Saturday, December 21, 2013


You know how it goes. You think you understand the mechanism, you've been meditating for many years, you've done your best to follow the teachings of the Buddha--but then it happens. Something or someone comes along to trigger you, and you lose it all. You get mad.

Here's what happened yesterday: I had just stepped outside the front door for our morning walk when our neighbor and fellow-walker hurries up and says, You'd better take a look at what they're doing to your hedge. Alarmed, I looked around the north side of the house and found workers slashing down the few last remnants of the fine green hedge that had separated us from our immediate neighbor's driveway and acted as a secure backing for the platform we built many years ago to hide our trash cans.

I was outraged. I made no attempt to hide my anger from the workers, who claimed to be acting on instructions from their employer. Why was she doing this? Why had she not at least consulted us before tearing down our hedge? "Our" hedge, so we thought. The leader of the work gang assured me that the hedge belonged to our neighbor. He pointed, with something of a smirk, I thought, to a pink line spray painted on the curb. I did not appreciate the smirk, and made no bones about telling him so.

We felt violated, exposed. Something of "ours" had been stolen from us--as had the privacy we had always enjoyed between our houses, along with protection from the street. We called our neighbor, who was already at work. We let her know of our anger, our sense of violation. We wanted her to understand just how outraged we were. She told us she had not known they were about to do this work, that she had intended to consult us. Too late for that. She promised to share her plans to build a fence and a wall, to replace the hedge...

The anger stayed with me all morning. After the initial explosion, I usually get very quiet when I am very angry. The anger roils around inside. Not matter the justice of the initial cause, I understand that the suffering is my choice. Still, I attach to it--as though, because my gut assumes it's justified, it were somehow helpful. It's not. It served only to poison my day.

I think I was able to let it go in meditation this morning. I explored that sense of violation and the anger that it triggered. The sense of exposure, the loss of something that was "mine", the rupture in the proper order of things on which my sense of security depends, my inability to control events in the external world. Then moved on into the practice of compassion--first for myself and then for all those who have experienced violation. I thought, particularly, of those who had suffered from far worse injury than the loss of a hedge: those millions in Syria, for example, whole families robbed of their entire home and their means of living... So many human beings violated by their fellow human beings.

Next, a much harder but necessary step: to practice compassion for the violators, most immediately for my neighbor and her workmen who had been the target of my anger; then for all those human beings who rob others of their livelihood, their home, their very limb and life...

I know there are those who scoff at what they believe to be the overly compliant, docile quality of Buddhism; there is a powerful ego part of me that wants to agree with them. Why should I be the enabler for those who wish me harm, or inflict it with impunity on others? Am I not a fool to accept insult or injury without returning them in kind? But then I remind myself that to practice compassion is not a passive act, but a powerful means to address the suffering we all experience in our lives. If I want to avoid the suffering that anger causes me in both body and mind, this is the best, perhaps the only way I know to let it go.

1 comment:

richard said...

Letting go of the anger is the best thing to do Peter. I remember a work colleague from a former employer, he'd been carrying anger and hurt from very early in his life. Over the years it had festered and ruined his outlook. I find myself trying to let go of old angers, old hurts, not add to them. It's not an easy thing is it?

I always try to remember an old saying. Anger is like a hot stone, if you hold on to it, the only one it burns is you.