First, let me say that I mean no disrespect to the Dalai Lama or anyone who reveres him by posting this meme. For me, it illustrates a very important belief that I’ve always carried around about anger, which is that if you make me angry (and underneath that anger, at least for me, is usually hurt of some kind, often based in fear), I have to retaliate. I have to defend. I have to strike back. And I usually did.
But why? I’ve had such a problem with anger. And I’ve had it for a very, very long time. As I started to explore Buddhism, I found a book by Thich Nhat Hanh, simply titled “Anger.” In it, he wrote this simple piece:
When someone says or does something that makes us angry, we suffer. We tend to say or do something back to make the other suffer, with the hope that we will suffer less. We think, “I want to punish you, I want to make you suffer because you have made me suffer. And when I see you suffer a lot, I will feel better.” Many of us are inclined to believe in such a childish practice. The fact is that when you make the other suffer, he will try to find relief by making you suffer more. The result is an escalation of suffering on both sides. Both of you need compassion and help. Neither of you needs punishment.
When you get angry, go back to yourself, and take very good care of your anger. And when someone makes you suffer, go back and take care of your suffering, your anger. Do not say or do anything. whatever you say or do in a state of anger may cause more damage in your relationship.
Most of us don’t do that. We don’t want to go back to ourselves. We want to follow the other person in order to punish him or her. If your house is on fire, the most urgent thing to do is to go back and try to put out the fire, not to run after the person you believe to be the arsonist. If you run after the person you suspect has burned your house, your house will burn down while you are chasing him or her. That is not wise. You must go back and put out the fire. So when you are angry, if you continue to interact with or argue with the other person, if you try to punish her, you are acting exactly like someone who runs after the arsonist while everything goes up in flames.
It’s that bit about the “house on fire” that really got me. I’d much rather run after the arsonist and beat the shit out of him instead of tending to the house of my person – my mind, my emotions, my body – and getting that fire under control, so as to minimize the damage being caused.
As soon as I started to meditate on this, an interesting thing happened. I stopped getting so angry at everything. Now, don’t get me wrong. Some people can still push my buttons and get me in a fit of rage. However, it’s not nearly as bad as it was. For example, it used to be that whenever some slow schmuck wouldn’t get out of the left lane so I could speed by, I’d ride his tail aggressively, and when he finally did pull over, I’d glare hard at him. Now, not only do I not do that, but I find that I don’t even speed as much. Well, most of the time, anyway. What I discovered, and this probably isn’t any big surprise to anyone but me, is that the only reason my house was burning is that I had been dousing it with gasoline. So, whenever any spark came close to it, it practically exploded. My house was burning because of me. It wasn’t on fire because of an arsonist.
Now, my house is covered in flame retardant material. Now, if someone lights a match near my house, either intentionally or while just being careless, it’s far less likely to burst into flames. That material is created by mindfulness and meditation. By taking care of myself like I never have done before.
It’s nice to not be governed by anger all of the time.