly city planning, as well as a quick leap from the fear of getting hit.

I'm not one of those people who considers anger always an inappropriate response. The three poisons are greed, hatred, and ignorance - but many translations have it as "anger' instead of "ignorance." There are times when a flash of anger might be the appropriate response, but it's far less than what most of us express on a daily basis.

The thing is that it's hard to stay with what's coming up when the world seems to be calling for some kind of action from you. In fact, even in situations like the street crossing, where you need to get to the other side, afterward it's terribly easy to get lost in stories about "those assholes" blocking the crosswalk. The opportunity to hang with what's coming up is there, and yet it gets lost pretty fast if you allow yourself to get hooked.

16 comments:

DQ's Windmill said...

No advice. Just, I feel like that sometimes too.

Algernon said...

It's a very good point. The entertainment also runs into narratives about "I." My concern about the people driving up and down Nickel Street at dangerous speeds is one thing; the story of "those assholes" and "me, the concerned father and neighbor" is a fable attached to it. And an entertaining one since it puts me in a sympathetic position! But it does nothing to address the actual question or my feelings about the situation.

Nathan said...

Thanks DQ. I'm still feeling a bit of it this morning. Kind of like having a cold...

Algernon,

Yeah, it's so funny how even though I knew that getting pissed at those cars for example doesn't address the issues at hand, I still found myself jumping to getting pissed. And then going on about it after they had all long gone past me. Definitely a kind of entertainment.

Petteri Sulonen said...

If it makes you feel any better, I'm feeling pretty entertained right now.

Anonymous said...

It is interesting to try to try to see what choice I make just BEFORE the hook sets.

Take the case of a long time AA friend whose been sober 20 + years. One day on a road trip he stops for a sandwich and a restaurant orders a sandwich and a glass of milk with a shot of whiskey in it. Munching his sandwich, he takes a sip of the milk whiskey and all and spits it out into a napkin in shock and surprise about what he had just done to 20 years of sobriety.

What in the world caused him to order a shot in a glass of milk?? Who was "driving his bus"?

His answer was "stinkin' thinkin" mind.

So in your case what would you say was the mind you created before you got hooked -or maybe you were just drive by circumstances without the freedom of choice?

Nathan said...

Petteri,

I've had another round of "entertainment" today myself. But I'm catching it quicker than yesterday :)

Nathan

Nathan said...

"So in your case what would you say was the mind you created before you got hooked -or maybe you were just drive by circumstances without the freedom of choice?"

In the case of my workplace, the "this is screwed up" and "unjust" mind has been very active lately. I saw it a lot today, and noticed how tired and out of sorts this thinking made me feel.

As for the crosswalks, I had just missed a bus, and was upset about that. Which fed into the anger at the cars no doubt.

ejaz14357 said...

danger harvests so useful for everyone.

Anonymous said...

taking 1 more bite at this apple. IMHO your best post in a long time...

Still wondering where the mind is in these "entertainments"
-before the episode begins,
-when the hook is set,
-during the episode,
-at completion of the episode --and
-realizing & sharing the episode as a text or a piece of art created.

Pima's 3 poisons are most interesting as self-learning "entertainment" episodes that have a flow to them not a moral categorization.

So they are more like video clips of experience less like good/bad snapshots. The narrative of each episode surely has a beginning, a middle, and an end so it is a story made complete.

I can see a 240 second video clip narration of a workplace screw-up and a
sidewalk upset.

My title for such would be "wandering Brain Stories"

---

The Jun28 NYTimes says interesting things about "wandering brains"; but the comments are most instructive:
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/29/science/29tier.html?hpw=&pagewanted=all
---
This makes me think of my teenage old nephew with ADHD who appears unable to let his mind wander and must hammer away at a given situation (traffic jam, jam on peanut butter, jamming ants) until he is put out of his misery by an adult who can switch his focus onto another (hopefully more productive) obsession
---
we catch ourselves in a train of thought unrelated to the task at hand
---
A wandering mind, a focused mind, and an empty mind (which people can achieve after long meditation, all these states of mind are essential for mind to develop and experience...

Wondering if my wandering brain behaves differently when I sit as when I stand; don't think so...

Anonymous said...

One other small point re:
In the case of my workplace, the "this is screwed up" and "unjust" mind has been very active lately. I saw it a lot today, and noticed how tired and out of sorts this thinking made me feel.

As for the crosswalks, I had just missed a bus, and was upset about that. Which fed into the anger at the cars no doubt.
--------
Case 1 isn't the author [owner] of the work place screw up really Nathan i.e. Nathan perceives something unjust and takes the role of victim

Case 3 the author of the anger, the one with the reactionary resentment is the person waiting for the bus

Wondering if you redrafted these stories so the author is much more visible, much more responsible [response-abled] wouldn't the stories be more satisfying and more powerful?

Some "Narrative Victims" don't seem to claim anything except that they are hostages to incomplete stories -i.e. they are still "stuck in it" - not free of it, like they are trapped in a box of their own making - and they want you to rescue them rather than exercise their own freedom.

This reminds me of the nobody-is-home "innocent stranger" of Camus's Mersault who is a spectator in his own crime; no one seems to have pulled the trigger, the "my finger" seems to have pulled the trigger not Mersault:

“Then everything began to reel before my eyes, a fiery gust came from the sea, while the sky cracked in two, from end to end, and a great sheet of flame poured down through the rift. Every nerve in my body was a steel spring, and my grip closed on the revolver.” (Stranger, Camus p76)

Seems like a more in-your-face understanding of denial [Pema's ignorance in my view]

Nathan said...

anonymous

Thanks for the continued comments. I've found myself paying attention to the whole sequence of mental "films" around both work and cars/crosswalks.

The thing is I take full and complete responsibility for the films occurring around these two places. At the same time, it's not just about "my" perceptions, however skewed they might be. So, it's very true that in my experience, when I take responsibilty for the narratives, and then let them pass, I can handle the actual, complex situation much more effectively.

However, even so, I think it's also important to consider the wider context and not just think it's all about taking responsibility or about my skewed narratives.

In other words, I'll stand behind a conclusion that says "I'm responsible for the threat narratives tied to the cars blocking the crosswalks, and, also, the design of many city/suburban streets is very dangerous for walkers."

Anonymous said...

Gongrats on taking responsibility for your self...

OTOH...

Your words:

At the same time, it's not just about "my" perceptions, however skewed

and

However, even so, I think it's also important to consider the wider context and not just think it's all about taking responsibility


Sound like "yes, I'm responsible... but...

Everything after the "comma, but" looks like an incomplete drama from here and you wish someone else would step up to the mic and let you off the hook.

I suspect you have a vampire story somewhere that is driving your bus - you could look for it and put a stake through its heart. [i.e. really actually let go of it]

The short story writer Ray Carver, who was an expert on story telling, said sometimes the only way to actually end a story is to kill it.
He was an alcoholic [and I think] a rage-a-holic too, so his stories tended to take on a life of their own in real life.

Sometimes the most compelling stories are real but not true; and even if they are true...so what?

Nathan said...

"I suspect you have a vampire story somewhere that is driving your bus - you could look for it and put a stake through its heart. [i.e. really actually let go of it]"

This may be true, and I'll be paying attention for it in both cases since they both are frequent flier "issues" in my life.

And, I also believe that you can fully take responsibility for your part in the total, dynamic working picture of life, but must also remember that there is a larger picture occurring which may be calling for some action from you and/or others.

When it comes to my workplace, almost everyone working there is struggling and frustrated beyond what I've seen anywhere else I have worked. It's more than my "piece" - it always is. And I'm very much convinced that when people like David Loy and Sulak Sivaraska speak about there being layers of dukkha, including group, community, and even national + international levels, it's worth listening to and considering.

I'll have to sit on this more because it might be worth a larger post, but I'm not clear enough yet to do so.

Thanks for pushing this with me.

Anonymous said...

I propose you don't post this.

Here's one more attempt at straight talk -" It's more than my "piece" - it always is." -isn't straight talk; my read.

What I get is pride
-either pride of strength = bluster, anger, rage-a-holic stuff
- or the pride of weakness = stand back, get theoretical get critical, become a spectator whining and puking about the way the game is being played. You can discount people, undercut people, spread rumors about people behind their back - there are a 100 ways to be a sly critic and disengage.

Other possibilities that come from responsibility not pride
-fire your boss, leave be a free man
-do your specific job -the one people pay you for and do it with integrity
-have some courageous conversations with your colleagues that begin with freedom and responsibility not fear, bluster, undercutting others.

Your arguments are so familiar to me - you sound lie me when I'm to hold my freedom at arms length, when I try to make my self look good by making others look bad, when I get invested in being right, when I get invested in making others wrong, when I get invested in making my self wrong and a victim, when I stand back and look for one more theory to let my self off the hook.

You are about as skillful as I am at this kind of skillful pretense

Sorry, It isn't my job to criticize;; you do seem to be able to recognize your own story-telling.

I offer my comment in respect for you not in hostility or making mischief.

PS I think your latest post is more of the same but this time on the bluster-anger pole of pride

Nathan said...

Anonymous,

I posted it. Your vajra sword is a bit to ragged here in my view, and really, I find that you've stepped into projecting on to me now what you see in yourself.

Peace,
Nathan

Anonymous said...

Yes, been there, done that. Peace