“Again and again, whenever we’re challenged, there’s the opportunity to open to the difficulty, and let the difficulty make us more compassionate and wise.” – Pema Chödrön
My friends and I recently got together to listen to a CD lecture by Pema Chödrön called Don’t Bite The Hook: Finding Freedom from Anger, Resentment, and Other Destructive Emotions. It’s a recorded talk where Chödrön teaches that it’s “possible to relate constructively to the inevitable shocks, losses, and frustrations of life so that we can find true happiness.”
I thought this post would just be a review of the talk… but as I was re-listening to the CDs and taking notes, I realized that there was so much important and useful information contained here, and myself and so many of my friends could really use this. So I decided to really dissect the talk… and it will be the subject of my next several blog posts.
Even though I am giving you a breakdown of the information here, I encourage you to buy the CDs and listen for yourself. The way Chödrön delivers her message – her stories, her wit, her humor, and her voice… it’s worth hearing and sharing with… everyone really.
There are two causes for our anger:
1) Getting what we don’t want
2) Not getting what we do want
Most of us are heavily invested in what we like and what we dislike. And it’s this investment, this charge behind our emotions, that Chödrön refers to as “getting hooked”
The goal isn’t to not have likes or dislikes. But rather, the goal is to be openly curious about other people’s views and to not be threatened by them.
Most anger starts with a small ember… a minor irritation, something that irks us. We usually feel some sort of discomfort… in most people, it starts in the stomach. And then our thoughts come in as reinforcement, telling ourselves story after story, until the anger becomes big enough to act on and be verbalized.
So what do we do when we feel anger, or resentment, or irritability?
The first thing Chödrön recommends is to practice patience. Patience, in this case, means “to sit still and with the vulnerability of the situation, let yourself feel the soft spot in your heart and let your mind remain open and not follow the momentum of aggression. Sitting still with the restlessness and the pain of that energy. That’s the challenge!”
What about instead of allowing our thoughts to fan the heat of the ember, we sat still with our thoughts and observed them? What if instead of doing or saying anything, we just sat and watched the discomfort? What if instead of feeding the story-line, we stayed with the restlessness of the energy?
What exactly does it mean to observe your emotions. DBT Self Help has a nice way of describing the process: “Put it over there and look at it, maybe as if it were on a screen or a stage. Describe in words what the experience of that emotion is like. This also helps to give you distance and perspective. Try to experience your emotion as a wave, coming and going. You may find it helpful to concentrate on some part of the emotion, like how your body is feeling, or some image about it.”
When you observe your anger you may notice that it doesn’t “feel” good. Next time you feel yourself becoming angry, ask yourself “Is this making me happy?”. The insight that your anger feels bad is important
“Foresight wisdom brings foresight courage”
Just having a sense of how things work and how things develop can give you courage to be patient and to not hurry to escalate your aggression.
Start practicing with the small things. Chödrön refers to this as “Bourgeois suffering”: traffic jams, lines for coffee, etc. Use the small incidents as practice, so when the large incidents come up, they are easier to deal with.
“If you try to be patient in great adversity if you haven’t developed the habit, it’s very tough. It’s a quality that you develop of humor, lightness, perspective…”
“The more easily you are irritated, the more you strengthen the anger/hatred/aggression habit. Then you’ll find that less and less pleases you, and more and more things cause you to be unhappy. In other words, you become more thin-skinned. You kind of create your own future misery by strengthening your aggression and then, instead of as the years go on, having more and more inner strength to work with what comes up, it’s just the opposite. You become more irritable… more set in your ways… more provocable.”
If there is a way to solve the problem, then take steps to solve the problem. If there is nothing you can do, ask yourself “What is the point of getting worked up?”
Perhaps this week you can try to sit with your irritations… practice patience and see what the result brings to you.
“There has to be groups of people that are of like mind to hold our seat in the face of challenge and not follow the momentum of escalating the aggression in our own hearts and minds… And instead, letting the very same circumstances cause us to have a feeling of kinship with the suffering of other beings no matter what side we think they’re on… no matter what their views are. That the whole situation could make us more open and more loving to the world rather than more afraid” – Pema Chödrön