Tuesday, February 17, 2015


Do you ever get angry? Resentful? Jealous? Of course you do. So do I.

Now, there is a type of anger which, if properly directed, can be good. We ought rightfully be angry about such things as climate change, world poverty, terrorism, religious fundamentalism, and many, many other things. However, we must
never allow our anger to contaminate our lives or those of others. Additionally, reason must always prevail over our emotions.

This post is about anger and other negative states of mind that, if not properly managed, can and will poison our lives and those of others as well. How can mindfulness help us to overcome those negative states of mind?

When we are angry---and what I am about to say applies equally to all other negative states of mind---we attach our consciousness and our attention to a false self-image in our mind (eg the ‘angry I’ self-image). There is an attachment or an aversion (the latter being a reverse attachment, but still an attachment for all that) to this negative self-image which we mistakenly assume is the person (that is, the sentient being with a certain identity) that each one of us is. This false self-image becomes our master, and we its slave. Now, when we are angry [or whatever] at some other person, we make the very same kind of assumption and mistaken belief as respects the other person. In other words, we attach ourselves---that is, the person each one of us is---to a false image in our mind as respects the other person. We see that person, not as the person that they are, but rather as the ‘nasty him [or her]’ or the ‘unappreciative him [or her]’ or something similar. In effect, we conflate the person that he or she is with our negative and false self-image of that person.

These images of ourselves and others are false and illusory, not because they do not exist, but rather because they are not the real person that we and the other person are. Additionally, these self-images have no separate, independent or non-transient existence from the person in question. In truth, they are inconstant, identity-less and conditioned.) To use a Buddhist term, these self-images are ‘empty,’ which means they have no independent existence. Of course, the images are false in another sense as well, for no single image of a person can ever be true as respects the totality of that person as a mind-body complex. It may be true as respects perhaps some of the temporal behaviour or conduct of the person in question but in truth it can never be true of the person as a whole who, unlike the image, has a real, ontological identity. Enough said (hopefully).

Now, how can mindfulness help us to manage and even overcome such negative states of mind? Well, mindfulness is sustained self-observation, and with the latter comes self-insight. Over time, we come to see our negative self-images as false and illusory.

The ‘secret’ is to give these self-images, when they arise in our consciousness, choiceless, non-judgmental, bare attention. In other words, we give them what is known as ‘unadorned observation.’ Over time, you will find that there is no longer any ‘I’ in what you are experiencing from moment to moment. That is, you will come to simply observe that, for example, ‘there is anger’ as opposed to ‘I [that is, you] am angry.’ (There really isn't any 'I' in any event.) Yes, you will come to simply see and observe what is present in each experience of the moment as present, and additionally what is absent as absent. In short, there will be no self-identification---and no attachment to any ‘I,’ ‘me,’ or ‘mine’ on your part. Too good to be true. Not at all.

Many of you will have heard of the Four NobleTruths of Buddhism. They are as follows: (i) the truth of suffering [or unsatisfactoriness]; (ii) the truth of the origin of suffering; (iii) the truth of the cessation of suffering; and (iv) the truth of the path to the cessation of suffering. Now, you don’t have to be a Buddhist, or for that matter a follower of any religion at all, to be able to apply these truths to the solution of your problems. The process has been called ‘unbinding.’

Here’s how it works. Let’s confine ourselves today to the application of these four truths to the management and overcoming of your negative emotional states. Take, once again, the emotional state of anger. The key, as always, is to observe---simply observe as if an objective, detached bystander to your own mindset and its workings. So, here it is. Observe, ‘There is anger.’ 

As you continue to observe you will in time come to see the cause of your anger. Observe, ‘There is the cause of my anger.’ Now, continue to observe as dispassionately as possible. In time, your anger will dissipate---for all things are impermanent---and you will then be able to say, ‘This is the stopping of anger.’ Not only that, but in time, if you are painstaking about your observation and choiceless awareness you will come to see how your anger came to an end. (The anger ended because you choicelessly and nonjudgmentally observed it with detachment.) Now you can say, ‘This is the way leading to the stopping of anger.’ And what has there been in all this? I will tell you. Simply observation and experience in and of itself---that is, with no subject or object superimposed upon it.

I love these words from the influential Thai Buddhist teacher Ajahn Chah [pictured left]:

'Peace is within oneself to be found in the same place as agitation and suffering. It is not found in a forest or on a hilltop, nor is it given by a teacher. Where you experience suffering, you can also find freedom from suffering. Trying to run away from suffering is actually to run toward it.'

Got that? 'Where you experience suffering, you can also find freedom from suffering.' The solution to your problem is always to be found on the same level, indeed at the very same 'spot,' as the problem itself.





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