A couple of weeks ago, I decided to review some of my old yoga DVDs. I do this periodically to help keep my home yoga practice fresh. The last thing I expected to discover was a profound insight into the first Reiki precept: For today only, do not anger.
Anger has been the most challenging precept for me, I confess. To say, “Just for today, do not anger.” is almost the same as saying, “Just for today, do not inhale.” There are many days that I find myself reacting in anger several times during the day, with varying degrees of intensity. Maybe one of the dogs destroyed a book. Or, someone ran over my foot with a cart at the grocery store. Perhaps a thoughtless turn of phrase in an email hurt my feelings and sparked anger.
With steady practice over the last ten years or so, I have made some progress. But it seems as though anger is such an immediate emotion for me that I have despaired of ever having a day where I “do not anger.”
Over the weekend, I was reviewing a Kundalini yoga DVD that I had purchased some time ago but had never used. At the end of the practice, the instructors led a meditation developed to transform negative emotion. The basic technique was simple:
Recall something that causes the negative emotion.
While releasing thoughts of the cause, focus intensely on the pure emotion. Hold onto the feeling of the emotion as strongly as possible.
Finally, repeat a mantra to transform the energy of the emotion into a positive reaction.
I decided to try the exercise with this emotion that continually hounds me: anger.
I began with recalling an incident that had made me angry. I picked a recent one, one that was fresh in my mind. Someone I had considered a friend and a business partner terminated the partnership unexpectedly, and with little explanation. After working for little or no money for over a year to help build the business, suddenly I was out. To add insult to injury, this happened just before a big “payoff”, which would have reimbursed me to some degree for my months of dedication.
Recalling the sense of betrayal and hurt, I was soon feeling deep anger.
I then moved my focus away from the person who had angered me and focused on the anger itself, feeling the pure emotion. I was feeling it strongly. And then suddenly – it wasn’t so strong. In fact – I had lost it! This was a surprise to me, to lose the intensity so quickly. I returned to thinking of the person who made me angry and caused me hurt. Ah! There it was, the emotion of anger came flooding back. I felt it with all my might. And again – it became elusive, almost immediately!
I began to feel angry that I couldn’t hold onto my anger. That’s when it “hit” me.
For me, anger cannot exist without its object. The trigger for anger has to be held in focus for my anger to stay alive. As soon as I moved my focus away from the person that had triggered my anger and placed it onto the emotion itself, I could no longer sustain the emotion as a “stand-alone feeling”. Like a flame starved of oxygen, it seems my anger cannot live on its own. It must be fed by an event, a perceived injustice, hurt feelings.
I never got to the mantra to transform anger – by that stage in the process, I no longer needed the mantra. I knew that all I needed was the presence of mind to withdraw my attention from the trigger and focus instead on the feeling, then watch as my anger dissipated while I stood as witness to the pure emotion.
As a test, I tried this meditation with the emotions of unconditional love – to the extent that I understand it – and compassion. It seemed to me that I could hold these feelings without “losing” the energy of the emotion. I could sustain a blissful state of unconditional love for some time without an object. I had another flash of insight: Instead of being fed by my mental efforts, the energies of love and compassion offer sustenance back to me. They feed me, rather than needing to be fed by me!
I know that we’re all different, and that different individuals experience emotions in different ways. I challenge you to observe your own relationship to anger. Can you find a connection between the emotion and its causes in your own life? Do you feel a victim of your tendency to feel anger? Is it possible that, like me, you are feeding anger in the background by focusing on hurt feelings or perceived wrongs, whether real or imagined?