The new Shambhala Sun book, All the Rage: Buddhist Wisdom on Anger and Acceptance, comes out next month (and is ready for online direct orders from the publisher now). Here, in the book’s introduction, editor Andrea Miller tells you what’s inside — and gets a bit personal about anger, too. You’ll also find a link to a sample teaching from the book, Sylvia Boorstein’s “No Blame.”
You would never peg me as someone who’d get in a fistfight, and you’d be right. But all the same, there was this one time more than a decade ago.
Urgently needing a place to live, I hastily signed the lease to a drafty apartment with sloping floors and cracks in the walls. I asked the landlord if I could move in on the last day of the month, and he said, “No problem.” But twenty-four hours before the scheduled move, the apartment’s current tenants apparently had a change of plans and the landlord asked if I could postpone moving by a day. At this point, though, I couldn’t; I’d already enlisted movers.
The landlord phoned again. “Okay,” he said, “the tenants who are in there now will empty a bedroom for you. You can pile your things into that room. Then the next day, they’ll get their stuff out and you can begin living in the apartment.” Though not ideal, this was workable.
At the appointed time, I arrived with a load of furniture. The promised bedroom, however, wasn’t ready, and the tenants were unapologetic, particularly the woman. Within a hot minute, she and I were raising our voices.
All of my irritation with this couple for changing the date, all of my frustration with packing and hefting and organizing—it was all channeled into a heart-thumping electric rage, and I saw the same feeling reflected in the woman’s red face. To make matters worse, we were jammed into a tiny kitchen, a space too small for this anger. I sized the woman up. She was my age and small like me. I could take her.
Then suddenly, just before thought became action, my friend came in, breaking the moment. Now the room seemed to spin. I’d gone to a rough high school where I’d often heard the chant “Fight, fight, fight . . . .” Yet I’d avoided those altercations. I’d always seen myself as too mature to get in a fistfight—too sophisticated, too peaceable. Later, when my friend and I were alone in the kitchen, I said, still dismayed, “That almost got physical.” “Yeah,” she answered. “I could hear it.”
Since that day, I’m more sympathetic to people whose anger leads to blows; I know that I have a shard of that behavior in me, too. I also more clearly see the need for understanding where anger comes from, how it manifests, and how I—how we—can work with it most skillfully. This anthology explores these questions from a Buddhist perspective.
The first section, “Understanding Anger,” looks at the origin of this emotion and how it impacts our relationships and sense of well-being. Thich Nhat Hanh begins by explaining that in our subconscious mind, we all have negative seeds such as anger, yet we also have positive seeds such as joy, understanding, and compassion. Whenever one of our seeds manifests in our conscious mind, that seed becomes stronger and more likely to manifest again. We cannot eradicate any particular seed, says Thich Nhat Hanh, but we can choose which seeds to water.
Part 2, “Practicing with Anger,” focuses on concrete methods. The teachings in this section include Sister Chan Khong’s “Beginning Anew,” which emphasizes communication. We can learn to listen openly to the grievances others have against us, she says, and likewise we can learn to express our hurt or angry feelings without lashing out. In this way we find solutions to problems rather than add fuel to the fire. “Practicing with Anger” also features lively first-person pieces that provide examples of Buddhist practitioners grappling with anger in daily life. In her interaction with her young son, Karen Connelly sees that she gets back whatever emotion she herself expresses. Through his misadventures with irksome members of his sangha, Shozan Jack Haubner discovers that the people in our life don’t get in the way of our spiritual practice; these people are our spiritual practice.
“Going Beyond Blame” is the third section. It focuses on letting go of blame at both the personal and societal levels. In “No Blame,” Sylvia Boorstein gets to the heart of the matter: The results of ignorance—greed, hatred, and delusion—are the real causes of conflict, not particular people, political parties, or countries. So while there may be people who we could name—and blame—as culprits, we would all be better served by recognizing ignorance as the true enemy. Grounded in this understanding we would then be inspired to right any wrong doing in a way that is at once firm and loving.
Part 4, “Finding Forgiveness,” deals with softening our anger to- ward those who have hurt us. Moreover, since many of us carry around guilt for past actions, this section also deals with forgiving ourselves. It’s important to remember that forgiveness isn’t about condoning harmful behavior but, rather, attending to our own hurt and thereby recognizing that the person who harmed us also hurts. Forgiveness, when approached in this way, is an important step in finding resolution, and Judith Toy illustrates this perfectly in her moving story. She lost three family members in a calculated murder, and it was only through forgiving the perpetrator that she was able to heal.
The anthology’s final section is about cultivating compassion, especially in the face of anger and aversion. The pieces in this section are full of love, though not the airy-fairy hearts-and-flowers kind. This love is one that can endure the real and often difficult world. The Buddhist teacher Noah Levine looks back on the dangerous years he spent high on drugs and frequently in jail, and he concludes that loving-kindness doesn’t protect us from being physically hurt. It does, however, protect us from hatred and all of the suffering that comes with such hatred and in that way loving-kindness does make the world a safer place.
Publishing All the Rage has involved the effort and support of many people. I’m grateful to Beth Frankl, my editor at Shambhala Publications, and her assistant editor John Golebiewski, as well as to my colleagues at the Shambhala Sun and Buddhadharma: The Practitioner’s Quarterly, in particular Melvin McLeod, Rod Meade Sperry, Koun Franz, Tynette Deveaux, and my former colleague Liam Lindsay, who came up with the title of this book. On a personal note, thank you to my good friend Rachel for her sharp editorial mind and to my husband, Adán, for all his love and care. And last but not least, thank you to everyone who has ever pushed my buttons. I’ve learned a lot from you.
By the way, it turned out that the woman whom I so very nearly punched did not change her mind about when she was moving. It was the kindly but disorganized landlord who’d gotten the dates confused.
“All the Rage” has an October release date. You can order it directly from the publisher now, though — here.