Transforming Anger Part 1

Haha well I already fucked up the whole post something every day thing. It’s tough business. Don’t write: live life, feel incomprehensible. Do write: no time for living, not necessarily taking the time to be with and feel my experiences. I’ve decided not to be too hard on myself about this. 

Today’s post doesn’t have really a central theme yet, we’ll see if one develops as I continue to braindump. First things first, I’ve talked a lot about synchronicity in other forums. I’ve touched on anger and ambivalence here and also on my grocery shopping misadventures. Well, I’ve got a story that involves all three! 

I went back to Staff of Life the other day to buy the rest of my supplies and I noticed they had a copy of the Shambhala Sun, this Buddhism and culture magazine. Would you believe it if I told you that the theme of this month’s issue was THE WISDOM OF ANGER? Incredible how things manage to pop into our lives when we’re most ready to receive them. Anyway, I still have to do a real perusal of the contents of the magazine (which I bought) but I’ve already been struck by some interesting ideas.

One article I liked a lot was Melvin McLeod’s “On the Enlightened Power of No“. McLeod writes, “Buddhas are not the love-and-light people we think they are. Of course, their enlightened mind is grounded in nirvana—total peace—but in that open space compassion spontaneously arises. It has many manifestations. One is anger.

Anger is the power of no. The enlightened mind of the buddhas is enraged against the evils of samsara and the suffering it causes. It says no to the three poisons of ignorance, attachment, and aggression that drive cyclic existence.

This is the natural reaction we all have when we see someone we love suffer—we want to stop it. The buddhas are angry about our suffering, and they will happily destroy its causes. They aren’t angry at us; they’re angry for us.”

Now this is a Buddhism I can get behind! Anger as a spontaneous manifestation of compassion. I love it. 

And then, Judy Lief’s “The Poison Tree“: “Because the experience of anger is so potent, we usually try to get rid of it somehow. One way we try to get rid of it is to stuff it or suppress it, because we are embarrassed to acknowledge or accept that we could be feeling that way. Another way we try to get rid of our anger is by impulsively acting out through violent words or actions, but that only feeds more anger.

Since anger is a natural part of us, we cannot really get rid of it, no matter how hard we try. However, we can change how we relate to it. When we do, we begin to glimpse a quality hidden within this destructive force that is sane and valuable.”

Fascinating. I’ve never thought of “acting out” anger as a means of actually avoiding being present with it. This reminds me of another post about distraction that I’ll have to write soon because it’s been on my mind (I was reading a book on the Enneagram–I got typed as a 7 like the good little bundle of well-intentioned pediatric diagnoses I am–and it talked about how distractibility was a form of anxiety, and so now I’m obsessed with what it means to be fully present with our emotions). Anyway, that’s sort off topic right now. The major point is that acting out anger, expressing it as aggression, is not consistent with a compassionate outlook.

Here’s where everybody gets mad and tells me that I shouldn’t care about being consistent because I’m supposedly all about ambivalence now. WELL, the one thing I do care about is being consistently authentic. If that means that I embody the ideas of seemingly conflicting philosophies, so be it. However, I want to, as much as possible, avoid acting in bad faith. 

This “acting out” of anger–and for that matter the suppression of it without giving it the chance to be fully processed–as an example of this bad faith is an idea I’m excited to further explore. Earlier this week I talked about violence sometimes being necessary and I think this new concept will help flesh out my thinking regarding when acts of violence are understandable. My good friend Matt pointed out that systematic violence is never justified. I hadn’t been thinking in terms of systems or aggressors when I was thinking about the word violence. What I meant was that violent defensive action on the parts of individuals against aggressive parties in select situations where alternative solutions have failed is an understandable course of action.

However, defensive action can still be aggressive in nature. I think the essential point is that aggressive actions–whether offensive or defensive–are meant to hurt. They have their roots in hatred, fear, desperation. The aim is to demoralize or destroy the enemy, to deter them from ever acting again. In contrast, performers of what I’ll call compassionate violence do not wish destruction upon the enemy, and in fact are as pained by their losses as if they were their own. They merely have come to the decision that they have been left no other recourse. The choice to act out defensive violence rooted in compassion and restraint, made after careful consideration of alternate options and a full understanding of the consequences of this course, has its place in a world full of injustice–and it’s an entirely different animal from aggressive violence. 

So how is acting out anger an act of bad faith and what does it feel like to properly experience our anger? I have to go now if I want to buy a Snarky Puppy ticket before they sell out. But I’ll do some thinking while I’m at the show and let y’all know what I come up with. Peace. 

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One thought on “Transforming Anger Part 1

  1. Thomas says:

    “However, defensive action can still be aggressive in nature. I think the essential point is that aggressive actions–whether offensive or defensive–are meant to hurt. They have their roots in hatred, fear, desperation. The aim is to demoralize or destroy the enemy, to deter them from ever acting again.”

    I’m on a roll going through and commenting on things in your blog, so while this is small, I’ll say it anyway:

    I think a secondary aim in defensive action that is aggressive in nature, or as I’ve labeled it “reactionary defensiveness”, is to advance one’s own standing. Sometimes I think this can even be the primary motivation. Often, I think people are more concerned with feeling better about themselves than a Machiavellian destruction of their enemies, or even hurting them. I think our primary motivation is most often to increase our own standing for ourselves, and secondarily to others, and then to demoralize our attackers (I changed my original stance to assert that I actually think demoralizing our enemies is not as important as enhancing our self-image).

    Like

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