Instructions for Anger

Instructions for Anger


Easter 2019


It has been an interesting eleven days.  Two students carried weapons into their school and created chaos.  One wondered what drove these two with no prior histories of trouble to such an act.  One student died saving his fellow classmates and others were injured.  All at the school, their parents, their community and the world experienced concern, pain, and anger at this act.


This week, in what should be a good thing in supposedly trying to reduce the infant mortality rate in their state, two governors signed legislation regarding abortion.  On both sides voices were raised in anger.  IN each case, the governors acknowledged that the laws they had just signed were unenforceable, causing even more anger.


Whether we are Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Agnostic, Atheist, or somewhere in-between any of the above, we all experience anger.  I think anger can sometimes be a positive emotion.  The patient who is angry that a disease like cancer seems to think it can beat them will get angry and often, fight harder to survive.  But what about that deep anger that destroys us from the inside out?


Thich Nhat Hanh describes happiness as “not suffering”.  This Buddhist teacher and spiritualist reminds us that true happiness comes from within ourselves and not from material things or social standing.  Regardless of how it may seem, reality shows like “the Kardashians” are not about people who have it all but rather about people who struggle with an impossible race to reach happiness through impossible means.  The one emotion that drives such programs and thinking is anger.


Nhat Hanh explains:  “In our consciousness there are blocks of pain, anger and frustration called internal formations. They are also called knots because they tie us up and obstruct our freedom.  When someone insults us or does something unkind to us, an internal formation is created in our consciousness. If you don’t know how to undo the internal knot and transform it, the knot will stay there for a long time. And the next time someone says something or does something to you of the same nature, that internal formation will grow stronger. As knots or blocks of pain in us, our internal formations have the power to push us, to dictate our behavior.


“After a while, it becomes very difficult for us to transform, to undo the knots, and we cannot ease the constriction of this crystallized formation. The Sanskrit word for internal formation is “samyojana”. It means “to crystallize.” Every one of us has internal formations that we need to take care of. With the practice of meditation we can undo these knots and experience transformation and healing.”


It has become popular to “vent” one’s anger.  Sometimes people hit pillows but does this really release the anger?  As a parent I taught my kids to do jumping jacks, that exercise where you spread your arms wide over your hard and spread your feet accordingly while you jump back to a standing position.  For small children, this gives them a sense of being in control as they dictate what their body is doing and are no longer captive to their feelings of anger.


For adults, Nhat Hanh offers this advice.  “Whenever you feel yourself becoming angry, start practicing mindfulness.  Think of that one thing that makes you happy.  Visualize yourself in your most favorite spot doing something you enjoy doing.  Recall the feelings of happiness that that activity and that location bring to you and let yourself experience happiness.  To be happy, to me, is to suffer less. If we were not capable of transforming the pain within ourselves, happiness would not be possible.  Many people look for happiness outside themselves, but true happiness must come from inside of us.


“Mindfulness does not fight anger or despair. Mindfulness is there in order to recognize. To be mindful of something is to recognize that something is there in the present moment. 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 are going to feel anger.  It is an inevitable part of life.  It is up to us to decide whether to use it, embrace it, or to let it eat us up and destroy us.  Nhat Hanh suggests this analogy:  “When it is cold in your room, you turn on the heater, and the heater begins to send out waves of hot air. The cold air doesn’t have to leave the room for the room to become warm. The cold air is embraced by the hot air and becomes warm—there’s no fighting at all between them.


“Practitioners of meditation do not discriminate against or reject their internal formations. We do not transform ourselves into a battle field, 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.” We behave exactly like a mother: “Breathing in, I know that my child is crying. Breathing out, I will take good care of my child”, ourselves.


When we use our anger mindfully, we are showing compassion, not only to another but also to ourselves.  We must learn to do this because without it, we will not truly show compassion to others.  Nhat Hanh offers this very important piece of advice regarding life, its messiness and its inevitable feels of anger.  “To grow the tree of enlightenment, we must make good use of our afflictions, our suffering. It is like growing lotus flowers; we cannot grow a lotus on marble. We cannot grow a lotus without mud.” 


Anger will be a part of our lives.  We can either choose to let it be the medium through which we grow or something that drags us down like quick sand, destroying all within its reach..   








May Day – A time to Bloom

Bloom Where and When You can


Easter 2019


Today is May Day, a day historically set aside to celebrate spring and flowers as well as being a day to recognize Labor Unions and the common worker.  It is also less than twenty-four hours after yet another school shooting, this time at the University of North Carolina, United States.


The following is an excerpt from an article in the Fort Worth (Texas, USA) newspaper “Star Telegram”, written by Deanna Boyd.  Names have been omitted due to the age of the individual at the center of this article.

On Oct. 4, 2012, [X] called 911, telling a dispatcher, “Uh, I just killed my mom and my sister….”I felt like they were just suffocating me, in a way,” he told the dispatcher, according to a recording of the 911 call. “Obviously, you know, I’m pretty, I guess, evil.”

Responding Parker County deputies found [a woman] and her daughter dead of multiple gunshot wounds inside the house on [XX] Lane in [subdivision and town].  The young man was arrested at the scene.  In a written statement, he told investigators that he had devised a plan to kill several family members after watching [a] remake of the movie “Halloween,” in which a boy murders relatives.

“While watching it I was amazed at how at ease the boy was during the murders and how little remorse he had afterward,” [X] wrote in his statement. “I was thinking to myself, it would be the same for me when I kill someone.”

Sheriff’s officials have said [X]  used a gun stolen from his grandfather, a retired Fort Worth officer, to commit the slayings.  [X]  told investigators that he had intended to later kill his grandparents and two other sisters.   But after the slayings of his mom and sister, [X]  — in a state he described as “very shocked and scared” — instead placed the gun on the kitchen counter and called 911.

“I know now though that I’m done with killing. It’s the most dreadful and terrifying thing I will ever experience. And what happened last night will haunt me forever.”


We think we know so much and especially as young adults and teenagers, we can be intensely certain that we think we know something.  Philosophy is about the “knowing” but how do we know?  Sadly, many cult leaders never give their followers the chance to reflect upon their actions.  These misguided young people searching for knowledge and truth are sacrificed for the greed and egos of others.  At a time when so many are resorting to violence as an answer, we need to stop asking when will then killing stop and start asking what are these young people thinking.  Philosophy is about the search for knowledge and it is a search conducted without a great deal of physical action, just mental.  For that reason, many disdain it and consider it, to borrow from Shakespeare, “much ado about nothing”.  Some say that about spiritual sects and religious denominations and faiths.  We study to prevent knowledge from passing us by, from slipping through the hours of our living.  The ancient philosophers saw the world moving on and asked why.  We need to question our daily actions in the same way.  Did what I do yesterday have value?  Did I connect with another, friend or stranger?  Was there a purpose for my being?


There is no one hard and fast rule that will be sufficient as an answer.  The religions of the world usually claim love to be the answer but how do we live a healthy love for all?  We will each have our own answers and paths of both learning and exploration.  The future is, after all, ours to construct and write.  Hopefully, we will connect with others and thrive.  Hopefully, others will look back upon their connections with us and be thankful for them.  Mostly, though I hope you never feel what this young man has felt.  “It’s the most dreadful and terrifying thing I will ever experience. And what happened last night will haunt me forever.”


A common meme that has been around for decades is the admonishment to “Bloom where you are planted.”   Mary Engelbreit, a children’s author and renowned illustrator and artist, is often credited with this saying but it predates her.  Some claim the phrase is Biblical and cite Jeremiah 29:1, 4-14 but it never actually says we should bloom where we are.  Others claim that was the intention of Paul in his writing to the church in Corinth, the text of which is found in 1 Corinthians 7:17.


The advice is good but is comes more from common sense than from spiritual or religious teachings.  What about the saying thrive to survive.  Often people ask if they are merely surviving or if it possible for them to thrive.  In writing for the website The Chopra Center, Tamara Lechner suggests that “There is a fundamental difference between thriving and surviving. Surviving means, “to continue to live or exist,” while thrive can be defined as “to grow or develop well, to prosper or to flourish.”


In many countries surviving is a difficult task.  Is it possible to break out of the mindset of survival mode to thrive?  Lechner offers this advice:  “Thriving happens when you have a life of purpose, vitality, connection, and celebration. This isn’t tied to a specific salary, job title, type of car, or relationship. Material possessions are not part of the recipe to thrive. Follow these four steps to stop surviving, and start thriving.”


Life is not about being haunted.  Life is for living and living for the best outcomes for all of mankind.  Enjoy today.  It is the first day of the month of May and, in many areas, the true first day of spring.   Live your faith.  Exist, believe ,rejoice.  Mostly, I hope you smile – at another but also at yourself.  When we seek to thrive and help others do the same, then we have a much brighter future, one in which everyone has a chance to bloom, grow, and flourish.


Pentecost 4

Pentecost 4
My Psalm 4

June 11, 2014

Blindness, #NotOneMore, Cracks

Another school shooting took priority in the news. The anti-gun lobby is calling for revisions to current gun laws, the NRA is repeating that guns don’t kill but people do, and even the President of the United States is frustrated. For most, though, they will be deaf to the news reporting. They will go about their daily lives and do absolutely nothing. Sadly, their deafness will not be what kills. The real tragedy is the blindness, not just of the silent, doing-nothing public but of everyone.

As Leonard Cohen wrote: “Ring the bells that still can ring; Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack, a crack in everything.” Since most do not have the perfect answer, they don’t seek one. Whatever system you support, we must compromise and find one that encompasses all.

It’s the fault of the bullies, some say. Most school shooters were considered weird and did not fit in with the average school stereotype, whatever that means. They were known to the student body as the kid who did not fit in and to teachers, as the kid who was quiet in class. Most of the parents were as frustrated as the President but found no perfect answer.

If you think something isn’t wrong with a system that results in over seventy school shootings in two years, then you are blind. If you think gun ownership, parents having a gun in the house, does not contribute to these kids getting a gun that they then take to school, then you are blind.

We live in an imperfect world. Kids have problems and some kids have more than their fair share. We push our kids to achieve a standard that is often impossible to accomplish. Less funding is allocated each year to both education and teacher pay. Some teachers work outside jobs to make ends meet and are too exhausted to really know their students. Legal restrictions and threats of lawsuits scare and make it impossible for all but child predators to spend time with students. While coaches and club advisors account for many of the teachers who end up as child predators, the typical classroom teacher cannot discipline or counsel the student they see in class. They must shuffle them off to the counselor who often has a case load equal to that of an entire department of counselors in most agencies.

There are cracks in the system. The founding fathers had good reason to ensure gun ownership. It outfitted the colonist militia that waged the American Revolution and again during subsequent wars. They were fighting, though, for the right to live and now, that same amendment is being used as an excuse to continue the deaths of our children. We have no need to revise the Second Amendment because if our children keep killing each other, there will be no future generation that will need it.

It is not just the problem of the inner city school. Review the list of school with school shootings. Few are the stereotypical inner city, ghetto school. Those schools are actually thriving in most places except Chicago. In Chicago, a price tag was put on the head of each and every public school student – a price tag of lower teacher pay and less benefits, firing of more experienced teachers to reduce salary payouts since new teachers could be hired for less, fewer school programs, little or no upkeep on school buildings. When we consider money before everything else when it comes to education, then we are blind. The system is cracked and crumbling.

“When you are disturbed, do not sin.” Psalm 4 is a plea, a confident plea that God will deliver the psalmist from his enemies. We need to prepare our children, all children for the cracks in our imperfect world. Studies conducted in the 1980-1990’s showed that the best approach to helping children say no to drugs was self-confidence and an improved self-esteem. Confident people do not bully. Confident people do not self-destruct. Confident people have faith in coping today and feel hope for tomorrow, in spite of yesterday’s cracks. Confident people are not blind.

We see the victim and the shooter as somebody else’s child but in truth, they are ours. The death of one is a chink in the life of us all. We cannot walk along our daily lives and be blind to the grief of our neighbor living somewhere else, deaf to the cries of our children. We need to ring the bell that still can ring. We need to celebrate the crack, live in it, and learn from it. Then we can see again, hear again, and let the light of life and love into the lives of our children and nations.

“Ring the bells that still can ring; Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack, a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in. That’s how the light gets in. That’s how the light gets in.”

My Psalm 4
I cry to you, O Lord and you answer me.
My cries of despair and fear are heard by your majesty.
How long must I walk through the taunts?
How much must I endure?
You are Justice, dear God.
I rest easy knowing you will take care of all.
There are those that want evidence of your power
But I rest, knowing it is there and will hug me as a coat of armor.
Your love is a lullaby and it sings me to a peaceful sleep, safe in your sight.

Mean Girls (and boys)

A news story this morning spoke about mean girl in kindergarten classes.  Everyone was amazed and appalled.  I also am not happy but I fail to see why this is amazing.

Kids seek that which is familiar.  We as adults offer them security and encouragement to try something new.  Unfortunately, as the world has gotten smaller so have the number of parents who feel secure enough to trust in change and then pass on that trust to their children.

Bullying has been around for a really long time.  Cultural folktales are full of such and even if the bullying is not overt, the implied discriminations are.  After all, no one speaks of David’s prowess but only of his size – short and small. 

Bullying will stop when we stop participating in those cultural events that glorify it.  Movies such as “Mean Girls”, tv shows like “The Jersey Shore” that perpetuate stereotypes and staying within a circle of stereotypes, sports teams that pay players for bullying the opposing team’s players out of sight of the referees, pop music that denigrates a certain sex or class or religion or profession….all of these encourage young people to bully.  They also encourage those same young people to think such actions are not only cool but also acceptable.

It really is not a question of faith or culture or even class.  It is a matter of self-esteem.  A person who possesses self-confidence does not need to put someone else down in order to bolster their own self-image.  You may not like every other person or want to hang out with them but you should not need to be mean to them.

When we as parents so our job as parents, then we will not feel guilty nor that we have come up lacking.  Then we will be able to encourage our children to stop bullying. 

Bullying is a team activity.  No one gets satisfaction out of bullying in private. The next time a kid takes his or her own life or takes a gun to school, ask what the environment was for that child.  Before you defend the other kids or feel they were at fault, stop.  Also ask what their environment is like, both at school and at home.

Teachers are having to do the work of the parent, the therapist, the educator, the counselor, the enforcer and most for less than minimum wage when all the time they spend regarding their job is tallied.  Parents are over-worked trying to keep up with their neighbors or some image from the medi that they feel they must duplicate.

No one stands at the grave of their child thankful for their big house or fancy car.  No child gets security from absentee parents.

Next time you wonder where all those “mean kids” came from….maybe the answer is as close as the nearest mirror.  When we as a culture decide bullying is wrong, it will stop and our children will live stronger and healthier lives.

I just hope we are not too late to look into that mirror.