Last week when I was told off, I felt the cauldron of anger boiling inside of me. Usually when there is a conflict, I would try to resolve it before it gets out of hand. However, this person had yelled at me and shut me out, so I didn’t even have a chance to discuss with him why he acted this way and how we were to resolve the conflict.
So I was left standing with my burning pot of cauldron, while throwing into the mixture my own ingredients: feelings of hurt that the person who I had taught had turned his back on me, a sense of injustice at being wronged in front of everyone without an avenue to address the wrong, and for good measure I kept throwing in there his intimidating words and rude behaviour into this mix again and again.
In hindsight, what I should’ve done is left the cauldron alone to cool on its own and not to keep throwing more things into the pot.
Yet the fire of anger once sparked is very difficult to quell. It gives a false sense of power and self-righteousness to its host, and makes its presence justified and necessary. Even when I tried to fan out the anger, the fire just kept burning brighter and stronger.
Sitting in meditation, I brought my awareness to my body. I felt the fire of anger burning in my body, as every fibre of my body tightens in its ‘flight-or-fight’ mode. I saw the agitation in my mind and the recurring thoughts in my head, “How dare he do this?” and “Will he and others think I’m a pushover if I don’t put him in his place?”
My breakthrough was when I started to look away from the cause of my anger – the confrontation and the impasse that I was left with – and at my reaction. Although my external reaction wasn’t an issue for me (I hadn’t yelled at him in retaliation), my internal reaction was a concern. I had taken this boiling cauldron into my home (both my physical home and my inner home), placed it on a shrine in my mind and started paying homage to it! I have continued to feed it and give it importance as if it deserved to be there!
By seeing how ridiculous this was, I laughed, and a crack started to form on the pot of cauldron. I saw that although it felt like anger was a natural and justified reaction, it wasn’t. I saw that the first victim of anger isn’t the person whom I direct my anger towards – the first person who suffers is the person generating it, that is, me. I saw that anger is a choice, and at that moment I decided to choose peace instead.
I then turned my attention to find out what I was holding onto that kept fuelling this anger. The recurring thoughts were just superficial manifestations of something deeper, and at the core I was holding onto a sense of “I’m right and he’s wrong.”
Anger is the manifestation of our ego trying to protect itself, and makes us feel powerful in asserting our self-righteousness. Anger can also blind us to the reality of a situation, and make us think that we can demarcate the world into black and white, good and bad (with us in the ‘good’ team of course), and a world with victims and perpetrators.
Yet often the war is not between what is right and what is wrong; the war is about different perceptions of a situation. Obviously I had sown the seeds of anger in this other person and I had then triggered that response from him the other day. I don’t know what I had done, but I am open to the fact that as an imperfect human being I had wronged him somehow. I find more peace in holding that openness to the situation, than holding onto a sense of righteousness as I had previously done.
I feel that good and evil, happiness and sorrow, aren’t opposites but are really one and the same because in one holds the truth of the other. Life presents us with challenges and difficult people, because in them we learn the truth of ourselves and our limitations. These events cause us sorrow and distress, but in overcoming them, we open ourselves to real happiness in the freedom of letting go of whatever we were holding onto before. Likewise, what appears to be right and correct may prove to be an obscure perception of reality. Oftentimes, in winning we lose, and in a loss we come out as victor.
In a world where it’s survival of the fittest, marked by aggression and competition, it’s easy to think that assertiveness should be coupled with intimidation and anger. However, I think assertiveness with an equanimous and calm mind carries a message that is louder than any threatening word or gesture.
So I have stopped stirring the cauldron, but more importantly, the cauldron has now been seen and slowly I hope to dismantle it from my mind once and for all.