“Angry people want you to see how powerful they are… loving people want you to see how powerful you are. ~Chief Red Eagle, c 1800
These are times of profound anger in America and the world. Who among us isn’t angry these days?
I know that I’ve carried anger as well as sorrow for many years of my life. I can point to people or events and say, “They caused my anger.”
Really? Is that really true?
Do we not have a choice whether to take on anger – or not? Is it someone else’s fault that we carry the gift of anger and allow it to contaminate our very soul?
How do we come to terms with anger when we experience its presence?
Here’s a way to approach anger that my partner Debra suggested to me. It’s based on the works of Buddhist teacher Tara Brach. She calls it the RAIN of self-compassion. When Debra first told me about the term, I thought it was a metaphor for compassion raining down on us. That’s not quite right. Brach tells us there are four steps to address and rediscover compassion for ourselves. Here they are:
- Recognize what is going on.
- Allow the experience to be there, just as it is.
- Investigate with kindness.
- Natural awareness comes from not identifying with the experience.
The four steps are deceptively simple. Consider something that makes you angry, grief-filled, worried, or other negative emotional states.
First, recognize where the sources of those feelings might be. Did they arise from an interaction with someone else or from an event? Did you have any control over what was said or done? Was there a trigger outside of yourself?
Second, sit with the experience of the emotional state. Don’t run from it. You won’t get very far. It is transient, just like all our other emotional states. Look at the negative feeling of anger from different perspectives.
Third, investigate how the action or words came to you, with curiosity rather than judgement. Try to step back from the words or experience that brought you to anger and see how you might help dissolve its power. As Walt Whitman wrote, “Be curious, not judgmental.”
Fourth, we tend to attach ourselves to the anger and its story. Natural awareness, though, will help us realize we aren’t really attached forever to whatever was said or done. Our lives and stories are far bigger than times we get angry or allow it to overtake our more compassionate emotions.
I am beginning the winding down time here at Westside Seattle. It’s been glorious and frustrating at times. As I said on Sunday in my last service, I am deeply grateful to you all for the stories, actions, hopes, worries, and much more you have brought to Westside and to me in the last three years.
Several people asked what the meditation was I used last Sunday at the end of the sermon. I’ll paste it below. Perhaps it will give us directions as to how we can best deal with anger, sorrow, loss, isolation:
May all beings receive the blessings of my life;
May I receive the blessings of my life;
May those I love receive the blessings of my life;
May those I do not love receive the blessings of my life;
May all in this church receive the blessings of my life;
May all beings receive the blessings of my life.
I will be working at Westside through the end of June and here for emergencies in July. Where I go next is up in the air but I’ll likely be packing and moving on or about July 27.
Blessings from both Debra and myself,