When I saw the opportunity to ask a question of one of my favorite teachers, Pema Chodron, (read more about why I was in the same room at Pema by clicking here) my mind started racing. I thought about all the many things running through my head these days. The questions about identity, people, relationships, culture, family, love, food, ethics, politics, religion. You know, the simple stuff. I thanked her for sharing her natural gifts of humor and humility. Then, I referenced Jarvis Masters who is on death row for a crime he didn't commit, and she visits him often to speak with him and shares stories about him. He was watching tv during lunch one day and the volume was turned down. He told Pema he saw the KKK demonstrating. Then he saw politicians on the floor debating some legislation and they were yelling at each other. Then the news changed and he saw Greenpeace activists and they were also yelling.
And he said to Pema, "I've learned something tonight. They all have the same angry faces."
This was my very question for her: how can I be a good activist, most specifically a health and wellness activist, despite global and national issues, circumstances or interpersonal interactions that bring up my anger and rage? I asked how I can support myself and others in living happy and fulfilling lives, and not give way to the anger and resentment that comes up when faced with the many injustices in our world today, or just in simple, everyday life.
"Good question," Pema said. "That's an excellent question."
Anger is a tough topic to talk about but it's something we can ALL relate to, no matter who we are or what we are dealing with in life. I feel such passion for relieving the suffering of all beings. In fact, bodhichitta was the topic of the retreat I attended that particular weekend.
It's what a bodhisattva does, after all. We are activists for peace, love and happiness.
She says we can only do so much for the bigger issues as individuals and this feeling of helplessness can sometimes be the root of our anger, frustration or aggression. Whether we are advocating for marriage equality, cleaner water or animal cruelty, our stance on religion or less hate crimes, breastfeeding in public or who is making dinner and doing the dishes. This remains clear:
The aggression we cause in day-t0-day interpersonal experiences can often undo the very positive change we seek to engender.
When faced with anger within myself or from others, Pema advised me to ask questions.
Pema suggested nurturing a sense of curiosity instead of rage, anger, blaming and shaming. I remember when it felt right to me to be enraged as I noticed things I'd never be awake to before--in the world, in this country and in my own family of origin. But anger hasn't been effective for me. Now, I'm giving curiosity a try.
Instead of coming from conviction, no matter how well it is defined or how real it seems, ask questions to cultivate the open heart and mind needed to bring more love and joy into the world. When we come from a place of shame and blame, attached to a sense of "being right", we only contribute to the suffering of the world--starting with the ones we love most or interact with on a daily basis.
What do you think?
What issues do you feel passionate about that can stir up some anger or feelings of frustration?
How do you deal with anger when you feel it? Have you found those methods to be effective?
What would you do as an alternative?
Share your thoughts in the comments below.