This past weekend 65 people came together near Rhinebeck, NY — not for Chelsea Clinton’s wedding but rather to attend a workshop called The Wisdom of Anger: What the Buddhists Teach, held at Omega Institute. The program was a collaboration between Omega and the Shambhala Sun Foundation, which jointly put on a program every year. This year’s teachers were Robert Thurman, Narayan Liebenson Grady, Norman Fischer, and Judy Lief.
I don’t consider myself a particularly angry person (though perhaps others would disagree), but in listening to the presenters this weekend I came to see the subtle ways that we all harbor and express anger and, more importantly, got some perspective on what’s really going on underneath the feeling of anger. It might, for example, be a sense of fear, insecurity, shame, grief, or disappointment. As the teachers explained in different ways throughout the weekend, too often we’re uncomfortable with an emotion and rather than resting with that feeling, we tend to focus on a person or situation (i.e., target) that we can blame for whatever it is we’re unhappy about. The teachers presented various practices we can work with on and off the cushion to recognize the feeling of anger as it arises and to catch it before we do something destructive or hurtful with it. The teachers also talked about how to work with anger that is directed toward us, emphasizing the need to soften and ultimately dissolve the boundary between self and other.
As much as I found the teachers and the teachings inspiring and helpful, for me the most powerful moment of the weekend came from a participant who told us about a young man with Multiple Sclerosis. He explained that the young man had been a motorcycle mechanic who succumbed to MS in his twenties and that he had spent years being extremely angry. The participant hadn’t known him during his angry years and instead had encountered him as one of the most peaceful beings he had ever known. The young man was bedridden for years before he died, and when asked how come he wasn’t angry anymore, he replied, “I noticed it didn’t help.” That’s a line I’ll be reminding myself for years to come.
What powerful lessons have you learned about working with anger?
See also (links open in new windows):
- Anger Management, Buddhist-style — Does having a spiritual practice mean that we can never get angry? No, but as Sylvia Boorstein explains, it’s all in how you work with it.
- Thich Nhat Hanh on “Loosening the Knots of Anger” — Thich Nhat Hanh teaches us how to relax the bonds of anger, attachment and delusion through mindfulness and kindness toward ourselves.
- Of Course I’m Angry — As his marriage falls apart, Gabriel Cohen obsesses over all the things his wife has done to make him angry. But a chance encounter with Buddhism shows him the anger is his alone, and never serves any good purpose anyway.
- The Answer to Anger & Aggression is Patience — We can suppress anger and aggression or act it out, either way making things worse for ourselves and others. Or we can practice patience: wait, experience the anger and investigate its nature. Pema Chödrön takes us step by step through this powerful practice.