Treating Anger with Tenderness - Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames by Thich Nhat Hanh

Offered by Sonya B on October 8, 2020

Mindfulness does not fight anger or despair. Mindfulness is the capacity of being aware of what is going on in the present moment. “Breathing in I know that anger has manifested in me; breathing out I smile towards my anger.” This is not an act of suppression or of fighting. It is an act of recognizing. Once we recognize our anger, we embrace it with a lot of awareness, a lot of tenderness.

We practice taking care of our anger in the same way. Mindfulness recognizes anger, is aware of its presence, accepts and allows it to be there. We have to help our anger, not fight and destroy it. Our anger is us, and our compassion is also us.

We do not transform ourselves into a battlefield, good fighting evil. We treat our afflictions, our anger, our jealousy with a lot of tenderness. When anger comes up in us, we should begin to practice mindful breathing right away: “Breathing in, I know that anger is in me. Breathing out, I am taking good care of my anger.” This is the practice of compassion.

If you don’t know how to treat yourself with compassion, how can you treat another person with compassion? When anger arises, continue to practice mindful breathing and mindful walking to generate the energy of mindfulness. Continue to tenderly embrace the energy of anger within you. Anger may continue to be there for some time, but you are safe, because the Buddha is in you, helping you to take good care of your anger. When you practice mindful breathing and embracing your anger, you are under the protection of the Buddha.

When you are angry, when you feel despair, you practice mindful breathing and mindful walking, to generate the energy of mindfulness. This energy allows you to recognize and embrace your painful feelings. And if your mindfulness is not strong enough, you ask a fellow practitioner to sit close to you, to breathe with you, to walk with you in order to support you with their mindfulness energy. Practicing mindfulness does not mean that you have to do everything on your own.

Making Your Unwanted Guests Feel at Home

When you remove the embargo and the blocks of pain come up, you will have to suffer a bit. There is no way to avoid it. And that is why the Buddha said that you have to learn how to embrace this pain. It is for this reason that the practice of mindfulness is so important. You generate a strong source of energy so that you can recognize, embrace, and take care of these negative energies. For instance, the Buddha said that all of us have the seed of fear, but most of us suppress it and keep it locked in the dark. And since the Buddha is in you as the energy of mindfulness, you invite the Buddha to come up and help you embrace the internal knots. If they don’t want to come up, you coax them to come up. After being embraced for some time, they will return back to the basement and become seeds again.

To help us identify, embrace, and look deeply at the seeds of fear, the Buddha offered us the practice of the Five Remembrances:

  • I am of the nature to grow old. I cannot escape old age.

  • I am of the nature to have ill health. I cannot escape ill health.

  • I am of the nature to die. I cannot escape dying.

  • All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change. There is no way to escape being separated from them. I cannot keep anything. I come here empty-handed, and I go empty-handed.

  • My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground on which I stand.

We practice the Five Remembrances so that the seed of fear can circulate. We must invite it up to be recognized, to be embraced. And then when it goes back down again, it becomes smaller. When we invite our seed of fear up like this, we will be better equipped to take care of our anger. Fear gives life to anger. You don’t have peace when fear is there, so it becomes the soil on which anger can grow. Fear is based on ignorance, and this lack of understanding is also a primary cause of anger. If you learn not to fear your knows of suffering, you can learn how to embrace them with the energy of mindfulness and to transform them.

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