5th October 2015
Contributing Writer for Wake Up World
When faced with injustice, most of us have experienced that unmistakable feeling of outrage. There’s certainly plenty of material to choose from — GMOs slipped into the food supply, planetary destruction, governmental and corporate corruption, police shootings, oil spills, mafia-like pharmaceutical companies. The list could go on forever. And while most spiritual traditions largely classify anger as damaging and unskillful, one Buddhist teacher is taking the road less traveled by exploring the beneficial aspects of those times when we see red.
“Don’t Worry, Be Angry”
“If we aim to engage destructive social structures, as we must, our efforts will bring us into direct relationship with anger and outrage. At its worst, anger burns us up, injures others, or, when we repress it, collapses us into depression. In the spiritual realm, it can also become passive aggression, which either internalizes as the hyper-energized inner critic or projects out onto those who are “not following the rules.” ~ Thanissara, cofounder of Dharmagiri Insight Meditation Center
One doesn’t need to be a full-blown activist in today’s world to feel angry about the mess we’ve made. With bad news around every corner, sometimes it feels like a Herculean feat not to slip into a permanent depression, or outwardly into a homicidal rage. Could there be a middle way, one where we aren’t suppressing nor acting out our anger? A place where we can work within the fierce heat, cutting through all the superfluous garbage to the true heart of the matter?
Thanissara, a Buddhist teacher in South Africa, believes so.
In the article, “Don’t Worry, Be Angry”, she addresses how anger can “clarify and energize our commitment to social change.” She thinks women in particular are conditioned by society to be nice, pretty, soft, enabling, accommodating — and ruthlessly shamed if they dare express anger. When women suppress their rage, however, they become manipulative, resentful, muted, frustrated, damaged and damaging. And yet, these very same women have a jewel within their midst, if only it were to be recognized. The energy of anger, when distilled into clarity and wisdom, burns away the junk of self-seeking fears and desires. It cuts through the attachment of wanting only calm and pleasant states. This holds true for both men and women.
In the Buddhist iconographic tradition, Vajrayogini represents the dynamic force of fierce feminine energy. She is known as the “Essence of all Buddhas” and strikes a dancing posture wielding a sharp knife — the symbol for cutting through ignorance and illusions. She is wild and red, with a wrathful expression. Her body is surrounded by the flames of wisdom. She is the protector feminine. And she is desperately needed in the world today.
“Looking on at the mindless destruction of the planet, how can we not feel outraged? While anger is an uncomfortable and difficult emotion, it serves a vital purpose: shocking us out of the stupid trivia of celebrity lifestyles and media dirges. We should be on a war footing, in the same way we might in the face of an alien invasion. Instead we are lost in distracted twaddle while a terrible destruction unfolds around us.”
If we are to undertake the extraordinary journey of developing the fierce, yet tender, heart needed for our times, anger is a blessing. It is healthy to be enraged at the destruction of the planet, to be angry that profit takes precedence over the well-being of humans and animals. Anger tells us these corporations, governments and profiteers are not to be trusted. They do not have our highest interests in mind. Instead of doing the right thing and protecting the planet and its inhabitants, they pump billions of dollars into misinformation campaigns to hoodwink the public. What’s not to be upset about? This anger, really a force of conscience, is considered the guardian of the world in Buddhist thought.
It’s crucial we feel our anger, our rage, rather than shaming ourselves or creating some sanitized version of it. But Thanissara reminds us “if we harbor or act out of anger, it always poisons us, diminishing our credibility and harming others. The late Thai Buddhist teacher Ajahn Chah recommended we “catch emotions in the net of mindfulness, and then examine them before reacting.”’ When we feel anger, it’s a warning that something is off. If we don’t pay attention, chaos and destruction will soon follow.
Dancing the line between feeling anger and becoming overwhelmed by its energy is sensitive work. We also need to recognize when anger arises due to the activation of early patterning. When this kind of upset arises, it needs to be tended carefully.
There aren’t any magic bullets here. We have to do the work by “holding our seat” with anger and bringing awareness to the energy. If the anger is in response to injustice, it’s often clarifying — and can motivate us to take action. If its due to early patterning, anger gives us an opportunity to shed light on shadowy aspects of ourselves.
Thanissara closes with this thought:
“Anger is traditionally thought to be close to wisdom. When not projected outward onto others or inward toward the self, it gives us the necessary energy and clarity to understand what needs to be done.
If we prematurely condemn or repress anger because we think it unworthy to feel, then we will fail to transform it. The fullness of its embodied energy will remain unavailable to us. We won’t be able to protect what needs to be protected; we will let what is most precious slip away.”
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- Enhance Spiritual, Mental and Physical Well-being with a Pineal Gland Detox