Love In the Time of Chaos is a five-part series featuring the collective advice of the Be Here Now Network’s teachers on dealing with the chaos of the current political climate with love, compassion, and equanimity.
There is nothing in this mess of political chaos that makes me angrier than the subject of climate change. It kind of feels like we’re burying our heads in the sand just to squeeze the last few dollars out of our natural resources. Is this something that we can truly allow to happen? What about our children and grandchildren, what kind of planet are we leaving to them?
Boy, is that an easy road to race down! The anger surges like a sports car being revved to the red line. And no matter the person or topic that fuels your rage, within that anger is an undeniable energy.
The Wisdom of Anger
Our worst thing can also be our best thing. So if you have a lot of anger, you have a tremendous potential of that energy becoming mirror-like wisdom. When the struggle is removed from the anger, then it becomes mirror-like wisdom. So it’s the same energy, it’s not like you’ve got to get rid of anger and then cultivate something else. The energy of anger itself, when the struggle – meaning the dualistic fixation that occurs in anger, of me versus whoever or whatever I’m mad at – when that’s removed, it’s just energy. And that energy has a tremendous amount of clarity. We can be so clear about other people’s faults, and what’s wrong, and so on. It’s the same with passion. If you’re really passionate and desirous, that’s not a problem, that’s energy. And that energy can then be transformed into wisdom.
You have to do some pre-emptive strikes on your anger. Work with it when it’s not really up, so that you begin to become aware of it and transform it. Feed your demons when you’re not angry, then you have a better chance when it does come up to really work with it.
Fellow Buddhist teacher Roshi Joan Halifax agrees that anger can be a very useful force:
I think anger is important at this time. I think to circumvent any sense of moral outrage that’s arising within us is to be unrealistic in relation to the harm that’s occurring at this time. One has to understand anger in perspective. Anger, for one thing, has within it the seed of wisdom associated with clarity, with discernment. If you cut the value out of your experience, in a way, you’re taking some of the structure that allows us to see clearly into things as they are. The seed of wisdom in anger is discernment. That’s the first thing.
The second thing is our anger toward the experience of disempowerment that is going on, whether we’re speaking in terms of the natural world, or in terms of race, or children, or women, or economic justice, we should be angry. And it’s essential that we act. We can’t just sit there gazing at our navel and say it’s all love. Love does not mean that we are passive in the face of harm. I think Martin Luther King Jr. was clear about the relationship between love and justice: Anything that stands in the way of love is unjust. The absence of justice points to the absence of love.
So I don’t separate love and justice in this regard, I see them as intimately intertwined. We can become a toy of our anger, or our anger can become an instrument of love.
Our anger can become an instrument of love. I don’t have anything to add, I just felt like we all needed to hear that again.
Integrating Your Anger
Not get rid of anger, but live with anger, and integrate it healthily. Not let it degenerate into hatred, rage, and violence. Anger is just an emotion and a feeling, a very difficult one. How we respond to it makes all the difference.
First, we’ve been talking about just being with your anger. So putting a picture of the difficult person on your altar helps you get used to being with it, almost inoculates you to it. Then you start to see the absurdity, or the exaggerated part of how much we hate this person that we don’t even know personally. But what we really are against is their policies. We’re against the sin, not the person.
Second, feel the anger in your body. Breathe once, twice, or three times. A lot of teachers prescribe that body, mind, and spirit integration – thoughtful action, rather than reaction. When I get clearer, everything gets clearer, and it helps clarify the situation for everyone. And then we’re a light, rather than a shadow in the world.
Bill Murray is a great precept. He’s my local Buddha. If you ever saw the movie, “What About Bob?” Baby steps. Baby steps. Just bit by little bit. Take 10 deep breaths, you know? Thomas Jefferson said if you’re really angry to take 100. Seneca, the Stoic, thousands of years ago said to never make a judgment or a decision when you’re angry. So, in general, the more people learn to control their temper, every little bit you can minimize it, every baby step – like only get angry for two minutes and 59 seconds instead of three minutes – you’ll feel that much better. You’ll be that much healthier. You’ll be much more effective, even in situations of stress.
Who could possibly deny the great wisdom of Bill Murray? May we all take the baby steps necessary to turn our anger into an instrument of love.
Written by Noah Markus on behalf of Love Serve Remember Foundation
If you’re interested in the other parts of the Love in the Time of Chaos series: