At our sitting the other night, one of the group brought a talk on a CD by Jack Kornfield. I forget the name of the CD now, but I think it’s A Beginner’s Guide to Buddhism or something similar. Anyway, something Kornfield said struck me. He said something about bowing to the feelings that arise within us during meditation. I can’t quote it verbatim, but the image is apt and powerful.
We don’t meditate to suppress or repress unpleasant thoughts and feelings (people still ask how one can ‘think of nothing’); we do it to acknowledge and not judge. The way I picture bowing to my anger — anger is my bugbear, but you can bow to grief, restlessness, anxiety, take your pick from the whole gamut of human neuroses — is I’m silently saying ‘Hello, nice to meet you. How are you today?’ In objectifying my anger, I don’t have to identify with it, and it with me.
Anger is a funny emotion. At the time it manifests, it feels like the only thing in existence. Most people will tell you to let it out, that it is healthy to vent. But anger, like the fire often used to describe it, grows when it is fed — by fear, by frustration, by self-righteousness, by long-held memories. Without nourishment, it fades and loses relevance. I can feel my anger but I don’t need to feed it.
My first blog was an angry blog. In a perverse reversal of Douglas Adams’ attempt at humour as a coping mechanism for the absurdity of life, it was called ‘Life, the Universe and Everything Imbecilic’. Lots of things made me mad — my inconsiderate roommate, unfeeling institutional bureaucracy, the state of the environment, neo-conservative right-wing politics, Microsoft… Name it and chances are I was angry at it. But the more I meditated, the harder it became to sustain an angry blog. It served no purpose beyond the initial point of anger and re-reading it when the the moment had passed made me wonder what I was really angry about. In other words, I lost the will to feed it. Besides, a document of rage and impotence (for that was what it was) is no legacy to leave the world I am (still) hopeful for.
This is not to say I don’t get angry or frustrated or fearful any more. I still do, but for sanity to prevail, I have to look past my anger to something more constructive and concrete; to build on from the embers something that could be positively sustaining, and not self-consuming. Hence, the start of my new blog chronicling what I hope will be a path of growth.
‘A Question of Mindfulness’ is a bow to my anger: ‘Hello, how are you today?’