Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Anger as Entertainment

I wrote this a few years back, but it seems like a good thing to re-post right now for some reason. The frantic holiday season? Too many Zen scandals? Anyway, here you go.

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.


Jeanne Desy said...

This is good to think about. I might have posted this before, because it's been important to me. Khandro Rinpoche was asked about anger, and began her answer by saying "Anger is always a waste of time." I take from that that it's okay, of course, to have a flash of anger, but you want to let go of that feeling. Anything you're going to do about the trigger is best done in a wholesome state.

Nathan said...

I do think there's a place for anger in the face of serious injustice. But it has to be well timed, and coming from a place of compassion in order for it to be skillful means. It's rare that a situation calls for such action, and rare for any of us to be able to do it.

So, mostly, anger is a waste of time.