I signed up to write this week’s “writing in the raw” segment because it is the week before the 63rd anniversary of the U.S. dropping atomic bombs on the civilian populations of two Japanese cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
While thinking about this topic, one thought kept recurring – the idea of anger. What is anger? How does it come about? What do we do with it? How does anger become resolved? And what purpose does anger serve? This diary will be totally subjective, exploring my own feelings as I’m no scholar on the issue. I’ve read a little about anger in Buddhist texts, but I’m relying mostly on my own personal feelings and development here.
Anger has been a constant companion throughout my life, always there, like a loyal dog following me about. Sometimes it may be sleeping, not making a big commotion, but sooner or later it wakens and anger and I become like the proverbial dog chasing its own tail, round and round we go. Sometimes the anger has lept ahead, dragging me along at the end of the leash, with little or no control over where the dog will take me.
So please be pulled along beyond the fold…
In addition to what seems to be a common childhood trait of being angry when one doesn’t get what one wants, I had an additional anger due to an angry, alcoholic Father who would beat up on my Mother from time to time. But this all mellowed by the time I was in high school and university. That was the time when I made a conscious decision to become a “rational adult”. Becoming a rational adult included getting over one’s silly food likes and dislikes as well as minimizing anger by talking out difficulties when problems arose. This mode of being served my adulthood fairly well for about three decades.
But then, at 50, my life came crashing down, again. This wasn’t the first time, but previously it didn’t impair my ability to go on, to survive. Suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune earlier did not leave me unable to support myself in a tolerable fashion. But this time, the breakdown of my health and the resultant inability to continue my career brought me to the brink. With no living relatives, and nothing to fall back on, I went into the full rage of the woman scorned, the life denied, the injustice imposed, the unfairness sustained.
I have spent the last 25 to 30 years trying to find a way to be a decent human being again and subdue the raving bitch I had become. I was angry indeed — screaming, raging angry. I didn’t deserve this. WTF was wrong? So the last 3 decades have been what I would describe as extreme learning. Practicing Buddhism was one of the most significant ways I sought to understand and pacifiy my anger.
How could His Holiness the Dalai Lama feel no anger toward the Chinese? How could the many lamas I have met not have experienced anger when put in prison and/or tortured? I tried to learn this, but it wasn’t that simple. I came out of a 4 week retreat on “The Way of the Bohdisattva,” working on developing loving kindness and compassion, and jumped all over our night manager whom I perceived (correctly I reluctantly say) blamed and abused me verbally to cover a mistake he had made on the job.
At this point, I began to announce that I had failed Buddhism. Realizing such failure is impossible I went on to contemplate spending Kalpas of endless time learning. Shantideva’s book, “The Way of the Bodhisattva”, states that one moment of anger can destroy years and years of good karma. Obviously, I was helpless and hopeless.
I live in a 160 unit apartment complex for seniors where the ratio is 8 women to each man. Besides finding it difficult to live this closely with so many people with most of whom I have little or nothing in common, I also found a radical difference with women who had lived in such totally different circumstances from me. These women, in their 70s, 80s and 90s had been brought up as little girls to “be nice”, to be accommodating, to be peacemakers by “going along to get along.” Unlike myself, they would prefer to suffer abuse than to speak out against it, whether it is against them or others. When I have refused to acquiese in injustice, I have been treated by some, not all, as if I had the plague. I was judged for not accepting an injustice, but rather pointing it out.
I see part of the reason for Nancy Pelosi’s over-accomodating and enabling role for Bush’s abuses as being partly coming from this form of female programming. These observations led me to look for a new way to relate to my anger, to really look at it directly. I wasdefinitely like the Dixie Chicks, “…not ready to make nice… “I knew I did not want to “get along” at any cost; this led me to look for a diplomatic, constructive way to express my anger. The Buddhists would call this skillful means. This takes a lot of patience and has been taught to me, in part, by the blog, because I can’t instantly react. There is a gap, a moment to take a breath before posting that reply. This is a benefit not extant in a direct, one on one, present time exchange “out here”.
I was supposed to write a diary to commemmorate our terrible crime of dropping atomic bombs on 2 Japanese cities with populations predominantly civilian: women, children and old men. But I don’t think this subject is far off topic as anger and its related traits of fear, power, ego, the need to be right, and the need to dominate clearly relate to the driving motivations behind war. The dropping of the Atom bombs, the cold war, Vietnam, Iraq, and, my favorite, Grenada are all the result of fear of others, and the need to dominate others. These motivations relate to both perpetrators and victims and mutually reflect and augment each other until the karma makes it impossible to distinguish one from the other, unless…
Unless at least one side begins to start to stop…to start to stop. And so a new cycle comes into being. I really started talking about this anger and response cycle because of the little battles we’ve gotten into here on the blog, the flaming and arguing. We’re supposed to “be excellent to each other”, we’ve found, however, that it’s not exceedingly easy!
Patience plays a major role in learning to manage one’s anger in a constructive way it seens to me. And that’s why the blog works for me by giving me the time to take a breath before responding. And sometimes, if the other with whom there is a conflict is totally intransigent, incapable or unwilling of seeing both sides, of having an exhorbitant need “to be right”, then there is a standoff. I have found it best for me just to back off or get out of the way for a while, not to concede my point, but just to drop it temporarily. Quite amazingly, a passage of time can present the most surprising and unexpected means of re-resolving the conflict.
In closing, I’ll quote a few lines from a long poem that deals with these themes:
From “Shadow Poem for Carmen”
I would so like to be simply present
Quiet and slow like the silent rising moon
But I must learn instead to turn
This constant struggle stirring kettles
Into walking meditation
Trying not to run
Putting one foot in front of the other
The meditation of oxen
On Bataan’s rock fortress where the worm hides
I plunge into the season of our death
I plunge into the sea of death
And find Lethe floating with my grandmother
Crocheting winds and weaving magic scarves
They say violence and destruction
Are not the natural state of man
Imagination is captured by the figure of a girl
Skipping in boundless childhood joy
Seared into the pavement of the bridge
Felt no pain
Going at the sped of light
In that diaspora between dalliance and disappearance
The children were sent out from school
For many weeks on work patrol
To build fire breaks through the city
Ten thousand years the human consciousness
Has grappled with the thought of death
And has created
Death writ large across the planet
And cannot this time lay the blame on Eve…