I am angry at the Taliban for shooting a 14-year-old girl named Malala Yousufzai. I am angry at the U.S., Iran and Israel for choosing paths of destruction and enmity towards each other. I am angry at the Syrian government for rampant killing and destruction. I am angry at the man who took my chair last night at a concert, I’m angry at the kid who swerved in front of my bike forcing me off the road, I’m angry at the parking policy who yet again, incorrectly ticketed my car.
I am angry at _______. Fill in the blank. I’m sure that whatever you put there you will feel justified.
I’m right to be angry. I am justified to be angry, at least that’s what we tell ourselves. No matter how “righteous” my anger, it is always simply my own justification. Villages have been leveled and hundreds of thousands of people slaughtered for “righteous anger”, for "just war." It is still just anger. It is still war.
For me personally, the hardest anger to deal with is the “justified anger.” If I’m morally, socially, intellectually ‘right’, it can be very easy to be angry at the other group for their actions. But anger is a destructive force that takes over our lives and can consume and destroy us. This anger controls us like the Zen story of the man on the horse that is racing at high speed down the path and a friend calls out to the rider, “where are you going?”, the rider replies, “I don’t know, ask the horse.” Our anger is the wild horse, we have no idea where it is going and can’t seem to tame it.
First we have to identify the anger. I even found in writing this blog that I as I started writing a very long list (a bit shameful how long it went, the paragraph above is the highly abridged version) my anger decreased with each additional issue, name or incident. Simply by naming what I was feeling anger towards, from issues international and beyond my direct control, to issues in the house, identifying the source of the anger allowed a small amount of space around the anger to emerge.
The Zen writer Thich Nhat Hanh writes that we have to recognize that anger is in us. It is not something outside of ourselves, distinct and separate. It is not ‘caused’ by someone else or other circumstances. We cannot cut anger out of ourselves, because we would only be cutting out a part of ourselves. We have to work to transform the anger into constructive energy.
“Irritation is a destructive energy. We cannot destroy the energy; we can only convert it into a more constructive energy. Forgiveness is a constructive energy. Understanding is a constructive energy” Being Peace, p.55
Understanding does not mean acceptance of the other persons ideas or beliefs. Understanding does not mean agreeing or condoning what another group may be doing. For me, understanding is about recognizing that the other person or group of people are hurting beings and need compassion. The transformation of anger is about compassion. First for ourselves and second towards others.
Meditation provides an opportunity for us to sit and look deeply into our anger. Through identifying and accepting the anger we can transform its negative energy into positive compassion. We can transform this whirlwind of destruction into a positive force.
Thich Nhat Hanh expressed this succinctly
“In the peace movement there is a lot of anger, frustration and misunderstanding. The peace movement can write very good protest letters, but they are not able to write a love letter….Because without being peace, we cannot do anything for peace. Peace work means, first of all, being peace. Meditation is meditation for all of us.” Being Peace, p 106