Category Archives: Anger

Anger: Responding, Not Reacting



Anger is natural, intelligent and necessary for surviving and flourishing. Yet when we are hooked by anger, it causes great personal and collective suffering. This talk explores how to transform patterns of reactivity by bringing a mindful and compassionate attention to the unmet needs that underlie angry reactivity. When we learn how to pause and connect honestly with our inner experience, we are then able to respond to others from our full intelligence and heart (a favorite from the archives).

“Getting angry with another person is like throwing hot coals with bare hands: both people get burned.”  Buddha

“… When we find ourselves in an aggressive relationship, we need to set clear boundaries. The kindest thing we can do for everyone concerned is to know when to say ‘enough.’ Many people use Buddhist ideals to justify self-debasement. In the name of not shutting our heart we let people walk all over us. It is said that in order not to break our vow of compassion we have to learn when to stop aggression and draw the line. There are times when the only way to bring down barriers is to set boundaries.”
Pema Chödron (from: The Places That Scare You)

Also quoted:
“When the gentleness between you hardens
And you fall out of your belonging with each other,
May the depths you have reached hold you still.”
For Love in a Time of Conflict. ~ John O’Donohue

NOTE: Video is closed captioned.


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Befriending Irene



While Tara is away, this talk is from 2011 after Hurricane Irene hit us with fury. Dorian is now leaving its destruction behind, just as we work with our stormy weather within.

Whether you face chronic anxiety or more violent storms of fear and anger, you can cultivate the wings of freedom–the mindfulness and compassion–that free you. This talk explores how the habit of being reactive causes us suffering and the ways these tools of meditation can be applied to the inner weather systems that most challenge us.

This is for me the gift of RAIN on blame – to shift from a weather system of something’s wrong to a sense of space – of coming back home to a larger sense of being.

The flute meditation at the end of the talk is given by Akal Dev.


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Part 1 – The Answer is Love:  Evolving out of “Bad Other”



These two talks address the inquiry: How do we awaken from the contempt and hatred that causes so much suffering in our world? The first talk looks at how we can use the practices of mindfulness and compassion to decondition our habits of self-blame and self-hatred, as well as the importance of helping each other defuse the trance of unworthiness. The second talk extends the use of these practices to situations where we’ve locked into external “bad othering.” These times need our deepened dedication to love: By intentionally arousing compassion for ourselves and others, we directly contribute to the evolution of consciousness in our world.

Listen and view Part 2 here.

“He drew a circle that shut me out-
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle and took him In!”
~ Edwin Markham


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Forgiveness: Releasing Ourselves and Others from Aversive Blame – Part 3



Rumi invites us to find the barriers we’ve erected against love, and a universal one is blame. These three talks are an invitation to relax those barriers, and to open our hearts to our inner life and to all beings. Part I focuses on chronic self-judgment; Part 2 on the places of deep self-condemnation, and Part 3 on where we have locked into anger, blame or hatred of others. Each includes guided reflections that can support us in directly awakening beyond the confining thoughts and feelings of blame.

We forgive for the freedom of our hearts…

Listen to Part 1 here: Forgiveness: Releasing Ourselves and Others from Aversive Blame – Part 1

Listen to Part 2 here: Forgiveness: Releasing Ourselves and Others from Aversive Blame – Part 2


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Blog: Shifting from Blame to Love: 3 Practices for a Wise Heart



Evolution has rigged all of us with a negativity bias—a survival-driven habit to scan for what’s wrong and to fixate on it. In contemporary society, a pervasive target is our own sense of unworthiness. We habitually fixate on how we’re falling short—in our relationships, our work, our appearance, our mood and behaviors. And while self-aversion is our primary reflex, we also fixate on the faults of others, how other people are letting us down, how they are wrong or bad and should be different. Whether we are focusing inwardly or outwardly, we are creating an enemy, and imprisoning ourselves in the sense of a separate, threatened self.

While the negativity bias is a key part of our survival apparatus, when it dominates our daily life, we lose access to the more recently evolved parts of our brain that contribute to feelings of connection, empathy and wellbeing. What helps us to de-condition the negativity bias? How do we shift from limbic reactivity to “attend and befriend? Here are three ways that help us awaken our full potential for natural presence and caring.

Look for the Vulnerability

The first thing we can do is to look toward the vulnerability, starting with ourselves. When we’re blaming ourselves, we can ask, “What’s really going on underneath here? What has driven me to behave in this way?” Perhaps you’ll see you were afraid to fall short, and that fear made you act exactly how you didn’t want to act. Or maybe you see you really wanted approval because you were feeling insecure, and so you ended up in some way betraying yourself and not acting with integrity. When you begin to understand that you are really hurting in some way, you will naturally open out of blame and into self-compassion.

When triggered by others, first bring a kind presence to your own feelings of vulnerability. Once you are more present and balanced, try to look through the eyes of wisdom at what might behind their behavior. How might this person be caught in their own sense of insecurity, inadequacy, confusion? If you can begin to see how this person might be suffering, you will reconnect with a natural sense of tenderness and care.

Actively Express Compassion

When compassion arises, the next step is to actively express it. This is what brings compassion fully to life. If you’re working on self-compassion, look to the vulnerable part of yourself to sense what it most needs from you. Is it forgiveness? Acceptance? Companionship? Safety? Love? Then from the most wise and kind place in your being, try to offer inwardly what is most needed. Either mentally or with a whisper, you might say your name and send a message of kindness; that you are holding it with love, that you are not leaving. You might place a hand gently on your heart or cheek, or even give yourself a light hug as a way of conveying, from your more awake heart, “I’m here with you. I care.”

If you’re working with compassion for others, then it’s powerful and healing to communicate your recognition of their suffering, and your care. We all know that when we are with somebody we love, if we actually say the words “I love you” out loud, it brings the love to a new level. If you want to reverse your negativity bias with someone—to reverse your habits of blaming or distancing—look for their vulnerability and then, either through prayer or in person, offer them some message of understanding and kindness.

Include those who seem Different  

Part of our negativity bias, and the cause of much racial, religious and other domains of violence, is we assume potential danger—something wrong—associated with those who are different. A practice that evolves us (and our larger society) toward inclusive loving is to intentionally deepen our relationships with others of difference. When we communicate on purpose, trying to understand, it opens us to the larger truth of our interconnectedness.

While our brain has a flight, fight freeze mechanism, it also has a compassion network that includes mirror neurons that allow us to register what it’s like for another. We can sense that others want to feel loved and loving; that they want to feel safe and be happy. When we feel that connection, it enables us to act on behalf of each other and the relationship or larger community. But unless we purposefully take time to pause and listen to others of difference, we won’t automatically engage that part of our brain. And to have these heart-awakening dialogues, we need to intentionally create safe conscious containers.

In the same way as we train on the cushion, we can train in conscious communication with each other, and gradually widen the circles to connect with those who may be more notably of difference. There are many effective practices, like Insight Dialogue, Non-Violent Communication and circles of reconciliation and that offer a formal structure for communicating. Importantly, we need to practice in our close- in relationships. A couple of times a week, my husband and I will meditate together and then we’ll have a period of silence where we reflect on certain inquires, like “What are you grateful for right now?” and “What is difficult for you right now?” We also ask “Is there anything between us that is getting in the way of an open and loving flow.” The other person listens with a kind, accepting presence, and we each get to name what we’re experiencing.   Whatever practice you choose, you can trust it’s important healing work, especially in these times.

What about those who aren’t willing to engage in conversation with us? Fortunately, we can know that our capacity to feel connection isn’t hitched to their capacity to connect to us. Of course it’s easier to feel it when there’s mutuality, but we can still offer kindness from our hearts regardless, and research shows that this kind attention wakes up the part of our brain that feels compassion. It’s possible to do this in every situation, with every person we meet.

It’s natural that in the face of hurt, injustice, deception, and violation we will feel a range of emotions, like fear, hatred and anger. The negativity bias can lock us into being at war with ourselves, and with others “out there.” It is important that we pause, be with ourselves and with each other, and open fully to the feelings that arise. When we honor and listen to those feelings we can get beneath them down to our human vulnerability and the care that is really our essence. It then becomes possible to respond to our world aligned with our hearts. I have a morning prayer that’s really simple: “Teach me about kindness.” When I move through the day with that informing me, the moments become filled with presence, tenderness and aliveness, even when I encounter challenging people, myself included!

 



Part 2: Awakening through Anger – The U-Turn to Freedom (from archives)



While we have strong conditioning to react to aggression with more aggression, we have the capacity to pause, and instead deepen attention and connect to our natural wisdom and empathy. This talk looks at how we can directly engage in this evolutionary adaptation when we encounter trauma related conflict in our personal lives, and in a parallel way when groups of people who have been part of traumatizing conflict seek reconciliation and healing (a favorite from the archives on 2015-11-18).

Listen: Part 1: Awakening through Anger – The U-Turn to Freedom


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Part 1: Awakening through Anger – The U-Turn to Freedom



Anger is naturally triggered when we feel an obstacle to meeting our needs. How do we honor the intelligence within anger, but not get hijacked into emotional reactivity that creates suffering in our individual and collective lives? This talk explores the U-turn that enables us to offer a healing attention to the feelings and unmet needs under anger. Once present with our inner life, we are able to respond to those around us with wisdom, empathy and true strength. (a favorite from the archives)

“Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.” Mark Twain

Link to the “Parable of the prickly porcupines.”

Listen: Part 2: Awakening through Anger – The U-Turn to Freedom


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Anger: Responding, Not Reacting



Anger is natural, intelligent and necessary for surviving and flourishing. Yet when we are hooked by anger, it causes great personal and collective suffering. This talk explores how to transform patterns of reactivity by bringing a mindful and compassionate attention to the unmet needs that underlie angry reactivity. When we learn how to pause and connect honestly with our inner experience, we are then able to respond to others from our full intelligence and heart.

“Getting angry with another person is like throwing hot coals with bare hands: both people get burned.”  Buddha

“… When we find ourselves in an aggressive relationship, we need to set clear boundaries. The kindest thing we can do for everyone concerned is to know when to say ‘enough.’ Many people use Buddhist ideals to justify self-debasement. In the name of not shutting our heart we let people walk all over us. It is said that in order not to break our vow of compassion we have to learn when to stop aggression and draw the line. There are times when the only way to bring down barriers is to set boundaries.”
Pema Chödron (from: The Places That Scare You)

Also quoted:
“When the gentleness between you hardens
And you fall out of your belonging with each other,
May the depths you have reached hold you still.”
For Love in a Time of Conflict. ~ John O’Donohue

NOTE: Video is closed captioned.

photo: James_Jester, pixabay


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Blog: Awakening Through Anger



One evening after my Wednesday night meditation class, Amy, a member of our D.C. meditation community, asked if we might talk for a few minutes about her mother, a woman she often referred to as “a manipulative, narcissistic human.” Amy’s mother had recently been diagnosed with terminal breast cancer, and as the only local offspring, Amy had become her mother’s primary caretaker. So, there she was, spending hours a day with a person she’d been avoiding for decades. “I can’t stand myself for having such a hard heart,” Amy confessed.

Amy and I agreed to meet privately to explore how she might use her practice to find more freedom in relating to her mother. At our first session, she told me difficult early childhood memories had recently been emerging. In the most potent of these, Amy was three years old. Her mom yelled upstairs that she’d prepared a bath for her and that she should get in the tub. But when Amy went into the bathroom, what she found was a couple of inches of lukewarm water. What had flashed through her three-year-old mind then was: “This is all I’m going to get. No one is taking care of me.”

Amy’s mom had always been preoccupied with her own dramas, perpetually reacting to perceived slights from friends, struggling against weight gain, and berating her husband for his shortcomings. Little attention was paid to the physical or emotional needs of Amy or her siblings. “She doesn’t care about anyone except herself,” Amy told me. “She’s a self-centered bitch … it really pisses me off. I got gypped out of having a mother, and now I’m here catering to her.” As she was speaking I asked her to pause, and investigate what she was most aware of in the moment. After a long silence, Amy said “There’s so much rage, I can barely contain it.”

Part of the process of softening our hearts includes learning to recognize and allow whatever we’re feeling—even intense rage. But this isn’t always simple, or easy. When I asked Amy if she could allow the rage to be here, she shook her head. “I’m afraid if I really make space for this rage, it will destroy every relationship I have. I’ve already hurt people I love.”

When anger is buried, like Amy’s was, the energy gets converted and expressed in many different ways. Yet, anger is a natural survival energy that wants our attention, that needs to be allowed to be felt. However, “allowing” doesn’t mean we let ourselves be possessed by our anger. Rather, we allow when we acknowledge the stories of blame without believing them, and when we let the sensations of anger arise, without either acting them out or resisting them.

I encouraged Amy to check in with her fear. Was it willing to let this rage be here? Could the fear step aside enough so that she could be present with this rage? Amy nodded. Now, she could begin to investigate the emotional energy beneath the blame. I knew that for her to do this, she’d first need to step outside of the seductive sway of her resentful stories. We’d talked about the stories, respecting them as windows into her pain. But the anger also lived deeper in her body—in a place beyond thought. The next step was for Amy to widen and deepen her attention so she could fully contact these embodied energies.

I asked Amy to notice what she was feeling in her body, and she closed her eyes and paused. “It’s like a hot pressured cauldron in my chest,” she said. What would happen, I asked, if she said yes to this feeling, and allowed the heat and pressure to be as intense as it wanted. “It wants to explode,” Amy said. Again, I encouraged her to let be, to allow her experience just as it was.

Amy was absolutely still for some moments.“The rage feels like it is bursting flames, like a windstorm spreading in all directions,” she said. “It’s blasting through the windows of this office.” In a low voice, she went on: “It’s spreading through the East Coast. Now it’s destroying all life forms, ripping through the continent, oceans, earth.” She continued, telling me about the rage’s fury, how it was spreading through space. Then she became very quiet. Speaking in a soft voice, she finally said, “It’s losing steam,” before sitting back on the couch and letting out a tired sigh. “Now there’s just emptiness. No one is left in the world. I’m utterly alone, lonely.” In a barely audible whisper, she said, “There’s no one who loves me, no one that I love.”

Amy began weeping. Inside the rage, she’d found an empty place, a place that felt loveless. Now what was revealing itself was grief: grief for the loss of love in her life. When I asked what the grieving part of her most needed, she knew right away: “To know that I care about this pain, that I accept and love this grieving place.” I guided her to gently place her hand on her heart, and offer inwardly the message her wounded self most needed. She began repeating the phrase, “I’m sorry, I love you.” This wasn’t an apology. Rather, it was a simple expression of sorrow for her own hurt.

As Amy whispered the phrase over and over, she began rocking side to side. “I’m seeing the little girl in the bath,” she said, “and feeling how uncared for she feels, how alone. I’m holding her now, telling her ‘I’m sorry, I love you.’” Then, after a few minutes, Amy sat upright and looked at me with a fresh openness and brightness. “I think I understand,” she said. “I’ve been angry for so long that I abandoned her—the inner part of me—just like my mom abandoned that three-year-old.” She paused,then continued. “I just have to remember that this part of me needs love. I want to love her.”

Offering a compassionate and clear attention to her vulnerability had connected Amy with a vastness of being that could include her pain. This natural awareness is the fruition of an intimate attention. When we’re resting in this presence, we’re inhabiting the refuge of our own awakened heart and mind.

Some weeks later, Amy read me her morning’s journal entry: “There is more room in my heart.” The night before, after her mother had complained for the third time that her soup still wasn’t salty enough, Amy felt the familiar rising tide of irritation and resentment. She sent the message “I’m sorry, I love you” inwardly to herself, giving permission to the annoyance, to the edginess in her own heart. She felt a softening, a relaxing of tension. Looking up, she was struck by her mother’s grim, dissatisfied expression. Then, just as she’d learned to inquire about herself, the thought came:“What is my mom feeling right now?” Almost immediately, she could sense her mother’s insecurity and loneliness. Imagining her mother inside her heart, Amy again began offering caring messages. “I’m sorry,” she whispered silently, “I love you.”

She found herself feeling genuine warmth toward her mother, and the evening was surprisingly pleasant for both of them. They joked about her mom doing a “mono diet” of potato chips, went online and ordered a bathrobe, and had fun watching The Daily Show together.

At our last meeting Amy told me how, several days earlier, her mother had woken up in the morning hot and sweaty. Amy took a cool cloth to her mother’s forehead and cheeks, arms and feet. “Nobody’s ever washed me,” her mom had said with a wistful smile. Amy immediately remembered the little girl in the bathtub, and felt tears in her eyes. She and her mom had both gone through much of life feeling neglected, as if they didn’t matter. And right now, each in her own way was tasting the intimacy of care. They looked at each other and had a moment of uncomplicated love. It was the first such moment Amy could remember, one she knew she’d cherish long after her mom was gone.

Adapted from True Refuge (Jan. 2013)

True Refuge

Enjoy this video and listen to a talk on effectively dealing with anger: Causing No Harm.

For more information visit: www.tarabrach.com



Causing No Harm



The mindstates behind violence – anger and fear – are universal and natural. If they possess us and drive our actions, we suffer. If we learn to meet them with a mindful awareness – if we step out of judgment and angry reactivity – we serve our own freedom and the possibility of peace on earth as well.


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