I led the free daily sit on Friday evening and we did a practice using a mantra of ‘Body like a mountain, breath like the wind, heart of compassion like sunshine and mind like the sky’. At the end of the practice an interesting discussion ensued about anger and fear.
A first participant shared their experience of anger. I talked about how many of us experience a lot of anger and rage when we meditate. This is often because we receive a message growing up that we are not acceptable when we express anger. So instead of expressing our anger we suppress it. Then when we come to meditation we have a lifetime of supressed anger to deal with. What generally happens, when our mind stabilises, is that the anger has the space to arise and we experience angry thoughts along with feelings of anger, and often rage. The practice is to be with the feelings, drop the stories and allow the anger to move through us in a process of insight and integration. The energy of anger has to move through us to be transformed.
The key message is that there is nothing wrong with experiencing anger. It is a common human emotion, which many of us experience. It is generally best not to buy into the stories the mind creates about anger, as this generally exacerbates the anger. It is generally best not to act out the anger against the object of our anger or against ourself as this can be very destructive. All of this is easier said than done and takes practice. That is why we offer a three year training of mindfulness to stabilise the mind, compassion to help us feel an embodied safeness within which emotions like anger can display and then insight. In the insight training we explore kindness as an antidote to anger, but also practice being with the energy of anger in a non-egocentric way, so as to experience the wisdom inherent within the energy of anger. None of this is achieved overnight, but is well worth several years of practice.
Our discussion on Friday then developed when one participant shared how they often experienced a fear of anger. Then another participant shared how they noticed when they were angry with someone, it was a fear of that person that was beneath the anger. This is something I have long noticed. The people that I don’t like are the people that I fear. Often what I fear about them is that they will find me out or that they will see though me. I fear that they will see beneath the façade I present to the messiness beneath. In fact, I am often astonished at how people seem not to see the mess and are fooled by my projection of myself as a together and capable individual. This is all absolutely fine and I expect that it is something that many of us have in common.
So, what underlies much of my anger is fear for my self.
This conversation stayed with me over the weekend and the insight that hit me today is that it is totally ok to be afraid. It is hardwired into us by our evolution. As humans we have self-awareness and we can think symbolically which means we can think about our self.
As soon as we have conceptualised our self we are fearful for it.
We have a self-protection mechanism by which we imagine future threats as a way of avoiding them. We are able to think about our future selves and the threats that we might have to face and make plans. Most of these threats won’t happen, but our ancestors who planned most for imagined future threats are the one who survived. So this habit is strong in humans.
This insight seems obvious. But it hit me in a different, felt sense way. As an insight. What really hit me was that it is totally Ok to be afraid. It is totally Ok to feel fear. There is nothing wrong with it. Feeling fear is the mud from which the seed of courage and fearlessness germinates.
So, I thought I would share this. If you are afraid or fearful, there is nothing wrong. Turn towards the fear and feel the feelings, notice the thoughts, become familiar with how fear manifests within you. So long as we experience ourselves as a conceptualised self we will feel fear. But rather than being afraid of the fear, become curious about it.
Heather will be running a Practice Day on the 24th of January: Tonglen: the practice of Compassion. This practice day is suitable for those practitioners with some experience of tonglen practice.