We are living in what feels like increasingly angry times. There is just so much that is anger provoking. We're in the most dire straits this democracy has been in since the Civil War, to the point that the 'next civil war' is becoming a frequent topic on news sites. People are beginning to look at some kind of violence as almost inevitable. Apparently, over 30 MILLION Americans are accepting the idea that violence is necessary to return the presidency to the Idiot...in complete denial of the fact that we had a fair election (as proven in the courts over and over ad nauseum). January 6th was just a sample of what lies ahead, streamed into homes around the world, live, as it was happening. It was vividly surreal to be sitting in front of the t-v watching a mob storm the capitol.
Then there is climate. As of now, we are losing the battle to convince people that we need to do something deeply dramatic if we're to avoid extinguishing not only the human race, but taking thousands of other species down with us. We are making banner progress in actually destroying the ability of our host planet to sustain life, at least, as we know it. Sea-level rise is the least of the problem. Yes, that will be catastrophic in its own right, but, between biblical level droughts (and consequent famines in various parts of the world), wild-fires, tornados, hurricanes and flooding from violent storms....never mind sea rise....we are headed for a total collapse of contemporary civilization as large areas of the planet become unable to sustain life as we now know it...we are looking down the barrel of the gun that will wipe us out. In more academic and more gentile discussions, it's now common to hear the term, 'existential' as it is applied to the climate crisis. That is merely a toned-down, more civil, way of saying, "Holy Shit!!! We're all gonna die!!!"
Nobody wants to sound like Chicken Little running around screaming that the sky is falling...
But, it is.
Beyond our nightmarish political and environmental situations....we are still deep in a pandemic that has already killed over 800,000 Americans and is headed for ONE MILLION within the next two months or so. And, even as this virus and all of its variants continues to kill people around the planet, millions of Americans--and significant numbers around the world--are protesting that they are being asked to get a vaccine that could save not only their lives, but their loved ones as well. Another surreal aspect of our current situation. People are choosing to reject science in favor of the lies from unhinged, hare-brained, far-right idiots. It's like watching as the lemmings charge off the cliff into the sea.
So, why wouldn't any sane person be angry? I feel like I have been in a state of constant anger--albeit mostly at a low boil--for most of my life. I was pissed as a kid because my parents sent me off to prep school without ever asking if that was something I wanted to do. I was pissed because I was expected to spend endless hours doing algebra, Latin, and other subjects that I genuinely despised...always without any explanation of why this was necessary to my becoming an adult. Turns out, it wasn't. I have never used algebra, geometry, calculus or most of the crap that was stuffed down my youthful gullet.
By the time I was fifteen, I had come to the point of having to decide that either the world at large was bat-shit crazy.........or I was. I had the temerity to decide that it was the world that was terribly fucked-up. I had, of course, lots of evidence to support that viewpoint. For example: we live in a society where murder is considered a heinous capital offence. But, your beloved homeland can demand that you report for duty, stuff you in a uniform, teach you war making skills, and send you off to kill people you don't even know....for reasons which often remain unclear and have proven to be not particularly valid in the long run. How insane is that?
Yes, of course, there are valid reasons why a populace must rise to the occasion and fight against evil forces that would otherwise enslave them. That was what World War II was about. Had we not been willing to fight the Axis powers, the world would have become a planetary nightmare society, ruled with mass violence and cruelty.
But, that was the exception. Were we justified in spending trillions of dollars and thousands of young American lives....not to mention inflicting severe violence on the people of both Iraq and Afghanistan? History will be the final judge, but it's not looking very good at present.
So, if the world around us is filled with anger provoking situations, how, then, can we deal with it without just feeling inwardly chaotic and upset all the time? As one who has done that for far too long, it has become a subject for me to investigate and to find solutions for going forward. I don't want to go out as my life comes to an end, feeling this way.
I have paid attention to anger. I know anger. I have been dominated by it for far too long. I want to escape it's powerful grasp. So, what am I to do?
I believe that the answers--for there are many--are right in front of me. I am hugely grateful that I had the good sense to drop out of grad school and migrate to the Bay Area in 1971. I was suddenly immersed in the 'counter-culture', and it was laden with surprises and incomparable gifts. One of those gifts was being accepted into an extended family of fellow travelers on a path that felt like it was leading us to some greater understanding....of life, of love, of reality. Each member of that 'family' was exceptional in their own right. I had never met people like that and I was amazed to feel that I had--on one level--finally come home, for the first time in my life.
I entered into a kind of free-flowing state of consciousness. I was open to life and real learning for the first time and it was immensely exciting. There is an expression in Zen Buddhism that goes: "I thought I was the seeker and found I was the sought." And, that was how it happened for me. I rented a room, fell into a relationship with a woman who was a free spirit, and held up my hand at a meeting in Sausalito when an interesting chap asked who planned to attend a Sufi Camp in Healdsburg.
At that camp, I met a man unlike any other I had ever met, or have met since. His name is Wali Ali, and he has a gentle and kind presence as he goes about teaching a wide variety of meditative techniques and other means of accessing one's Higher Self. Sufis often refer to God as, "The Beloved" and so it has been for me. Instead of the old, bearded dude on a heavenly throne passing out favors and punishment, I discovered the Great Mystery. By definition this Mystery remains mysterious, but it is eminently knowable via Its, His, Her, attributes. Beauty, Harmony and Love are what might be called 'The Big Three' (just my term) and these are aspects of the human condition that bring about feelings of Bliss, acceptance, Peace and, yes, Joy.
This, however, in no way means that I have been in that space perpetually since learning that it exists and is accessible. I soon left the spiritual and nurturing environment of the Bay Area and dove into the real world again. I met challenges and was bested by some and bested others. In the intervening years, I have struggled, but I have also had the great joy of becoming a parent, and a grandparent. I have lived a pretty simple life (nine years in a log cabin without running water at one point), but I have never felt deprived. I have a wonderful wife and we operate very well as a team. Yes, we get frustrated and a bit 'snappy' at times, but that is because we're both strong-willed and have strong opinions.
What remains to be mastered, however, is the fact that anger is like a volcano. It can lay dormant for long periods and, all of a sudden....there it is, spouting red-hot lava. It can be triggered by anything that feels like a threat to one's ego. I am still waiting to meet the first person who is not carrying at least some baggage from their childhood. Those little nuggets of 'damage' that were installed in the child...cruel words, judgement, scolding and diminishing....are all easily capable of bringing the dragon out of its cave.
It is becoming clear to me that the first step in learning to master my temper is to become skilled at recognizing when it first raises its ugly head in any given situation. There is a point at which the 'volcano' starts to stir and the rumbling can soon become the first eruption of incandescent rock. This is a pivotal point. If you can pull back at the moment you realize that a trigger has awakened the monster, there is a good chance that you can resolve the situation without it becoming a three-alarm fire. Once you realize what is happening, there is a very limited window to put the brakes on. This can be done by turning toward your awareness of breathing. Breath is the key.
In esoteric schools, all around the planet, the one thing they all seem to share is the knowledge that the breath holds the key to achieving a state of harmony, of awareness, of realization.
These sundry schools, orders, whatever one wishes to call them...have so-called 'practices' and these are infinitely variable from tradition to tradition. Meditation has one goal, regardless of the tradition within which it occurs: entering the present. Once a devotee learns that breath can calm the roiled waters of the erupting emotions....the rest is remembering to use the tools that one has when they are needed. It's easy to intentionally sit down and enter into a meditative state....when things are calm already. It's quite another thing to be able to pull back and disengage from an emotional miasma. Learning to do this is a skill that is ever so worthwhile. It doesn't come easily, especially at first. But, if one persists and has the will to change that which is making life more difficult, it's easily worth the effort.