Instructions for Anger

Instructions for Anger

Easter 22-23

 

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.   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Spirit of Spirits

The Spirit of Spirits

Pentecost 7

The word Pentecost has nothing to do with religion or spirits or even spirituality. As I have mentioned before, I use the Christian calendar as an organizational tool. It is not a subliminal message at all. I will again make note that I do not believe there is a huge divide between spirituality and religion, though. Pentecost means “fifty” and falls fifty days after another Christian holiday, hence the reason for the naming as such.

I think spending time on the mythologies of our world serves two purposes. First, it is our history. Yes, I said OUR history. To try to separate the history of one culture from another is not wise, in my humble opinion. The world is a vast combination of water and land but the characteristics of mankind traveled quickly and cultures shows signs of intermingling. It was once thought that the culture known as the American Indian traveled across glaciers from Northern Asia to Alaska and Canada before settling in all parts of North, Central, and South America. Similarities between ancient Viking lifestyle and stories and those of the earliest of North American Indians were thought to be just coincidences until DNA testing of descendants of the early Algonquian Nation tribes revealed the two cultures had indeed intermingled in the early first and second centuries.

The mythologies of the Bronze Age man laid the foundation for our belief systems today. These are not simple fictionalized stories with which people were entertained. These were the outlines for how mankind lived, worked, and interacted with the internal and external spirit of all living things. In some ways we have come very far but in other ways, we are still in the infancy of interacting one with another. If you doubt this, just remember more mass graves are being found every day, evidence of the misuse of spiritual belief, religious zeal, and available weaponry.

Learning about such things, though is just the first step. At this point I am inserting an article I co-authored which first ran on the website, www.episcopalcafe.com.

During my Education for Ministry (EfM) journey, the subject of the “Spirituality versus Religion” meme was discussed. In examining this, I was reminded of a parish I attended. The parish had a thriving youth program. Older adults congregated at the church as if it was a social club but it was lacking in something for young adults often called millenials and/or Generation “Y”. They said that “millenials” did not attend church but, after much persistence, they finally began a new young adult class. It was suggested the class take over the “prime” classroom and have a coffeehouse theme. Metal chairs and long tables were relegated to storage closets, replaced by upholstered chairs, lamps, a rug from the attic, etc. The posters and mailers announcing the class were loved by the millenials and deemed “garish” by vestry members, who stood outside the classroom, counting the people who came. One week later, they stood outside that same door, awaiting the Bishop and insisting the class stay to “account” for the change in the décor. When the Bishop arrived, he asked to see the room and then smiled: “I think John the Baptist would feel right at home here” he said.

The millenials of today and Generation “Y” live and breathe in part according to meme theory. Many theologians blame it for the decline in their effectiveness. What is “meme theory” and from where did it originate? According to Wikipedia, a go-to reference for all millenials, a meme is “an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.” The word is an abbreviation of the word memetic, a theory of mental evolution based upon the work of Charles Darwin, coined by British evolutionary scientist Richard Dawkins. Opposing the religious culture, which most assuredly could be said to be based upon a meme, the term has become the battle cry of atheists who ironically, in their attempt to be different, have formed their own communion.

The coffeehouse feel was on target in developing the spirituality of the young adult meeting room and created an environment that drew people in and allowed for a “safe” exchange of ideas. They had cappuccino mix for the coffee pot, tea, hot cocoa, doughnuts and communion. Class “lessons” included a scientific flowchart for the Summary of the Law. Sadly that vision was blinded by the status quo. The class became more “conventional, more religious” and within three months no one was present. Once enrollment numbered fifty-five; it became zero.

What we can learn from this is that we must address spirituality if we want to engage our young adults, our future. They know more of Ziglar’s pump parable than Jesus’ lost coin parable. We have got to have the vision to allow the former in order to discuss the latter. Today’s young adult is not content with following blindly but wants to engage his/her spirit – fully and completely. We exactly is this “spirituality versus religion” concept?

Spiritual Healer Nancy Kern explains it this way: “Spirituality is a direct experience of God, by whatever name: Source, Spirit, the Light, All That Is, Allah, Shiva, Jesus. Religion is learned, passed on through families and cultural institutions, including churches. Religion is built around form, characterized by dogma, ritual and social interaction. Religious organizations are built around spiritual values, and also encompass politics, fund-raising and identity built on beliefs and practices.

“Spirituality involves a direct experience of grace through a bodily knowing; no intermediary is required, no particular beliefs are necessary. The ego cannot manage spiritual experiences or make them happen. Spiritual experiences range from beautiful to frightening, and may contradict religious and scientific beliefs. Both religion and spirituality can involve prayer, contemplation and/or meditation. Both can be positive forces of healing from emotional and physical distress. Spirituality can be encouraged through sensitivity to nature and the cultivation of awareness, gratitude and loving kindness. Religion can encourage and foster spirituality, but does not necessarily do so.”

Kern adds: “Mysticism is spiritual. Mystics from all religious backgrounds see connection between traditions rather than separation. This is because mystics cultivate direct experience of oneness with all of creation. Creativity is innately spiritual. All people are innately spiritual. Religion must be learned. Spirituality is a formless realm of limitless possibilities. Religion limits possibilities through beliefs and taboos. Spirituality may contradict or reinforce religious teachings. Although beliefs in Hell begin as religious teachings, when internalized, they become spiritual fears.”

If we continue to make enemies of spirituality and religion, then we are looking at the future with very poor vision. Today’s young adults live passionately and want a passionate faith. Religion should be a living entity that embraces and uses their spirituality. We must let faith breathe, embracing that which emboldens our spirit to receive the Holy Spirit.

 

The things written about in this article are important, I believe, and applicable to all denominations, religious systems, and spiritual practices. My co-author and I, though we grew up in the same location, are examples of different believers working together. I am a professional musician and conductor, writer, graphic artist, community family values educator and child advocate, a lifelong Episcopalian who has served as Girls Friendly leader, EYC advisor, church school director/teacher, ECW officer, church musician, EfM graduate, and member of the Order of Daughters of the King. I host this blog, n2myhead. My co-author is a professional artist and writer, former midwife, licensed massage therapist, Cranial Sacral Therapist, Flower Essence Practitioner, trained in Buddhist meditation, Native American shamanism, Akashic Field therapy, guided imagery and counseling. She can be reached at her website.

I hope this blog is a conversation. I do not claim to be an expert on any of the topics I discuss. I am a traveler, exploring different aspects of life in an attempt to learn how to better live and to live in a respectful, peaceful, productive manner. I eagerly look forward to your comments. They are the spirit that drives me. These conversations are the purpose for this blog. Some of my conversations are within my own head, hence the title of this blog. The conversations we have with ourselves can be the most productive. They are the spirit that leads us on to our future.

Tomorrow we will continue to discuss both mythologies of the past but also those we are writing today. As we live, we compose our own life story, create our own present and future, portray the beliefs we hold dear. I do not believe that our beliefs are limiting and I completely believe that religion has possibilities for a brighter future. Religion affords an outline for living but such only has value when it includes respect for all living things. A religion that allows hatred is not, in my opinion, a religion but a systematic living of fear.

The spirit of life is alive and so our present-day myths must, as mentioned in the article, be free to breathe. In his book “The Miracle of Mindfulness”, Thich Nhat Hanh writes: “Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts. Whenever your mind becomes scattered, use your breath as the means to take hold of your mind again.” Unfortunately, many people have used spirituality and religion as a basis for garnering power. Writer Jose N. Harris explains the danger of such. ““There is beauty in truth, even if it’s painful. Those who lie, twist life so that it looks tasty to the lazy, brilliant to the ignorant, and powerful to the weak. But lies only strengthen our defects. They don’t teach anything, help anything, fix anything or cure anything. Nor do they develop one’s character, one’s mind, one’s heart or one’s soul.”

The importance we can learn from ancient mythologies is where we have been, what we feared, and what we overcame. Moving forward takes courage and it take a hardy spirit. As the poet e. e. cummings wrote, “Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit.” That is the real purpose of our ancient mythologies – celebrating the human spirit. We have potential as long as we breathe and respect our own spirit.

Deep Breaths

Deep Breaths
Epiphany 25

You may have noticed that in addition to a common theme of inventions or bright ideas that greatly impacted all of mankind, the epiphany posts have also included ways we can all better ourselves and our world…without costing any money. Many of them were based upon bright ideas born out of necessity and others due to curiosity. Today’s bright idea is probably the oldest, based upon man’s anatomy. It gave rise to the practice of meditation but actually it all begins with the first signs of life – the breath of life.

According to mental health writer and activist Therese Borchard, shallow breathing contributes to panic and anxiety. There are basic automatic functions that occur within the human body. These include cardiovascular systems, digestive processes, hormonal and glandular events, and immune defenses. Breathing deeply, however, triggers our parasympathetic nervous system or PNS which is responsible for activities when our body is at ease. It is the opposite of the “fight or flight” response we’ve discussed previously. The PNS is the calmer response to events. By breathing deeply, we will react in a calmer manner. The changes in our breathing send messages to our brains and that results in a more controlled response and calm demeanor. The University of Texas Counseling and Mental Health Center explains it this way: “Diaphragmatic breathing allows one to take normal breaths while maximizing the amount of oxygen that goes into the bloodstream. It is a way of interrupting the ‘Fight or Flight’ response and triggering the body’s normal relaxation response.”

In their book “The Healing Power of the Breath”, Patricia Gerberg, M.D. and Richard Brown, M.D. discuss several types of deep breathing. Coherent breathing involves breathing five breaths per minute. This maximizes the heart rate and leads not only to a stronger stress response but also a stronger cardiovascular system. Resistance breathing creates resistance to one’s flow of air. The easiest example is to breathe out of the nose but other resistance breathing methods include hissing through clenched teeth, tightening the throat muscles, breathing through a straw or through pursed lips. It is important to note the point of this type of breathing is resistance and not to obstruct completely the flow of air. Another example of resistance breathing is the chanting often found in meditation. One breathing technique mentioned in the book is called breath moving. A bit of imagination is needed but this actually helps block the outside world and enables deep breathing and meditation. Breath moving is as simple as imagining your breath moving around your body: Inhaling breath to the top of your head; exhaling breath to the base of your spine. According to Gerberg and Brown, breath moving was first introduced by Russian Orthodox Hesychast monks in the eleventh century.

Diaphragmatic breathing is also a form of deep breathing. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine states that “12.7 percent of American adults [have] used deep-breathing exercises… for health purposes.” However, their definition of deep breathing does not include specifically the diaphragm. “Deep breathing involves slow and deep inhalation through the nose, usually to a count of 10, followed by slow and complete exhalation for a similar count. The process may be repeated 5 to 10 times, several times a day.”

The diaphragm is a muscle which is located between the chest cavity and stomach cavity, running horizontally. There are two types of breathing – shallow and deep. Breathing with higher lung expansion results in taking in less air. This is considered shallow breathing and it is the type of breathing most of us use when speaking or doing daily activities. Deep breathing is characterized by using the diaphragm and involves expansion of the abdomen rather than the chest. Most musicians, wind players and vocalists employ deep breathing for producing their musical sound.

Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh once said: “Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.” Deliberate, deep, conscious breathing has long been a staple of spiritual communities. Discussed even before writings discovered in fifth and sixth century BCE that reference it, deep breathing or meditation was practiced. Some even believed it to be one of the final stages of human evolution. Philo of Alexandria in 20 BCE composed a set of spiritual exercises that included deep breathing and focused concentration which led to meditation developed by Plotinus by the third century ACE.

Meditative practices vary widely based upon the ethnicity, culture, and spirituality and/or religion. The Pali Canon considered Buddhist meditation a necessary step for salvation and a meditation hall opened in Singapore in 653 ACE. In the eighth or ninth centuries, Dhikr, an Islamic practice, advocated reciting the ninety-nine names of God and three centuries later Sufism meditation techniques included measured breathing and repetition of certain words considered holy. The Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner”, is considered an important part of meditation in the Eastern Orthodox Church.

What we do every minute of every day should become an epiphany for us – a light bulb “aha” moment. Simply by breathing deeply, we can regain control of a situation that has thrown us into a panic or caused us immediate and intense stress. Taking a deep breath, counting to five, slowly exhaling to repeat again tells our brain we need to relax and regain control.

Indian spiritual teacher Osho described this wonderful epiphany of breathing awaiting us all in this manner. “I’m simply saying that there is a way to be sane. I’m saying that you can get rid of all this insanity created by the past in you. Just by being a simple witness of your thought processes. It is simply sitting silently, witnessing the thoughts, passing before you. Just witnessing, not interfering not even judging, because the moment you judge you have lost the pure witness. The moment you say “this is good, this is bad,” you have already jumped onto the thought process.”

Osho continues: “It takes a little time to create a gap between the witness and the mind. Once the gap is there, you are in for a great surprise, that you are not the mind, that you are the witness, a watcher.
And this process of watching is the very alchemy of real religion. Because as you become more and more deeply rooted in witnessing, thoughts start disappearing. That’s the moment of enlightenment. That is the moment that you become for the first time an unconditioned, sane, really free human being.”

The dream of all people is to be a free being in their own right. Breathing, really giving it our focus and effort, using our diaphragm and taking in air that activates the PNS system, the balancing portion of our brain, can help make that happen. Who knew the breathing of the ages could also be an epiphany for us living the present, preparing and trying to ensure a brighter future? Yoga master Amit Ray explains: “If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.”