Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Look Homeward Anger

Anger.  The very word carries within it a sense of strong power.  A negative power which we feel rarely results in positive outcomes.  Even when we may think that anger propels us into a necessary action, we nevertheless feel we have to re-label it as a “righteous anger” – as if needing the full weight and permission of the Universe to justify it.

We are always very sure about the “cause” of our anger.  We have the person who provoked our anger clear in our telescopic sights, pinpointed with laser accuracy.  The person, the time, the place, the incident.  Though sometimes that picture blurs; it is not an individual, but an institution that precipitated our ire.  These institutional perpetrators sometimes seem worse than the individual ones, because there is no single person that can be targeted, no one individual with whom to work through the problem.

But as we look through the telescope at our “enemy,” what happens when that lens suddenly encounters a mirror instead?  What happens when we see ourselves in that reflection, looking back at us with a fixed glaze?  Do we turn away, not believing our eyes?  Or do we ask ourselves, “why am I seeing this person in my sights?”

The reflection is important.  Because that is where our true anger lives.  Because what we are mad AT is merely a reflection of what we are mad about IN ourselves.  And that is the really important anger we need to get to know more fully.

The fact of what was said to us, done to us, is what it was and remains unchanged.  That fact causes us to make a secular/temporal judgment as to whether the action was hurtful or helpful, motivated by ill-will or good-will.  But our emotional response is our spiritual choice.  Consider Pope John Paul II: the would-be assassin seeking to kill him was wrong to do so; yet instead of calling in anger for his trial and execution for that deed, John Paul sat in the jail cell with his attacker joined in prayer.

Anger is not an absolute emotion; it is a relative one.  Your triggers are not necessarily my triggers; the depth of your reaction may well exceed mine; the reaction you chose to take could very likely be different from mine.  And while our anger likely continued well beyond the incident in question, our perpetrator has probably long since forgotten about it.  Even though we clearly have not.

People and institutions will always continue to “do things” to us.  That is an ongoing reality of Life.  But “they” do not “make us angry.”  We CHOOSE if we will be angry.  A choice we make from a broad range of other possible choices.  The figure that is looking back at us in that mirror is asking us WHY we chose anger.  What are the experiences and thinking patterns in us that drove us to that option.  Why was the degree of our response so furious.  These are the enlightening lessons waiting to be learned.  And such learning is the better use of our time and energy.

When we recognize that anger is a valuable pointing tool for understanding our own self and our inner conflicts, from which we can draw great personal growth, that is how we can transform the negativity of anger into the positivity of a guide.  It is insight that can come in moments of reflection after our anger subsides; with practice it can ideally come even before it gets out of our mouths.  It is not about blocking, stifling our anger.  It is about transforming it before it leaves our body and attacks another.  It is about transforming the sourness of our potential words into a sweetness of personal discovery.  For there is so very much to be learned in that spiritual classroom of our anger.  Look homeward, anger.  Look homeward to find the angel inside.

“You are responsible for everything you experience.  You can no longer say, ‘He made me angry.’  How could he make you angry?  Only you can make you angry.  That understanding changes your way of relating to the world and your way of looking at stress.”
(John Daido Loori, Zen teacher)
©  Randy Bell   2014

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Finding Your Spirituality

It is not easy to get through most of our days, given the many demands on our time, tasks to be done, places to be and people to be with.  Yet even as we pass through these daily events, we often have this inner sense that we are “doing” without “engaging.”  That what we are doing is just continual repetition, rote functioning, perhaps with some momentary but fleeting pleasure.  Or the day is spent in draining controversies, feeling upset in response to difficult conflicts.  All the while, some small thought in our mind knows that something in our life is missing, something is being shut out and not attended to.  A thought ignored, because we feel we have no room left for anything else on our very full plate.

What is being ignored is our spirit, that little piece of creativity and connection that lives within us, that usually sits on the periphery of our daily calendar.  It is continually calling for its turn for our attention, its place on that calendar, its chance to breathe and infuse the quality of our lives.  Finding that spirit, prioritizing it over all other demands, and giving life to it is what the pursuit of spirituality is about.

Spirituality gives true life to our existence.  It is in spirituality that we actually taste the meal on our plate rather than hurriedly push it into our mouths while we drive our cars, or stare distractedly at our technology screens.  It is actually watching the movie or play, listening to the music, truly listening to the words that others are speaking to us, instead of pushing it all into our background noise while we send out our latest text messages.

Spirituality is simply disengaging for a moment, and spending that time in the company of our real self.  Getting to know our self in a deeper and connected way – and from this process discovering how little we actually know our self even after all these years.  Once we find our self, spirituality is then finding connection with a universe much larger than we have previously known.  Not just a world of family, close friends, our neighborhood, our workplace, but to a vastly greater Universe that transcends all we currently know or can imagine.

There are many ways to express our spirituality.  For some, it is within a formal religious structure of church / temple / mosque / meditation room, with all its attendant rules, dogma and ritual.  But as helpful as it may be, religion is not required, nor is any specific set of beliefs.  Religion is about the mind, seeking to direct the body in thoughts and actions.  Spirituality is about the heart, living within participatory experience.  Spirituality is not in the thinking; it is in the doing.

What is important is not THE form; it is finding the appropriate form that works for you.  Sometimes, with similar people and right intention and appropriate circumstance, our church gathering can be about spiritual experience.  But experiencing spirituality can also be a walk in the woods or on the beach, sitting on a boulder on a mountaintop, serving others in a homeless food kitchen, running a marathon, or losing one’s self “in the zone” of performing music, crafting woodworking, or creating an art form.

Spirituality is simply experiencing that which takes us out of our everyday, helping us understand that beyond us lies a far bigger existence than we have seen – God, the Universe, Spirit, Nature, or by whatever name – and finding the connection of our small existence within that greater welcoming tent.  We are, but we are part of.  Until we see, and become, that “part of,” we remain incomplete.

Spirituality may be as though a tough hike over high mountain trails, likely through harsh and foreboding weather.  It is a hike that we have to walk alone, even when in the company of strangers that we call friends.  But it is a great view from the summit.  It is the sky-filled sunset enveloping that mountaintop that infuses our spirit; yet when we see the universe clearly, it is a simple blade of grass that encapsulates all of life held in our hands.  We have the time for this hike, if we seek it.  Do we have the commitment?

©  2014   Randy Bell