Letting Go: Beware the Children of Anger

Letting go is truly a difficult thing to do, and yet seems so simple. Human beings, with their human consciousness, are just not that simple.

I’ve written before on how letting go is a process we have to repeat over and over again; it’s not a one-time event. We have to continually make the choice to let go, in order to truly live our lives in the present moment, in the here and now, emotionally responsible for ourselves and finding an ethically sound way of being in the world. I haven’t discussed the finer process of letting go, however, in any great detail and here are a few words from my own experience.

People are going to hurt us in one way or another, based upon expectations, behaviour, upbringing, environment and a whole host of factors that we simply have no control over. Our response to this is what is most important: our response-ability. When we have the ability to respond in a thoughtful, compassionate way then we are truly working to be a part of the world, a weave of the web that strengthens the whole.

Yet it is so hard to be compassionate when people deliberately hurt us, and sometimes even when it’s not deliberate but perhaps uncontrolled aggression from their past experience, current physical pain or more. But the ability to understand that there are more factors involved in any given situation that you are simply unable to perceive is at the heart of compassion. Compassion is a willingness to understand.

People have hurt me in the past, willingly and unwillingly. Colleagues and co-workers, lovers, strangers; there is no telling where the next experience will come from. However, noticing the stages that we go through when we are being hurt can help us on the path to letting go with an awareness that will allow us to not slip into the easy patterns of denial, whether that is of our own behaviour or that of others.

When we are hurt, usually our first response is anger. For most people, anger is something that time heals, though the length of time is relative to the person and their situation. Anger isn’t the most difficult thing to move through, as we can recognise anger much more easily than its children: pity being one of them. Often when we move through anger towards pity, we don’t know that we are still dealing with anger, with an abstract notion of the other person. Pity does not have empathy. Pity does not have anything to do with compasssion. Pity is the result of dualistic thinking, of an Us and Them mentality. We pity someone because we are separate from them. Pity is so often tinged with bitterness and anger that they are almost inseparable. When we have finished being angry with someone, we move on towards pitying them, in a passive/aggressive way of still attacking them. Pity the poor fool.

When we bypass pity through working around our anger, we find empathy instead, which holds no judgement of the individual.

Sometimes pity is replaced with its older sibling: contempt. We have been a victim of someone’s abuse, and though we realise we are no longer going to take their crap, we hold them in high contempt for putting us through that. They may have spent months trying to hurt us in various ways; we are so over that now and could they just get in with their own lives, please? So trapped in their little world, so lost…

Contempt is just as easy a trap to fall into as pity. Again, contempt has absolutely no compassion, no element of trying to understand involved in its process; it seeks only to make us feel better about ourselves. In the web of existence, we can’t just work on ourselves: we have to work on the whole.

We don’t have to stick around for further abuse, but we do have to be on our guard for feelings such as pity and contempt to flag up the fact that we haven’t actually moved on, we haven’t let go of our anger, we’ve only put a new hat on it and deceived ourselves with its shiny new appearance. When we find ourselves dancing with the feelings of contempt or pity, we can stop, untangle ourselves, bow and walk away, breathing into the wild winds of change. We know that we can choose our dance partners, and in that choosing find glorious freedom and self-expression. We know that we are part of an eco-system, part of a whole, where every part is acknowledged and sacred. The flows of the gods of humanity that we choose to dance with, however, it entirely up to us.

The Novice

noviceWhilst on holiday in Brittany the past week (blog and photos to come!) I read Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh’s novel, The Novice. It is his first novel, that tells the story of a young woman who has become a legend in Vietnam for paving the way for women to be nuns in the Buddhist tradition. It’s a short book, eloquently written and filled with wisdom throughout.

Kinh Tam is a beautiful young woman who has always felt a calling for deep learning through Buddhist enlightenment. As there were no temples for nuns at the time, she felt that her only option was to do what women did back then – marry and have children. However, her marriage failed as her in-laws falsely accused her of trying to kill her husband one night. Kinh Tam goes back home then, cuts off her hair and disguises herself as a boy, wandering for five days until she comes to a temple where she asks to be taken in as a novice.

She shows an aptitude unlike any other monk in her devotion to the Zen Buddhist teachings and carrying them out. She lives the perfections of generosity, mindfulness, magnanimity, diligence, patience and insight. She has already been through much, after the false accusations of attempted murder, and yet she holds true to her path, holding no malice to those who have wronged her through their own false perceptions.

A young noblewoman who visits the temple falls in love with the young “boy” monk, seeing in him such beauty that only an open-heart can radiate. Kinh Tam avoids her, with as much compassion as possible, as her secret cannot be found out else she faces expulsion. After Kinh Tam turns down the noblewoman’s request for a private meeting, the noblewoman woman becomes enraged, filled with her own anger and wounded pride, accusing the young novice of impregnating her when it was really a servant boy from her household whom she took to bed in anger and despair of not being able to sway the young novice from his devoted path.

Kinh Tam faces the dilemma of choice: tell everyone that it’s not possible, as she is a woman, or face beatings for her “transgressions”. Her love for her path is so strong that it sees her through the beatings, and yet again she never holds any malice towards the young woman (Mau), those who believe her false accusations and even those who beat her. She knows it is only their wrong perception of her that makes them act as they do, and the strength of loving kindness overcomes all the pain she endures.

Kinh Tam goes through further hardships, yet always with the endurance of a loving heart and the deep well of forgiveness. I won’t tell you the ending, but I was in tears as I read it – it was just so beautiful.

Kinh Tam’s story is one that can help anyone going through a rough time. It doesn’t matter what it is that you are enduring, whether it is being shot at, beaten, false accusations or someone trying to undermine you and your work – the open heart of compassion and seeing the unity of all things is stronger than any of these. Anyone can relate to Kinh Tam’s story. As a woman, I felt a deep bond with her struggles and an empathy for her trials and tribulations. I felt deeply the tug of sadness as one woman falsely accuses another (albeit unknowingly regarding the disguised gender, yet with an intended malice in any event). As a practitioner of Zen I found deep wisdom in the teachings that lay like little stars filled with light across the pages, twinkling with their insight into living a life of less suffering. We all suffer, for various reasons, but we can lessen that suffering through the open heart of compassion. Those who try to hurt us, physically, emotionally, intellectually, who undermine our person and our work, who tell lies and allow their pride, anger and other emotions to overwhelm their reason and the ability to see clearly the heart of the matter – these are things we all go through at some point in our lives. Whether it is through war, office/work politics or family issues, the cause is the same: wrong perceptions. Because they have a wrong perception of us, they act out, lash out, are ruled by the monkeys riding on their backs.

Yet we don’t have retaliate like for like. We can see their suffering, and still send them our love and compassion, even from afar. Because they perhaps have not seen that there is another option, they have no way out. Living through our actions, of opening our eyes to all possibilities and the reality of the present moment we can hopefully provide an example for a peaceful way of life that benefits the whole. We can forgive these misjudgements from others, as they are easily created. Through diligence we can work to dissolve these false perceptions within ourselves, through meditation, deep insight and the other teachings of Zen Buddhism.

I always doubted whether humans were truly capable of forgiveness. When explained through the words and story told by Thich Nhat Hanh, it makes so much more sense; it is so easy. There are three appendices to the story, one describing further the legend of Kinh Tam, the second describing the legacy of Kinh Tam by Sister Chan Khong of Plum Village monastery, and Thich Nhat Hanh’s own addendum about practicing love. These appendices are just as important as the story itself, for it shows “Engaged Buddhism” in action as Sister Chan Khong and Thich Nhat Hanh both relate how the practice of compassion helped them through the suffering of the Vietnam war, exile and more. We see first-hand how the Zen Buddhist precepts are put into practice, actually lived out in the lives of those who worked in the DMZ, offering wisdom and deep insight into how suffering is different for each individual and yet can be overcome when held in the arms of compassion.

In the UK, you can buy this wonderful little book from as little as £1.04 second-hand; do try to read it if you are at all interested in Zen Buddhism, mindfulness, compassion or loving kindness. If you feel you are suffering in any shape or form, this book might be able to help you find the way to transforming suffering into something that instead brings peace and harmony to your world, and thereby to the world at large.

May we be peace. x

 

 

 

Art as meditation

When I really want to be in the moment, when I really desire to let that sense of self slip away and enter into the present, in perfect freedom – I draw.  It’s a wonderful, meditative, creative process.  You stop thinking about the past. You stop thinking about the future. All that matters, for those precious hours, are the lines, the colours the shapes and the shading.  I am no longer there – I am in the drawing. I am in the sun and the wood of the pencils, I am in the rain and cloud of the paper.  There is a real connection, where the thinking self falls away and there is time to just “be”.  Mostly I use sitting meditation for this, but when I really need to go deeper, I draw. Yet, who is this person drawing, colouring?

No idea.

It just is. 🙂

"Avalon in Spring" © Joanna van der Hoeven 2015

“Avalon in Spring” © Joanna van der Hoeven 2015

Love

Many of us have heard the saying “Love means never having to say you’re sorry”. Like all sayings, they can be misinterpreted. Love is one of the most powerful gods. Love is so much more than romance, than warm fuzzy feelings for another. Love can be an unshakeable force, it can inspire us to greatness or tear us apart.

Never having to say sorry with regards to love has been misused by many as an excuse to behave badly, to not care about the feelings of others, to live in a purely self-centred state. It is also often implied that if we really love someone we should always be willing to forgive their behaviour. In Buddhism, it is widely regarded that we are all Buddhas, that we all have the ability for true compassion. However, we are also all human, with all the wonderful implications, limitations and foibles that it entails.

We have all known people whose behaviour has been less than glowing, who are so entrapped in their own worlds and minds that they often create a reality which is completely and utterly different to the one that you may experience. As humans, we have a shared reality and shared human experience, but as beings that are supposedly self-aware we become trapped in this self-awareness to the point of it spilling over into less than glowing behaviour. Love accepts the humanity of everyone. Love accepts reality. Love is compassion.

Compassion, however, doesn’t mean we have to take everyone’s crap. Compassion is understanding, trying to see the bigger picture, to understand why someone behaves the way that they do. In this attempt, we step outside of our “small selves” and out into a greater reality. We open up our perception. We may never truly understand, but at least in the attempt we see that the world is more than just our experience, our perceived reality. We recognise the experience and reality of others.

When that reality hurts us, when people do or say things to undermine us for whatever reason, should we simply forgive and move on? I’m not entirely sure it’s within human capacity to truly forgive, though people like Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh are real-life inspirations for this way of being. We may find that the hardest person to forgive is ourselves. Perhaps we need to focus less on “us” forgiving “them” and simply focus on living our own lives in way that means that we will never have to say “I’m sorry” to another. This, in my opinion, is the real interpretation of the saying “Love means never having to say I’m sorry”.

We may fail, and there is nothing wrong with saying “I’m sorry”, however.

When we come against people we simply cannot be with, we can still try to understand them, to look beyond our self. It can often put us into the bigger picture, allowing more of a peripheral vision of the world that encompasses everything and in doing so, allowing the self to fall away in integrated living. Sometimes we simply have to walk away from that relationship in order to work compassionately with our selves, for we simply suffer too much at that given time to be able to function properly. We can do this with partners we’ve been romantically involved with – when it no longer works, we can bow to each other and walk away with respect, and hopefully a little compassion for both them and ourselves.

What we have to focus on most though is our own life, and our own behaviour. We have to live our lives in a way that means we will hopefully never have to apologise for our behaviour. It’s not an easy path, but it’s one that is worthwhile. In doing so, we will walk lightly upon the earth, loving the earth with every fibre of our being, loving everything on the earth with eyes wide open and a heart filled with compassion. We can love life, the power of the gods moving through us and around us, and live our lives in celebration of this.

As the first snowdrops bloom here in the UK, and the songs of the birds change to love of each other, of the warming sun and the greening of the land, may our hearts too be filled with love.

reverence

Peace

I feel the anger within me. Sometimes he is purposefully trying to upset me and others around him, other times he doesn’t know that he is doing it – it is simply habitual energy. I feel the anger as a tightness in my chest with his sarcasm, his passive aggressive behaviour. Little flames shoot out, provoking a fire within. It takes much mindfulness not to feed the fire, not to fan the flames of anger within. Acting out in anger will not solve anything. I will find another way to relate to him when he is sunk deep in his suffering, acting it out on everyone around him.

* * * * *

A friend was involved in a car accident which totalled his car. In his recounting of the tale, there was no anger at the young woman who hit him from behind, only remorse at the four pairs of shoes that had been ruined. I smiled and know that I will hold his lesson close to my heart.

* * * * *

Today there is news of the massacre in Pakistan, where around 150 children were murdered by the Taliban in a school shooting. My first response was not anger, but such a deep and silent sadness at the conditions that brought about people who bring about such suffering on the world. I could be one of the children, I could be one of the attackers, had the conditions been right to bring about a manifestation of the person I am in that situation. My heart goes out to everyone in Pakistan, the families who suffer the loss of their children, and to the attackers whose suffering lashes out at innocent children.

* * * * *

Sitting silently in the darkness before dawn, a lone candle and some incense burning, I pay attention to my breath, and the darkness around me slowly lifts as the sun rises unseen behind a canopy of grey sleety skies. May there be peace in the North. May there be peace in the East. May there be peace in the South. May there be peace in the West. May there be peace in our hearts and minds and towards all fellow beings.

Perception, assumption and suffering

How much of our lives are based around incorrect perceptions? How often does our emotional state and relationship with others fall apart based on incorrect perceptions? And just what is perception?

Perception is how we interpret the world, through our own subjectivity. We have a store consciousness built on our past experiences and those experiences related to us by others. We use this store consciousness to help inform us on our view of the world. It helps us to survive. We know that fire burns, so we don’t touch it. We know that cougars are dangerous, so we don’t approach. We look both ways (hopefully) before crossing the street. However, as our perception of the world is so subjective, how often do we get it wrong?

This is not to say that we should throw out all useful perception and experience. What we need to do is to become aware of our perceptions, and to see if we are making assumptions that aren’t based on actual fact. So much of our lives are built upon this, which is a rather shaky foundation.

Incorrect perception can lead to all sorts of problems and can create a huge amount of suffering. We might have the incorrect assumption that we are alone, which gives us the false perception that we are completely isolated from the rest of the world. We may react to a situation based on what we think someone said, rather than what they actually said, and thereby create a false perception of the actual event. We may assume from past experience that all politicians lie, and create a false perception that we cannot trust anyone, much less bother to vote. We might get angry at someone for their behaviour, without seeing the root causes behind it. Changing your perception leads to understanding, which is the essence of compassion.

We will still make mistakes, however. We have habits, ingrained learned behaviour that is difficult to overcome if we are not aware of it. However, once we see the patterns formed in learned behaviour, we can unlearn it. We can break free of negative, destructive cycles, beginning to heal ourselves and then work towards healing our community, our world.

By nature I judge everything – it’s simply a part of my personality. While it’s worth having to some extent, it’s also a detriment. What I have had to learn is how to judge without being judgemental. It may not sound like that great a difference, but really it is the foundation of trying to understand the human being.

Daily meditation helps with this on so many levels. Practising awareness for 10 to 20 mins a day in mindful meditation begins to seep into every aspect of your life. Once you become aware of your thought patterns and behavioural patterns, you can then learn to break free of these in order to live with more intention. Everyone can meditate to some extent – you just have to want to. You have to want to spend time with yourself, and thereby doing some pretty deep examination, coming to terms with the less than glowing aspects of your self, as well as embracing those parts of your self that nourish and bring peace. It’s very simple and sometimes very difficult. However, if you want to get off that treadmill of constant running, out of that vicious cycle you feel trapped in, it’s well worth the effort.

Next time you are angry, depressed or sad, take the time to look deeply into your perceptions. If you find that they are based on incorrect or unsubstantiated views, perhaps they are not perceptions but assumptions. You will have to let go of the anger, depression or sadness as well as the ego in order to fully see – things we like to cling on to for various reasons, ie. because we know we are right, because we know we are not good enough, etc. This knowledge is not true knowledge, but assumption based on false perception.

Doing this work can lead to a life filled with less suffering, and in doing so even bring more joy into the world. May we do the work with a peaceful heart and with pure intention.

Letting Go

Taking inspiration from nature, many Pagans see this season as a time of letting go. Even as leaves fall from the tree, we let go of things in our lives that no longer nourish us. In the letting go, we allow new manifestations to feed our creativity and inspire us in our journey, even as the fallen leaves feed the soil around the tree.

There are many different kinds of things we let go – ideas, relationships, emotions, material possessions. They key here is that if they are no longer nourishing, then we can softly let them go into the lengthening nights, thinking deeply about our lives and carrying within us new seeds for the coming year. They might be the vegetable garden that didn’t work, the friendship that no longer feels right, grief or anger that we have experienced or even just clutter in our houses.

We can also learn from the letting go – we can try and plant a vegetable garden in a different spot, grow different vegetables. We can focus on the relationships that we have that make our souls sing, and open ourselves to new possibilities. We remember those who have passed away, or who are struggling in the shared human journey. We learn to cherish and make space in our homes and in our lives for things that bring us joy.

The tree does not mourn the falling leaf, nor does the leaf mourn the tree. In the letting go, we simply allow for new manifestations to occur.

Blessings of Samhain.