Thursday, January 31, 2002
Anger: Practical Practice in Daily Life, Part 2
Another useful and practical anger exercise Thay recommends is a certain use of noble silence. By this he doesn't necessarily mean not speaking at all. He means speaking only certain things, phrases designed to deflect anger and ease conflict. One well-known example is that of a person whose brusque manner and sharp, sarcastic words caused much irritation and tension. Thay recommended this person take a vow of silence for 3 days. Her vow was to use only 3 phrases and use them sincerely for these 3 days: "How can I help you?" "Did that help you or do you need something else?" "You're very welcome."
Is there a person or situation in our own daily lives, a place where a similiar crafted vow of silence would ease tension and misunderstanding? Perhaps we could all try this kind of silence at difficult times to help calm the suffering in ourselves in and others. What makes this difficult is that when we are in situations of conflict, we are often immediately seized by feelings of self-righteousness. "I'm being wronged; I must stand up for myself!" But reacting with anger will only escalate the conflict further, Thay says. That's when Thay would counsel a vow of silence of this type.
You'll remember that last week I quoted Thay's practical solution to handling conflict with a loved one: say calmly that you are upset or write a note if you can't speak calmly; set a time to discuss the problem, a time when you can discuss it calmly; be mindful of how your own suffering and the suffering of the other person have contributed equally to the conflict; meet the other person, talk only with loving speech, and listen with compassion when the meeting time comes. Thay even recommended certain phrases to say: "Darling, I'm angry and I want you to know it." "I am doing my best." "I need your help."
These phrases are the vow of silence in anger. Besides this skillful use of silence, I have also recently learned an interesting and somewhat comical anger exercise. Try this at first with yourself in the shower, then with your loved one. See if this helps create the distance you need when you're angry so that you don't identify yourself with your anger and escalate conflict.
While in the shower think about a problem that really annoys you, makes your blood boil. Dwell on it a minute. Embrace it and really let it take you away. Then immediately notice how you feel, how much you are suffering. At that instant, vow to treat yourself with compassion. Vow to stop inflicting this kind of suffering on yourself. And immediately extend that vow to helping others be relieved from the suffering caused by anger.
Then state your problem out loud, but calmly, using only the words "blah, blah, blah." Think the anger words, but say only "blah." You'll immediately start to laugh at yourself. And at that moment you have freed yourself from your suffering, and realized how petty your anger was as well. Then look deeply into yourself with meditation to understand your anger. Notice also that you have instantly taught yourself how to stop automatically slashing back with angry words in a conflict. Now all you need is to practice this exercise. Do it often in the shower. Once you are good at it, try this exercise with a loved one.
Ask them to practice this exercise in the shower too. Then after a certain time -- maybe two or three weeks -- vow that the next time you have a conflict with each other, you will perform this exercise. So when the conflict erupts, your response will be "blah, blah, blah." Probably both of you will immediately begin to laugh, and the conflict will be over instantly. If not, if the situation is that serious, then the other person will reply "blah, blah, blah." If this doesn't end the conflict, clearly you will need to write each other notes and meet later for compassionate listening and loving speech. Create and abide by a Peace Treaty (see section "The Peace Treaty") with your loved one.
Recently, we tried this "blah, blah, blah" exercise in one of my yoga class, with near strangers telling each other their anger using blah. Not only did it generate a lot of laughter and good feeling in the class, it also was simple lesson in impermenance and non-identity. Our anger is impermenant and it is not us. It cannot hold us in its grip once we treat it mindfully. This understanding immediately eliminates much suffering, both inside us and in the wider world.
Note: Frank Jude will return next week from retreat and will then resume writing Karuna Notes. Thanks for being patient with me while I filled in for him!
.: posted by fortune 11:25 AM