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Lions Roar : September 2014
mindfulness practice, the less under anger’s iron grip we will be. In turn, the more chance we will be able to transform our rela- tionship to anger in the midst of daily life as well. Where does anger arise? It is in the mind. So by taming the mind we can establish a strong base for understanding how anger arises in us and how we habitually respond to it. We can see how anger spreads and settles in our body, and how it trig- gers formulaic dramas about blame and hurt. We can expose our conceptual constructs about anger, our justifications, defensiveness, and cover-ups. On that basis we can go further using the following practice. the Poison tree: a 4-step anger Practice One traditional analogy for a progressive, step-by-step approach to dealing with anger and the other kleshas is the poison tree. How do you deal with a poison tree? The first thing you might do is prune it, to keep it from getting too large or from spreading. But that just keeps it under control. The tree is still there. However, once the tree is a more manageable size, it might be possible to dig it up and get rid of it completely, which seems to be a slightly better approach. But just as you are about to do that, you may remember that a doctor once told you that this tree’s leaves and bark have medicinal qualities. You realize that it doesn’t make sense sim- ply to get rid of that tree. It would be better to make use of it. Finally, according to this story, a peacock comes along, notices the tree, and without further ado, happily gobbles it up. The peacock instantly converts that poison into food. 1. Pruning the tree: refraining from indulging in anger The first step is to refrain from speech and actions based on anger. When anger arises, it has usually already taken us over by the time we notice it. The intensity of the emotion and our reaction to it are so tied as to feel almost simultaneous. We are desperate to do something with this anger, either to feed it or to suppress it. In this step, we refrain from doing anything, no matter how strong the urge to do so may be. The practice is to stay with the experience of anger. We begin on the boundary, with the second-thought level, where we are tempted to add fuel to the flame or try to stomp it out and get rid of it. The practice is to engage in neither of those two strategies. It is to be with our anger without interpreting it or strategizing. Our reactions tend to be so strong and immediate that ini- tially we may not really get to the anger itself. But as our reac- tivity becomes less heavy-handed, a small, almost miniscule gap opens up between our anger and our reaction. In that gap it is possible for us to be with the anger and at the same time refrain from being caught up in it. We can relate to our anger more purely and simply, without second thoughts. 2. uprooting the tree: seeing through anger’s apparent solidity Once we are able to be with anger with more openness and less judgment, the second step is to look at it more precisely. When anger arises, we examine it. We ask questions. To what do we attach the label “anger”? Is it a sense perception, a thought, or a feeling? How real is it? How invincible? Is it still? Is it moving? When we try to pin it down, does it slip away? Where does it come from? Where does it live? Where does it go? What are its qualities? Its texture? Its color? Its shape? What gives anger its power over us? In this step we examine anger as a simple phenomenon. Where is the anger coming from? What is it aimed at? Is it our fault or is it the fault of someone or something else? look as directly as you can. What are anger’s roots? What is feeding it? Go level by level, deeper and deeper. Can you find its root cause? 3. Distilling the medicine: uncovering Wisdom in the midst of Pain In the third step we contemplate what it is about anger that is harmful and what might be of benefit. How could anger pos- sibly be a form of medicine? If we got rid of our anger what would be lost? Here the practice is to discern the difference between harmful anger and anger that benefits in some way. Clearly, the mindless expression of anger through words or deeds leads us to harm others and suffer harm ourselves. Yet repressing our anger also causes harm. The anger doesn’t actually go away but shows up in devious ways, wearing a disguise. So is there another option? According to Tibetan Buddhism, there is a flip side to anger: there is wisdom in it. Normally we are too caught up in our per- sonal struggles to connect with this wisdom, but anger actually has an integrity and a sharpness. It is a messenger that something is wrong, that something needs to be addressed. Anger’s awakened energy is said to be crystal clear, like a perfect mirror. It tells it like it is with no dissembling. Anger clears the air. It is immediate, and it is abrupt, but it grabs our attention and gets the point across. Anger interrupts our complacency and mobilizes us to take action. When we encounter injustice being done to another, when we see violence inflicted on innocent beings, when we see the ways that humans justify almost any crazy act of violence, it is heartbreaking and makes us angry. So anger could be the SHAMBHALA SUN SepteMBer 2014 50