Working with Anger

Jan 29, 2021

Usually when there's shame, there's also a shadow, rage or anger. Sometimes we're more aware of the anger and less aware of the shame because the shame is more core and more painful. If you have lots of rage, if at the exterior of the onion there's lots of rage, it's designed to protect the core which feels utterly worthless and incapable.

The goody two-shoes that make their way to the dharma centers, like most of us, get a teaching from the monks and the sangha members that there is nothing more destructive in the universe than your anger. Shantideva said that one moment of anger can destroy countless lifetimes of merit. You see the contradiction in our world views between deep trauma work and the work of the spiritual, the advices of the spiritual community.

In fact when we were in Nepal, some of us were asking Geshe Tenzin Zopa about this very thing. We are growing as westerners in more confidence that there is something about anger that we need to look deeper at. We can't just dismiss it and say that it's destructive. We're all aware of how destructive it is. But there's something destructive about just suppressing and repressing it and saying that it's bad so we were pushing Geshe Tenzin Zopa, would there be any circumstances, are there any other ways in the tradition to work with it? We were doing a lot of song and dance and he really was going... No, you guys don't understand. Anger is not a good thing.

But I still think that we should challenge everything. We should challenge everything but we should stay in the pocket and justify why we're challenging it and look at the nuances and see if there are any reasons why and push a little back. That's perfectly fine and reasonable as long as we do it with some humility and some respect. It's appropriate. We don't want to be spoon-fed dogmatists. I don't think that's useful.

What we do know from psychology is indulging anger could be very damaging but so can suppressing it. What can happen as a middle way is that if you can get closer to the anger by holding it in your hand, your safe space or in your contemplative moment, you can discover that there's actually an underpinning to the anger. If you can get to that level, something like a door will open but you can't get into that door of the deeper level without first going through. That's why we suggest not to dismiss the anger but to try to hold it long enough for there to be a discovery.

From Master Your Becoming


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