anger

Four things to remember when online discussions get heated

While Buddhism teaches that all beings have the potential for awakening, and that we should endeavor to relate with kindness and compassion to everyone, I admit that this is especially difficult for me on social media.

We live in particularly challenging times. Society is becoming more polarized and tribal, and I’m shocked to see a resurgence of racism and of desire for authoritarian rule, for example. Those things really stir me up emotionally when I see them online.

I’d like to offer just a few suggestions that I’ve found helpful when dealing with people I disagree with online. None of this is rocket science, and I’m not presenting myself as an expert. This is all work in (imperfect) progress.

1. See each online communication as an opportunity

Every interaction we have offers us an opportunity to get better at communicating, at dealing with conflict, at learning to practice empathy, and so on.

It’s best not to regard every interaction as an opportunity to show off your skills: Look how good I am in discussions. I’ve fallen into that trap before and it always backfires. It’s not about being right: it’s about learning to connect more compassionately.

2. Be mindful of your feelings

Unpleasant feelings flare up in the face of viewpoints we disagree with in the same way they did for our ancestors when they were physically attacked. We respond to insults and even disagreement as if they were threats to our very existence.

I try to notice when I feel emotionally provoked, and take a break. I step back and recognize the discomfort I’m feeling. When I step back and observe that I’m suffering, I can create a mindful pause in which I can evaluate the best way to respond.

Rarely do we have to reply right now. We can wait. The angry parts of the brain tend to respond very quickly. The wise and compassionate parts of the brain operate more slowly. Give the better angels of your nature time to get their boots on.

It may be that you decide you don’t have to respond at all. Certain people are trolls, just looking to provoke a response. Sometimes ignoring them is the best thing to do.

You don’t need to have the last word. I’ve found that it can be hard to walk away from an argument, though, even when I realize that it’s never going to go anywhere and that engaging is just going to cause more suffering. At first it’s agonizing. Sometimes it takes a couple of days for the painful feeling of not engaging to die down. But it does eventually vanish; all feelings are impermanent. I’ve always been glad in the end to have let someone else have the last word in a pointless argument.

I’m not suggesting that we “just experience our feelings” in order to avoid conflict, by the way. It’s just that there can be times we realize that a productive discussion is never going to happen.

And we shouldn’t ignore actual physical threats. Earlier today I reported both to his web host and to the FBI one person whose blog was advocating violence against political opponents. Some threats need to be taken seriously.

And I’d suggest that you always stand up for others, and not ignore racism, misogyny, or threats of violence. Bullying needs to be stood up to.

3. See the other person as a human being

I find the golden rule helpful in internet communications: This person I am talking to is a human being, just as I am. They have feelings, just as I do. This person I am arguing with is, like me, suffering.

Ask yourself as you’re responding — am I trying to convince this person or am I trying to make them hurt by showing that they are wong? Usually we can’t do both. It’s hard enough for others when we criticize what they say and do — none of us like it when that happens — but it’s even harder for them when we attack their character.

It can be tempting to insult someone in order to change their mind. But how often has being insulted online actually changed your mind? Probably not often. Insults don’t help. I try to remember that they just create further suffering. I try to notice even very subtle digs and delete them before posting. The other person probably won’t see them as subtle.

One beautiful exchange I saw on Twitter involved the comedian, Sarah Silverman. After someone responded to one of her messages with a single offensive word (with four letters, starting with c) she said that she’s read a number of his tweets and empathized with the physical pain he was experiencing. She also invited him to see what would happen if he decided to choose love. This led to a dialog in which he revealed past abuse and in which Silverman helped him to find affordable medical treatment.

One thing we can bear in mind when we’re online is the Scottish writer, the Reverend John Watson’s saying, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

4. See the other person as capable of change

Many times recently when I’ve seen someone being outrageously offensive online — being racist, or insulting a person’s appearance, for example — I’ve said the same thing: “You can be better than this.” I haven’t criticized them or their words. I haven’t told them how they should behave. I’ve just reminded them that they are capable of acting differently. So far I haven’t had a single angry response to that. Of course I don’t know how this line is actually received, but the fact that people who have said some pretty vicious things to others and have refused to back down in the face of criticism haven’t responded to me adversely makes me think I’ve struck a chord.

“You can be better than this” acknowledges the simple truth that many times we’re capable of acting better than we do. It recognizes that all beings have the potential for awakening. We’re all potential Buddhas, and we need to remind ourselves and each other of that fact.

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Loving and supporting whatever is difficult within you

Photo by Caleb Woods on Unsplash.

Someone wrote to me yesterday, saying that as she was getting into her spiritual practice, anger was starting to arise:

I have very recently started my journey towards freedom of suffering at the hands of myself or others. It would seem as though it has turned into an anger issue with me. So I am looking forward to any suggestions that may help me get to my centered, grounded, healing, happy place.

This can happen. As we’re leaving our comfort zone, fear can be triggered. We can also become more sensitive to the body as we practice meditation, and so we feel our feelings more strongly.

My own experience is that anger is a response to painful feelings that we haven’t yet learned to tolerate. The good news is that we can learn to accept those feelings so that anger no longer needs to arise. We have built up an expectation that they’re threatening and terrifying — like the monsters I used to imaging lurking at the foot of my bed when I was a child. But just as there wasn’t in reality anything there for me to be terrified of then, there’s nothing really there to be scared of now.

It’s not that the feelings don’t exist, it’s that when we do manage to bring ourselves to accept them, we realize there’s no big deal, and never was. They’re just feelings. They’re patterns of sensation in the body caused by ancient parts of the brain; part of an internal communication system that evolved hundreds of millions of years ago. Once you accept them, they often just evaporate, just like the darkness at the foot of the bed vanishes when you put the light on.

Of course there is a part of us that’s terrified of these feelings, and we shouldn’t pretend it doesn’t exist. It’s going to be there all the time we’re persuading ourselves to turn and look at whatever feelings it is that we’ve been trying to avoid.

Maybe those feelings are hurt, or fear, or confusion. When you find you’re angry, drop down into the body and look to see what’s happening around the heart and the gut. Notice what’s there. As best you can, accept it. Tell yourself, “It’s OK to feel this. Let me feel this.” Realize that there’s nothing wrong with having these feelings. It’s not a failure. It’s just a part of you that’s evolved a certain habit in order to try to protect you.

Treat the part of you that’s creating these feelings with kindness. It’s hurt, confused, afraid. It’s not evil. It needs your compassion, not your condemnation.

Practice giving it compassion. Touch it tenderly, laying a hand on the part of the body where those feelings arise most strongly. Tell it you love it. Tell it you care. Tell it you’re there for it and will support it.

By relating to your feelings as parts of you that need help and support, rather than as boogey-men that you’re afraid of, you’ll start to lose your fear.

And you’ll notice along the way that your anger is starting to vanish. It was trying to protect you from your hurt or pain of confusion by trying to push away whatever was triggering those feelings. But when you accept your painful feelings you don’t need to be protected against them.

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Can you be mindful and still feel angry?

Peggilee Wupperman Ph.D., Psychology Today: Mindfulness will not turn you into a feel-good Zen zombie.

If you struggle with dysregulated (addictive/impulsive) behavior, you might have heard that mindfulness can help you overcome the behavior.

In fact, you have likely seen numerous articles on how mindfulness can help you with pretty much every problem you have ever had (Dysregulated behavior! Anxiety! Relationship issues! Work stress! Ingrown toenails!). You may even have been pressured to practice mindfulness by friends or colleagues.

And you may be feeling a little irritated—or just plain angry…

Read the original article »

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How to mind your feelings

wildmind meditation newsDaniel Goleman, Lion’s Roar: While we can’t control when we feel anger or fear—or how strongly—we can gain some control over what we do while in their grip. If we can develop inner radar for emotional danger, we gain a choice point the Dalai Lama urges us to master.

When I asked the Dalai Lama how to find this inner choice point, he suggested one method: questioning destructive mental habits. Even though there may be a bit of legitimacy to our griev­ances, are the disturbing emotions we feel way out of proportion? Are such feelings familiar, recurring again and again? If so, we …

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Regarding suffering as a mindfulness bell

Here’s a funny story for you.

One of the things we do to fund our activities at Wildmind is selling meditation supplies, which means that our office is also a mini-warehouse, stocked with incense, Buddha statues, meditation cushions — and mindfulness timers.

One day my work kept getting interrupted by a bell that would go off from time to time. The first couple of times it was no big deal. I thought that someone had perhaps jostled a wind chime, which will happen when stock’s being moved around. But as the sounds continued to happen, it became an annoying interruption.

The puzzling thing was that no one seemed to be doing anything that could be making this noise. I asked around to see if anyone, for example, had some app running that was creating a chiming noise, because I was trying to write an article and the interruption was really bothering me. It turned out that everyone else was also being disturbed and had been wondering what the noise was. In fact they’d all assumed it was the result of something I was doing!

Eventually we realized that one of the mindfulness timers we stock had somehow been switched on, and it seemed that the offending item was one that was boxed. The trouble was, which one? There was a pile of perhaps two dozen boxed meditation timers, and the bell would only ring once every few minutes. And by the time someone had dashed over to the place the timers were stored, the sound had already stopped.

It became my mission to find out which timer was ringing. This involved splitting them up in a process of eliminating non-offending timers. To cut a long story short, I finally tracked down and deactivated the timer that had been interrupting us, and we were all able to work undistractedly. The whole episode was very disruptive, not just because the bell had been interrupting our work, but because it had taken so much effort to switch the timer off.

The ironic thing, of course, is that the random bell was supposed to be an invitation to practice mindfulness — to stop what you’re doing and to spend a few moments tuning into the breath, to relax, and to let go! None of us had remembered to be mindful when we heard the bell ringing! In fact we’d all rather unmindfully been irritated by something that was supposed to me a mindfulness tool!

One trivial thing to learn from this is that something like a mindfulness bell only works when I have the expectation that it will. Unless, when I hear the bell, I have an assumption “this bell is intended to help me be mindful” it’s not going to function as a prompt for mindfulness.

But something I wonder is, why don’t I regard every annoyance as a mindfulness bell! Ironically, as I was writing this article I kept being interrupted by a co-worker who needed my advice on a number of questions. It dawned on me that I could use these interruptions to my routine to mindfully check in with myself. And the other week, when I found myself irritated by some software that didn’t function as expected, someone pointed out to me that I could be grateful to the company concerned because they were giving me an opportunity to become mindful of my impatience. I think that’s a brilliant idea, and something I need to work on.

Basically, I’d like to train myself to see the experience of annoyance as a mindfulness bell — letting it jolt me into a deeper awareness of myself. When I find I’m irritated by something, instead of going on a rant I can drop down to the level of feelings, recognize that the feeling of frustration I’m experiencing is a form of pain, and then send compassionate thoughts to that pain.

PS. Yes, I know that Quasimodo never said “The bells!” but I couldn’t resist the temptation to use a photograph of that character.

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“When the Anger Ogre Visits,” by Andrée Salom

anger ogreSome weeks ago I read this book with my kids (a six-year-old boy and an almost-eight-year-old girl) several times now, and they enjoyed both the story and the images. But the book became especially relevant recently when my son developed the habit of kicking and punching his sister. That’s a phase a lot of kids go through, but it’s especially worrisome because he’s taking karate classes, and at some point he’s going to be able to do some serious harm.

So last night, when my son was getting mad, we picked up the book again, and read through it. he wanted to read the book out loud himself, and he was able to do so with only a little help. Daddy was proud!

After he’d finished with the reading we talked about some of the things we can do to calm down our anger when it pays a visit.

  • We can breathe slowly and deeply.
  • We can use our imaginations to picture ourselves floating and relaxing on the sea.
  • We can relax the body.
  • We can listen to the sound of our breathing.

Salom reminds the child that “As you pay attention, the Ogre will change form,” and in fact we see the red, swollen ogre deflating like a balloon and his contorted face dissolving into a smile as he becomes “friendly, gentle, and warm.”

“Next time it comes a-knocking, you’ll know just what to do. Invite the Anger Ogre to relax and breathe with you.

By the time we’d finished reading the book, my son was calm again. Success!

Title: “When the Anger Ogre Visits”
Author: Andrée Salom
Publisher: Wisdom Publications
ISBN: 9781614291664
Publication date: April 2015
Available from: Amazon.co.uk, and Amazon.com.

I’d highly recommend “When the Anger Ogre Visits.” The content is generally very practical, and the illustrations (by Ivette Salom) are colorful and entertaining. The one piece of advice for relating to the Anger Ogre that I think could have been clearer is this:

“If the Anger Ogre is still swollen, tense, and hot,
Offer it some honey of the sweetest kind you’ve got.”

This is a nice image, but we’re left guessing what it actually means. My own guess would be that the child thinks of something positive (perhaps a calm scene or a friendly face) but I’m sure other people will interpret this differently, that some will take the metaphor literally, and that yet others will be confused about what’s being suggested. The rest of the book, though, is crystal clear.

“When the Anger Ogre Visits” was pitched perfectly for my two kids. I’d imagine it would work with children from about three to eight or nine years old.

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How beautiful it is to stay silent when someone expects you to be enraged

how beautiful it is

I was struck by the similarity between the quote in the graphic above and something the Buddha’s recorded as having said:

Whoever doesn’t flare up at someone who’s angry wins a battle hard to win.

I was a bit surprised, though, to see a comment attached to the graphic:

I love this one: it usually irks the attacker even more.

Remaining silent in order to irk someone doesn’t strike me as being a very noble motive.

The best reason for being silent instead of getting into an argument is simply to avoid unnecessary conflict so that there’s less suffering. The other person might get mad in the short term, but in the long-term they’ll benefit because you’ve given them less to be resentful about. You might experience discomfort in the short term because part of you really wants to fight back, but in the long term you’ll have less to regret and your emotional state will be more peaceful.

Taking pleasure in someone else getting angry is, from a Buddhist point of view, unskillful. It’s just a subtle form of aggression. Our desire should always be to reduce the amount of suffering our actions cause.

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Transform ill will

Fist of fireGoodwill and ill will are about intention: the will is for good or ill. These intentions are expressed through action and inaction, word and deed, and-especially-thoughts. How do you feel when you sense another person taking potshots at you in her mind? What does it feel like to take potshots of your own? Ill will plays a lot of mini-movies in the simulator, those little grumbling stories about other people. Remember: while the movie is running, your neurons are wiring together.

Ill will tries to justify itself. In the moment, the rationalizations sound plausible, like the whisperings of Wormtongue in The Lord of the Rings. Only later do we realize how we have tricked ourselves.

And often our attempts at payback just get in the way of balls already ricocheting back toward the person who sent them flying in the first place.

As I wrote in last week’s JOT, Ill will creates negative, vicious cycles. But that means that good will can create positive cycles. Plus good will cultivates wholesome qualities in you.

How?

Be Aware of the Priming
Be mindful of factors that stimulate your sympathetic nervous system – such as stress, pain, worry, or hunger – and thus prime you for ill will. Try to defuse this priming early on: eat dinner before talking, take a shower, read something inspiring, or talk with a friend.

Regard Ill Will as an Affliction
Approach your own ill will as an affliction upon yourself so that you’ll be motivated to drop it. Ill will feels bad and has negative health consequences; for example, regular hostility increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. Your ill will always harms you, but often it has no effect on the other person; as they say in twelve-step programs: Resentment is when I take poison and wait for you to die.

Investigate the Triggers
Inspect the underlying trigger of your ill will, such as a sense of threat or alarm. Look at it realistically. Are you exaggerating what happened in any way? Are you focusing on a single negative thing amidst a dozen good ones?

Study Ill Will
Take a day and really examine even the least bit of ill will you experience. See what causes it and what its effects are.

Settle Into Awareness
Settle into awareness, observing ill will but not identifying with it, watching it arise and disappear like any other experience.

Accept the Wound
Life includes getting wounded. Accept as a fact that people will sometimes mistreat you, whether accidentally or deliberately. Of course, this doesn’t mean enabling others to harm you, or failing to assert yourself. You’re just accepting the facts on the ground. Feel the hurt, the anger, the fear, but let them flow through you. Ill will can become a way to avoid facing your deep feelings and pain.

Relax the Sense of Self
Relax the sense of self. Experiment with letting go of the idea that there was actually an “I” or “me” who was affronted or wounded.

Have Faith in Justice
Have faith that others will pay their own price one day for what they’ve done. You don’t have to be the justice system.

Don’t Teach Lessons in Anger
Realize that some people won’t get the lesson no matter how much you try. So why create problems for yourself in a pointless effort to teach them?

Forgive
Forgiveness doesn’t mean changing your view that wrongs have been done. But it does mean letting go of the emotional charge around feeling wronged. The greatest beneficiary of your forgiveness is usually you.

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Defending against loss

The Buddha taught that we spend most of our life like children in a burning house, so entranced by our games that we don’t notice the flames, the crumbling walls, the collapsing foundation, the smoke all around us. The games are our false refuges, our unconscious attempts to trick and control life, to sidestep its inevitable pain.

Yet, this life is not only burning and falling apart; sorrow and joy are woven inextricably together. When we distract ourselves from the reality of loss, we also distract ourselves from the beauty, creativity, and mystery of this ever-changing world.

One of my clients, Justin, distracted himself from the loss of his wife, Donna, by armoring himself with anger. He’d met her in college, and married her right after graduation. Donna went on to law school and to teaching law; Justin taught history and coached basketball at a small urban college. With their teaching, passion for tennis, and shared dedication to advocating for disadvantaged youth, their life together was full and satisfying.

On the day that Justin received the unexpected news of his promotion to full professor, Donna was away at a conference, and caught an early flight back to celebrate with him. On her way home from the airport, a large truck overturned and crushed her car, killing her instantly.

Almost a year after her death, Justin asked me for phone counseling. “I need to get back to mindfulness,” he wrote. “Anger is threatening to take away the rest of my life.”

During our first call, Justin told me that his initial response to Donna’s death was rage at an unjust God. “It doesn’t matter that I always tried to do my best, be a good person, a good Christian. God turned his back on me,” he told me. Yet his initial anger at God had morphed into a more general rage at injustice and a desire to confront those in power. He’d always been involved with social causes, but now he became a lightning rod for conflict, aggressively leading the fight for diversity on campus, and publicly attacking the school administration for its lack of commitment to the surrounding community.

His department chairman had previously been a staunch ally; now their communication was badly strained. “It’s not your activism,” his chairman told him. “It’s your antagonism, your attitude.” Justin’s older sister, his lifelong confidant, had also confronted him. “Your basic life stance is suspicion and hostility,” she’d said. When I asked him whether that rang true, he replied, “When I lost Donna, I lost my faith. I used to think that some basic sanity could prevail in this world. But now, well, it’s hard not to feel hostile.”

The pain of loss often inspires activism. Mothers have lobbied tirelessly for laws preventing drunk driving; others struggle for legislation to reduce gun violence; gay rights activists devote themselves to halting hate crimes. Such dedication to change can be a vital and empowering part of healing. But Justin’s unprocessed anger had aborted the process of mourning. His anger might have given him some feeling of meaning or purpose, but instead he remained a victim, at war with God and life, unable to truly heal.

Loss exposes our essential powerlessness, and often we will do whatever’s possible to subdue the primal fear that comes with feeling out of control. Much of our daily activity is a vigilant effort to stay on top of things—to feel prepared and avoid trouble. When this fails, our next line of defense is to whip ourselves into shape: Maybe if we can change, we think, we can protect ourselves from more suffering. Sadly, going to war with ourselves only compounds our pain.

A few months after my first phone consultation with Justin, his seventy-five-year-old mother had a stroke. His voice filled with agitation as he told me about the wall he’d hit when he tried to communicate with her insurance company. They couldn’t seem to understand that her recovery depended on more comprehensive rehab. “There’s nothing I can do to reach this goddamned, heartless bureaucracy … nothing!”

Justin was once again living in the shadow of loss, and gripped in reactivity. We both agreed that this was an opportunity to bring mindfulness to his immediate experience. He began by quickly identifying what he called “pure, righteous anger” before pausing, and allowing it to be there. Then, after a several rounds of investigation, he came upon something else. “My chest. It’s like there’s a gripping there, like a big claw that’s just frozen in place. And I’m afraid.”

“Afraid of what?” I asked gently. After a long pause, Justin spoke in a low voice. “She’ll probably come through this fine, but a part of me is afraid I’m going to lose her too.”

We stayed on the phone as Justin breathed with his fear, feeling its frozen grip on his chest. Then he asked if he could call me back later in the week. “This is a deep pain,” he said. “I need to spend time with it.”

A few days later, he told me, “Something cracked open, Tara. Being worried about my mom is all mixed up with Donna dying. It’s like Donna just died yesterday, and I’m all broken up. Something in me is dying all over again . . .” Justin had to wait a few moments before continuing. “I wasn’t done grieving. I never let myself feel how part of me died with her.” He could barely get out the words before he began weeping deeply.

Whenever we find ourselves lacking control of a situation, there’s an opening to just be with what is. Now that Justin had once again found himself in a situation he couldn’t control, he was willing this time to be with the loss he’d never fully grieved. Instead of rushing into a new cause, he spent the next couple of months focused on caring for his mom. He also spent hours alone shooting hoops, or hitting tennis balls against a wall. Sometimes he’d walk into his empty house and feel like he had just lost Donna all over again. It was that raw.

Justin had finally opened to the presence that could release his hill of tears. Six months later, during our last consultation, he told me that he was back in action. “I’m in the thick of diversity work again, and probably more effective. Makes sense . . . According to my sister, I’m no longer at war with the world.”

By opening to his own grief instead of armoring himself with anger, Justin was finally able to start the healing process. His grief had never gone away; it had just been hidden. Once he was willing to open to it and feel it, his own sorrow could show him the way home to peace. As Irish poet and philosopher John O’Donohue tells us:

All you can depend on now is that
Sorrow will remain faithful to itself.
More than you, it knows its way
And will find the right time
To pull and pull the rope of grief
Until that coiled hill of tears
Has reduced to its last drop.

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Softening the heart and sitting with anger…

wildcat snarling

One evening after my Wednesday night meditation class, Amy, a member of our D.C. meditation community, asked if we might talk for a few minutes about her mother, a woman she often referred to as “a manipulative, narcissistic human.” Amy’s mother had recently been diagnosed with terminal breast cancer, and as the only local offspring, Amy had become her mother’s primary caretaker. So, there she was, spending hours a day with a person she’d been avoiding for decades. “I can’t stand myself for having such a hard heart,” Amy confessed.

Amy and I agreed to meet privately to explore how she might use her practice to find more freedom in relating to her mother. At our first session, she told me difficult early childhood memories had recently been emerging. In the most potent of these, Amy was three years old. Her mom yelled upstairs that she’d prepared a bath for her and that she should get in the tub. But when Amy went into the bathroom, what she found was a couple of inches of lukewarm water. What had flashed through her three-year-old mind then was: “This is all I’m going to get. No one is taking care of me.”

Amy’s mom had always been preoccupied with her own dramas, perpetually reacting to perceived slights from friends, struggling against weight gain, and berating her husband for his shortcomings. Little attention was paid to the physical or emotional needs of Amy or her siblings. “She doesn’t care about anyone except herself,” Amy told me. “She’s a self-centered bitch … it really pisses me off. I got gypped out of having a mother, and now I’m here catering to her.” As she was speaking I asked her to pause, and investigate what she was most aware of in the moment. After a long silence, Amy said “There’s so much rage, I can barely contain it.”

Part of the process of softening our hearts includes learning to recognize and allow whatever we’re feeling—even intense rage. But this isn’t always simple, or easy. When I asked Amy if she could allow the rage to be here, she shook her head. “I’m afraid if I really make space for this rage, it will destroy every relationship I have. I’ve already hurt people I love.”

When anger is buried, like Amy’s was, the energy gets converted and expressed in many different ways. Yet, anger is a natural survival energy that wants our attention, that needs to be allowed to be felt. However, “allowing” doesn’t mean we let ourselves be possessed by our anger. Rather, we allow when we acknowledge the stories of blame without believing them, and when we let the sensations of anger arise, without either acting them out or resisting them.

I encouraged Amy to check in with her fear. Was it willing to let this rage be here? Could the fear step aside enough so that she could be present with this rage? Amy nodded. Now, she could begin to investigate the emotional energy beneath the blame. I knew that for her to do this, she’d first need to step outside of the seductive sway of her resentful stories. We’d talked about the stories, respecting them as windows into her pain. But the anger also lived deeper in her body—in a place beyond thought. The next step was for Amy to widen and deepen her attention so she could fully contact these embodied energies.

I asked Amy to notice what she was feeling in her body, and she closed her eyes and paused. “It’s like a hot pressured cauldron in my chest,” she said. What would happen, I asked, if she said yes to this feeling, and allowed the heat and pressure to be as intense as it wanted. “It wants to explode,” Amy said. Again, I encouraged her to let be, to allow her experience just as it was.

Amy was absolutely still for some moments. “The rage feels like it is bursting flames, like a windstorm spreading in all directions,” she said. “It’s blasting through the windows of this office.” In a low voice, she went on: “It’s spreading through the East Coast. Now it’s destroying all life forms, ripping through the continent, oceans, earth.” She continued, telling me about the rage’s fury, how it was spreading through space. Then she became very quiet. Speaking in a soft voice, she finally said, “It’s losing steam,” before sitting back on the couch and letting out a tired sigh. “Now there’s just emptiness. No one is left in the world. I’m utterly alone, lonely.” In a barely audible whisper, she said, “There’s no one who loves me, no one that I love.”

Amy began weeping. Inside the rage, she’d found an empty place, a place that felt loveless. Now what was revealing itself was grief: grief for the loss of love in her life. When I asked what the grieving part of her most needed, she knew right away: “To know that I care about this pain, that I accept and love this grieving place.” I guided her to gently place her hand on her heart, and offer inwardly the message her wounded self most needed. She began repeating the phrase, “I’m sorry, I love you.” This wasn’t an apology. Rather, it was a simple expression of sorrow for her own hurt.

As Amy whispered the phrase over and over, she began rocking side to side. “I’m seeing the little girl in the bath,” she said, “and feeling how uncared for she feels, how alone. I’m holding her now, telling her ‘I’m sorry, I love you.’” Then, after a few minutes, Amy sat upright and looked at me with a fresh openness and brightness. “I think I understand,” she said. “I’ve been angry for so long that I abandoned her—the inner part of me—just like my mom abandoned that three-year-old.” She paused,then continued. “I just have to remember that this part of me needs love. I want to love her.”

Offering a compassionate and clear attention to her vulnerability had connected Amy with a vastness of being that could include her pain. This natural awareness is the fruition of an intimate attention. When we’re resting in this presence, we’re inhabiting the refuge of our own awakened heart and mind.

Some weeks later, Amy read me her morning’s journal entry: “There is more room in my heart.” The night before, after her mother had complained for the third time that her soup still wasn’t salty enough, Amy felt the familiar rising tide of irritation and resentment. She sent the message “I’m sorry, I love you” inwardly to herself, giving permission to the annoyance, to the edginess in her own heart. She felt a softening, a relaxing of tension. Looking up, she was struck by her mother’s grim, dissatisfied expression. Then, just as she’d learned to inquire about herself, the thought came:“What is my mom feeling right now?” Almost immediately, she could sense her mother’s insecurity and loneliness. Imagining her mother inside her heart, Amy again began offering caring messages. “I’m sorry,” she whispered silently, “I love you.”

She found herself feeling genuine warmth toward her mother, and the evening was surprisingly pleasant for both of them. They joked about her mom doing a “mono diet” of potato chips, went online and ordered a bathrobe, and had fun watching The Daily Show together.

At our last meeting Amy told me how, several days earlier, her mother had woken up in the morning hot and sweaty. Amy took a cool cloth to her mother’s forehead and cheeks, arms and feet. “Nobody’s ever washed me,” her mom had said with a wistful smile. Amy immediately remembered the little girl in the bathtub, and felt tears in her eyes. She and her mom had both gone through much of life feeling neglected, as if they didn’t matter. And right now, each in her own way was tasting the intimacy of care. They looked at each other and had a moment of uncomplicated love. It was the first such moment Amy could remember, one she knew she’d cherish long after her mom was gone.

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