Something about anger

I have to start somewhere. Next Thursday (November 8th), following the midterm elections, I'll give a talk on kabillion year-old rage, intense female sexuality, and love. Might as well start with something about anger.

Last month, following the Kavanaugh hearings, our Zen community met for council practice and someone told a story that featured million-year-old rage. That sparked a flame around the circle and so we burned, kabillion-year-old rage fueled by memories of abuse, oppression, shame, helplessness, terror. Even if we can't remember what happened 10,000 years ago, our bodies howl in response to today's injury.

A line from a koan: When the dragon howls, clouds moving over the caves grow dark.

Clouds respond. Humans respond. When I asked Roshi whether Trump is the howling dragon, she said he is the tail. How can we respond effectively to the war he is cultivating? 

It is said (on bumper stickers) that if you aren't outraged you aren't paying attention. Ok, but Kavanaugh was outraged too and now all the troops are out on both sides. This country is built on the idea that adversaries will arrive at truth. How's that working? The courts are wasting time proving technicalities instead of repairing, congress is a bloody mess with fangs and ruptured jugulars, and the populace is ever-ready to bend the truth to the victor.

Is it possible to live in peace with all this? Some would bypass it, live in some kind of dissociated equanimity, but I strive to include everything, including anger.

Buddhist advice on anger ranges from the fundamentalist--cease from anger, to the aspirational--be kind, think loving thoughts about your mother, to the psychological--hold the anger like a baby or inquire into it (see for example, Thich Nhat Hanh or Ezra Bayda). 

In my work as a psychologist and in my own life, I understand feelings as being comprised of sensation, thought, and action tendency.

Anger is felt differently by people depending on what they experienced--their own anger or anger they witnessed. My own is nearly indistinguishable from fear because I grew up with disabilities that prevented me from ever winning a fight. Many women experience a mix of anger, fear, or sadness, and almost everyone experiences tension when trying not to act out. Of all the feelings, anger has the strongest action tendency that is forbidden. Well, it used to be forbidden; now it is stoked by our president.

What to do!? 

When we sit in meditation, the urge to punish can fall away, leaving clarity and determination. Fear can rise and fall, informing effective protection. The flow of sadness can open our hearts, giving us inspiration and fortitude to have conversations with those who differ from us. And maybe tension can ease as we accept the variety of experience. And then we act. We respond.

Please don't check out. Take care of yourself and those you love, have some fun, eat some food, get some sleep, and then act. Donate to someone, help get out the vote, go to a march, have a good conversation with someone on the other side. Take heart in impermanence and the certainty that every breath, every thought, every glance, every word affects the outcome. 

Next up, emergent strategy and intense female sexual desire, a response to Musho's talk: "Intense male sexual desire." 

October 2018


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Reader Comments (2)

"You must be pretty angry about the way people are treating you- you ought to do something about it- they're making you look so foolish!" Repressed anger is everywhere. Nowadays it might be a consequence of living in such close quarters with each other while simultaneously losing touch with nature. But there have always been disjuncts between humans' desires and the possibility of fulfillment. When a Loki, a Coyote, an Anansi tries to get you to take action on your anger prematurely, you need to stop, look around, and worry profoundly. That jolly, powerful person ain't your savior. The Trickster is out to create a chaos that (choose your pronoun) he/she/it can exploit. While everyone is running around in a naked frenzy arguing, he/she/it will be stealing your underwear.
There's no joy to match that of sanctioned transgression. Of letting off some innocent steam. And we are permitted.
As in the South Pacific cultures from which the concept of taboo comes, there are loopholes built into the strictures against the public demonstration of anger. We are allowed to experience companionable outrage. There are groups out there for us to join which are licensed to point fingers at other groups. Precarious social balances are achieved thereby, (Republicans against the Dems; Catholics vs Protestants etc etc) And some excesses are checked thereby, progress towards higher ideals happens. But it's easy for such a system of checks and balances to rumble out of control: half the Trickster's work is already done. Everybody is too busy to focus on the motives of disrupters. A caricature of traditional moral and political arguments is fostered; and legitimized by giving it a name, by calling it a movement, by usurping an older moribund political party. . .
Trickster laughs; while sanctioning lesser forms of transgression ("mere" anger and hate), he/she/it transgresses profitably on a far grander scale. If indeed natural human herd mentality has accelerated in West-Civ to the point that questioning the motives of others outside of the formal structure of sanctioned rivalries is a basic "taboo", there's little to be done. Tricksters will arise in every generation, and it will take too long for opposition to organize.
In the present case leaders who have the credibility to debunk Trump have their hands tied by gun, pharma, oil, agrabiz donors. Our "mainstream" media too, are locked into nearsighted battles. They can't afford to face the devil head on- they need to trickle out minor scandal on a daily basis. We can only hope the accumulative effect of their (and our) minor outrages will be enough to turn the tide. . .

November 3, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterdarko x

Thank you, dear Darko, for your treatise on Trump as trickster.

Bernie Glassman, Roshi, who died yesterday, famously apprenticed himself to a clown. This is what he had to say about tricksters: In the Native American traditions the clown, or trickster, holds one of the highest positions. They have to be pretty well-trained, and they are allowed to make fun of the priests openly. After all, it’s easy to fall into the trap of just preaching and not looking so much at your own actions. So the clown watches for us, and points out contradiction and hypocrisy with humor when no one else dares. But more important, the clown, the trickster, understands the oneness of life. It’s the clown’s job to deal with those things and people that we push away—the homeless, those in prison, those we’ve pushed to the margins of society, or even just those we disagree with. The clown wakes us up to the fact that they are all a part of us, however narrowly we’ve defined our lives.

Maybe your understanding and Bernie's come together if we do actually face the devil head on.

November 6, 2018 | Registered CommenterElena Taurke

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