Notes on Anger

Have you ever noticed that often we are angry about something else or someone else but we misdirect our anger at something or someone completely not related, usually those closest to us, family or friends, or even easier targets, unknown innocent bystanders and the worst, sometimes we turn it inward at ourselves.

Of course, turning our anger at objects that have little to do with anything, we know all too well. How many of us have bashed on our keyboards or expressed our anger on our laptops or computers, kicked or slammed doors, punched walls? Or thrown things? There is a famous technique someone from America asked me to indulge in; screaming into and hitting your pillow, releasing all that anger I was feeling many years ago at an ex boyfriend for not only cheating on me, but deceiving me, and then punishing me, and hanging me out to dry by making it seem like it was all my fault.

We all love to blame so I don’t blame him for blaming me and I don’t blame him, either. I am moving away from this blaming and pointing fingers game, even though it’s such an easy one to play. In fact in a strange way, you could say I am grateful to him for having come into my life and all the pain from that relationship, otherwise I never would have gotten a chance to explore and a chance to transform myself and never had a connection with the “dharma”, basically a bunch of universal truths like impermanence etc.

Instead of blaming, I am trying to look at myself and my own faults, instead. This is not to be understood as having a low self-esteem or self-bashing. In fact, it’s a little bit selfish because it protects one’s own mind. It’s very powerful because you realize you are never a victim and you don’t have an axe to grind with anyone. Everything is in the power of your own mind. This way, your mind is not only protected but you also get more agency in shaping your own story. You never find yourself in a no way out, binding doom and gloom situation – caused by others. If you do that, you are giving your agency, your freedom away.

When you think about it, what’s the pillow or your father got to do with anything? We are ultimately the only ones in charge of our state of mind.

I am guilty of laying blame. I love to pass blame. Who doesn’t? It’s so easy, isn’t it? If you examine your mind, you will see how quick it is to go into playing the blame game. “Let’s see who I can blame,”; it will scan and search and search, hovering over every slight, every wrong before it settles and decides to lay blame on a target – innocent or guilty, it doesn’t matter. 

Day going wrong? Can’t find a job? Depressed? Just blame your problems on someone else instead of looking at the situation and the hundreds of pieces that make up a single situation, or even more difficult – looking inside, at one’s own faults and shortcomings – and how one can rectify the situation or change one’s mindset.

Feeling low? Feeling rejected? Feeling alienated? Feeling unaccomplished? Feeling overwhelmed? Things not going your way? Let’s see who we can blame for my present situation.

I used to be very wound up and a bit neurotic. Very “New York”, you could say. Wanted everything to run clockwork and within “the plan” and also for people to stick within my frames of reference of how I wanted the world to be. I tried to bring “New York” to “Kathmandu” and I found myself banging my head on a wall many times, and falling into a heap of depression at other times. My expectations could not fit the time, pace, people and place. So I let Kathmandu work its magic on me.

Although actually the physical places have little to do with it, the comparison of New York and Kathmandu is a poignant one, I think. Having a New York State of mind in Kathmandu is painful and might result in burnout, as it did for me (several times). Having a Kathmandu state of mind in Kathmandu might result in too much inertia. Having a New York state of mind in New York might result in I don’t know what state of mind – maybe robotic – alienated state? Anyways a bit of New York, a bit of Kathmandu is ideal, me thinks, as and when the situation calls for it. 

I couldn’t tolerate lateness. I would feel insulted if someone came late to a meeting, if someone didn’t answer my phone calls or reply my texts and emails immediately, I would fidget and get annoyed, even angry. Always trying to control the situation and the people in it.

Now, I just sit and wait, quite calmly. I enjoy the present moment and sometimes even thank the person who is making me wait because it’s a lesson in patience and looking inward at my state of mind he or she is gifting me, if I can look at it in that way. “No worries” I love to say.

Of course but with those we have very strong expectations from, we don’t tolerate that easily.  It’s always our expectations that is the source of our disappointments, if we examine closely.

If you have no expectation, there is really no disappointment.

Sometimes I even purposely go late to a meeting or I’ll make people wait on purpose. That’s for those people who I think might benefit from slowing down and sitting and doing nothing on their own for a few minutes. Sometimes I have even been thanked for this.

People especially from the developed, modern first world come here who run like automated machines in a system; even when they are on vacation, they are always rushing, trying to accomplish a million things, having to fill every minute of their time with something to do – is their state of mind that much different from their rushed lives back home? Maybe they don’t want the sense of emptiness and time standing still that comes with relaxing and letting go. Some people can’t let go of their problems back home, so they are not really even present in the places they visit. This has happened to me.

When I first started meditating, my thoughts would always finds its way to my Facebook status. It was kind of hilarious and shows the importance of our virtual realities and how we appear in it. We are on vacation but we are not really on vacation. We are meditating but we not really in the present moment. We are on Facebook, a flowing river of millions of thoughts, feelings, desires and whatnot.

As a beginner, my grasping mind was so strong that I actually manifested objects and perceptions that didn’t exist. One of my teachers laughed at me and said; “oh that will happen because you are a beginner.” I laugh about it now. I was so sure that was real. it was my own mind’s doing.

If you think about it, people are fooled all the time by our (mis) perceptions and others can easily fool us too. Apparently, only 2% of what we perceive in our reality is actually true. Let’s say we see a person smiling, we might immediately think they are happy. But they might be the most miserable person on this planet, about to commit suicide. We might see a stern looking, sour face but this person might be the most loving, and kind person. We never know. 

In Buddhism (the Vajrayana sect), we practice no preference – if rushed, okay. If not rushed, okay. That way we not grasping and wound up but not lazy, either. Just kind of going with the flow. We are not trying to bend and control people or situations to our liking and getting disappointed and depressed when it doesn’t happen that way.

No one following my world view, no one following my blog, yeah it’s a bit disappointing but it’s okay. If you like it, take it. If not, that’s also okay.

This helps prevent extremism in the mind. It’s hard to imagine but one can be Buddhist and extremist too. My way or the highway. Only Buddhism is right, rest are all wrong is a very non Buddhist mindset.

If one is Buddhist, it means one believes in the universal law of impermanence. If you really understand impermanence, that we or anyone we know, could die while just doing nothing so dramatic like even just crossing the road, we will appreciate flexibility and not clinging to how things should be, and getting angry and depressed when things don’t go as we envisioned. 

I also used to set up expectations like “one year plans” and “three year plans”. Now, even though of course in my mind I have a rough idea of a timeline, I don’t cling very strongly to “the plan”. I always say “I will achieve this and this – if things go to plan”, knowing that things don’t always go according to plan, that’s how unpredictable life is.

The other thing I used to do is make “to do lists” and get quite annoyed if I didn’t complete something on my list. Now, I just do as much as I can, let a few “to dos” slip and carry forward to the next day or days. I don’t know if having this relaxed “if and when it happens” attitude is good but it helps me tremendously and I’m less wound up, than I used to be.

I always have time to stop and smell the roses. I spontaneously do things, change plans, and I appreciate spontaneity.    

It is important to ask why am I (really) angry? and eventually direct one’s anger at the real source of our anger not imaginary ones. A guru (someone more realized than I) once told me when I asked him what to do about anger. He said “every time you get angry ask yourself why am I really angry?” Getting to the bottom of it.

Anger is a useful and good energy if directed in the right direction like for e.g if you are angry about rising fuel prices it would be wise to explore alternatives like an electric vehicle rather than getting angry at the taxi driver or the guy at the gas station or at your car.

Or if we are angry about our jobs because it takes so many hours and makes us stressed we should maybe try changing jobs or practice better work-life balance.

If we are angry about our commitments and responsibilities, try cutting them down and not feeling you have to do everything, be everywhere, and please everyone, an impossible task.

If we are angry because we have ill health it helps to know that sickness and disease is a part of life just as health is and you are not singled out specially or given some punishment.

If we are angry about a situation, any situation, we first understand it is only a situation and then we work diligently to change it rather than living in a self made prison of anger.

May we have the courage to really look at our anger and direct it properly instead of burning oneself and everyone and everything around us in the process.

Understanding the real source of our anger, practicing patience and effort, and more accurate expectation setting I think are crucial to getting a handle on anger which often leads to depression.

In Buddhist teachings, anger is described as one of the most difficult of the difficult emotions (I think the other one being pride) because it comes from nowhere, very fast, and can destroy all your merit in one shot.

When provoked, it’s very difficult to stay calm. Over the years, I have learned to walk away when needed. Retreat. Sometimes it’s better to just do nothing. I also meditate to calm down my heightened state of sense (when a strong emotion like anger takes over, we experience the meaning of “losing it”).

When provoked, the Buddha is saying there is nothing and no one to cherish, but to practice no-ego and non-self is difficult. In reality, we are so attached to this unchanging idea of ourselves. Even a wrinkle or the first white hair makes us quite uneasy about change.

(If you have made it to the end, please be mindful that this essay is a work in progress. There might be changes so please don’t get too attached to any of my words. Thank you)

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