Friday, March 1: Last week, I wrote about my struggle with the destructive power of anger and my plan to overcome it, to let it go. However, despite all my reading (Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill by Matthieu Ricard) and my meditation practice, all my attempts this week to let go of my anger failed. Not only failed, but failed miserably.
Even though I planned to put in my time at work with simple acceptance and resignation, and then to leave all my anger behind whenever I drove off the campus, the anger has been following me home like a bad nightmare I can’t escape. It seems to have moved into my body in the form of stomach rumblings, nausea, cramping, lack of appetite, and general abdominal upset.
In fact, ever since I returned home from Nepal at the end of January and began this semester, I have been plagued by stomach aches. I’m certain the initial episode was a virus, including all the normal intestinal symptoms plus horrible headaches, utter exhaustion and all-over body aches and pains. The first weekend after I returned home, I was in bed all weekend, barely able to eat or function. I saw a doctor, took some medicine, and felt better, for less than a week. Then the stomach problems started up again. I went for another round of medicine and felt better for about a week, then, this week, it started up again. I began to think these stomach problems were stress-related. When I went to the doctor Wednesday afternoon, he took a blood test to rule out a bacterial infection and agreed that the problem could very well be the result of stress.
The anger is now affecting not only my mental but my physical health, and that means it is serious. Very serious. I don’t take threats to my health lightly. I know that I must do something to remedy this situation.
I subscribe to an email called The Daily Love, which every day brings inspirational quotes and articles into my inbox. Today, this quote came to me through cyberspace:
Obviously, I am not ready to receive peace of mind with an open and grateful heart. I need to open myself up more to what the universe has to teach me. Again, as so often happens, I found more food for thought in Ricard’s advice (Happiness). He says that Buddhism teaches you various ways to familiarize yourself, through meditation, with “a new vision of things, a new way to manage your thoughts, of perceiving people and experiencing the world.” He describes the three principal ways as “antidotes, liberation, and utilization.”
He describes antidotes as turning the mind from anger to loving-kindness. He says “we may fluctuate rapidly between love and hatred, but we cannot feel in the same instant of consciousness the desire to hurt someone and to do him good.” He says by habitually changing hateful thoughts to altruistic love, we can gradually eliminate hatred.
He then goes on to describe liberation as freeing the emotions: “A close examination of anger finds nothing substantial, nothing that can explain its tyrannical influence over our lives. Unless we pursue this investigation, we end up being fixated on the object of anger and overtaken by destructive emotions. If, on the other hand, we come to see that anger has no substance of its own, it rapidly loses all power.” He goes on to say, “Buddhism calls this liberation from anger at the moment it arises, by recognizing its emptiness, its lack of its own existence.”
Finally, he describes utilization as the ability to turn the emotion to its positive use in order to create lasting change in our lives. This is a complex idea that I have some trouble grasping, but I understand it to mean that an emotion is not inherently bad, it only becomes a negative once we fixate on it. For example, he says, anger can push us to take action and overcome obstacles. It also contains aspects of clarity, focus and effectiveness that are not harmful in and of themselves.
All in all, the important goal is to free ourselves “from negative emotions” and progress toward “freedom from suffering.” He suggests these three techniques, used in meditation, can help us achieve peace of mind.
At the university, I believe there are several people, but especially one person, who is the cause of all of our distress. Admittedly, I have lost all respect for this person. So, in order to apply this Buddhist teaching in my meditations, whenever I think of this person, I try to love him/her. He/She may be extremely insecure and threatened by anyone else who exhibits any competency. He/She may be a sad person who bases identity on work, and so wants everyone else to feel just as miserable in their lives as he/she does. These are just guesses, of course, as I don’t really know him/her personally. All I really know is the stress he/she causes in MY life (& my colleagues’ lives), and my resultant anger and stomach aches. In my meditations this week, I have been trying to love him/her for whoever he/she is. I am trying hard to turn my disrespect to love. I will keep trying to apply this antidote technique whenever this person rises in my thoughts.
I have also noticed in my meditations that Ricard is right. When I focus on the anger itself, it simply dissipates; it is of no substance. However, I keep coming back to the OBJECT of the anger. This person is real and I keep fixating on him/her. This person does not dissipate. He/She is here in my life and I have to live under his/her dictatorship every day at work. So he/she is harder to banish. Again, I try to turn my thoughts to loving him/her. And I will continue to try to liberate my anger at the moment it arises, whenever this person manages to push my buttons.
Finally, as far as utilization, I will try to use the positive aspects of my anger to take physical action and overcome obstacles: to extricate myself from this place and return home to Virginia, where I can return to my family and to a job I love. Each day I survive in this negative, poisonous, and degrading environment makes me a stronger person. This knowledge that I’m a survivor, in the end, contributes to my self-confidence. I must use focus, one positive aspect of anger, to take care of myself at work, by standing up for myself and not allowing myself to be bullied, and outside of work, by using my time for things I enjoy. I must use the clarity brought on by anger to understand that this powerful emotion is caused by the way I am looking at things, so I should work harder to let go of the anger and to change my outlook. And I will try to use the effectiveness aspect of anger to do the best job I can for my students, who are the ones who matter the most. Unfortunately, they suffer the most from having stressed out and unhappy teachers.