Friday, February 22: I always find it serendipitous when the universe hands you exactly what you need at just the moment you need it. This week (and last week as well), basically ever since the semester began at the university, I have been dealing with the destructive emotion of anger. During these two weeks, as I’ve been carrying all this anger, I’ve been simultaneously reading Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill by Matthieu Ricard. Oddly, the chapters I happened upon this week discuss the destructive power of anger.
Ricard asks: “When a powerful emotion or thought arises — anger, for instance — what normally occurs? We are very easily overwhelmed by this thought, which multiplies into numerous new thoughts that disturb and blind us…”
“Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” ~ Buddha
Yes, for the last two weeks, I’ve been overwhelmed by anger. Why? I’ve been seething because of the extreme micromanagement from the university administration, unreasonable demands on our time, constant emails telling us we have to attend a COMPULSORY workshop here or a MANDATORY meeting there or an exam invigilation that is “part of our administrative duties,” even though our contract already requires from us 20 contact hours and 6 hours devoted to student support. Because we have DAILY QUIZZES that we must administer and mark and because I need time to PLAN for my 20 hours of classroom time, I feel like I’m being pushed up against a wall. Frankly, I feel that I’m being treated like a robot or, worse, a slave, getting no respect or appreciation for all the good work I do. And there is no use in complaining or arguing about anything, because the administration doesn’t care about what any of us think or feel, so there is no point in bringing up these complaints. I love my students and I love being in the classroom; I feel that if people would just back off and leave me alone to do my job, I could actually enjoy my work.
In my meditations, I’ve been trying to observe this anger that is simmering inside me. One of the meditations asked me to just sit quietly and observe my emotions, and of course, because I’ve been in such turmoil for two weeks, the anger kept rising to the surface. Instead of simply observing the emotion, as the guided meditation prompted, I found myself grabbing on to it and obsessing about it, thinking about what I could do. How could I fight back? What are my options? Do I have to put up with this?
I found my heart racing, my shoulders and back tensing up. I felt the anxiety one might feel if faced with great danger, like coming face to face with a ravenous tiger. Every time I tried to let go of the anger, it reared its ugly head again. I tried to focus on my breathing. When I did, I realized my breathing was rapid, as if I was running away from something, and then I started obsessing about things again. Every time I tried to let go of it, it kept coming back, and I kept grabbing on to it again. I began to wonder why I couldn’t just let it go.
I focused on my breathing, trying to slow it down. I focused on birds chirping outside. I focused on my mantra: “Maranatha.” And then, I found myself falling asleep in my sitting position!
Ricard’s words hit me hard: “Systematically blaming others and holding them responsible for our suffering is the surest way to lead an unhappy life. It is by transforming our minds that we can transform the world.”
Ricard tells of an experience he had. His blood was boiling over an incident where he felt he was perfectly justified to be angry. He writes: “It was only hours later that I came to see how destructive an emotion anger really is, reducing our clarity and inner peace and turning us into veritable puppets.”
I realized that by letting myself be ruled by anger, I’m letting these people, the very people to whom my anger is directed, determine my state of mind, my level of happiness. I’m letting them control me. I’m becoming their puppet.
I have been giving thought as to how I can deal with this situation. This is my job and I have given my notice to leave at the end of June. So I know the situation will not last forever. I’m grateful that I have other options and am able to leave eventually. In the meantime, I have to surrender myself to the university’s whims as long as I choose to stay, but only during work hours and when I am physically on campus. I will go through the motions and do their bidding during the hours I am at the university, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. I will try to do it without anger, but with simple resignation and acceptance. I will continue to do as good a job as I can in the classroom, because I love my students and want them to benefit from what I can teach them. Other than that, I CANNOT CHANGE THE SITUATION. This I must accept.
Once I leave the university, I will continue my personal policy of not taking work home with me and not opening work emails. I will try to calm my emotions while at work. I will try hard to leave behind any simmering anger as soon as I get in my car and drive off the campus. And I will continue to meditate to achieve peace of mind. I will do the things I enjoy when I am away from work. I always love exploring Oman, taking walks and photos and writing my blog. I will focus on these things and count down the days.
Ricard says something else that gives me food for thought: “If an emotion strengthens our inner peace and seeks the good of others, it is positive, or constructive; if it shatters our serenity, deeply disturbs our mind, and is intended to harm others, it is negative, or afflictive. As for the outcome, the only criterion is the good or the suffering that we create by our acts, words, and thoughts, for ourselves as well as for others.”
I care about my colleagues and my students, so I will try to be there for them, to understand and to care for them. Somehow, I hope I can create good, rather than suffering, in the coming months.
And then, when all is said and done, I can go home, carrying my peace of mind along in my suitcase. I hope I will ultimately feel that I created some kind of positive legacy, even if only a small one.
“There are two things a person should never be angry at, what they can help, and what they cannot.” ~ Plato