Thursday, April 21, 2011

Just Breathe

Conquer the angry man by love. 
Conquer the ill-natured man by goodness. 
Conquer the miser with generosity. 
Conquer the liar with truth. 

The Dhammapada

As I take this journey to self, I find the most difficult demon I face is my tendency to react to things from emotion, rather than taking the time to just breathe. Instead of "going within" and looking  at situations objectively before leaping to a reaction, I let the emotions of a given moment overtake me. This results in my succumbing to my emotions rather than  always seeing the issue clearly. 
 Particularly when another person has done something to hurt me or someone I love, I react with defensiveness and anger, rather than compassion and patience.  It does not happen all the time; but certain people tend to have the ability to bring out the worst in me. It's at those times when I  should take the words of the Dalai Lama, "In the practice of tolerance, one's enemy is the biggest teacher. " to heart. 

                           There is a great Buddhist story entitled Bag of Nails, that presents a great example of the repercussions of our anger: 


Once upon a time there was a little boy with a bad temper. His father gave him a bag of nails and told him that every time he lost his temper, he should hammer a nail in the fence. The first day the boy had driven 37 nails into the fence. But gradually, the number of daily nails dwindled down. He discovered it was easier to hold his temper than to drive those nails into the fence.
Finally the first day came when the boy didn't lose his temper at all. He proudly told his father about it and the father suggested that the boy now pull out one nail for each day that he was able to hold his temper. The days passed and the young boy was finally able to tell his father that all the nails were gone. The father took his son by the hand and led him to the fence.
"You have done well, my son, but look at the holes in the fence. The fence will never be the same. When you say things in anger, they leave a scar just like this one. You can put a knife in a man and draw it out, it won't matter how many times you say 'I'm sorry', the wound is still there."

 There are always going to be people in our lives who are having difficulty finding their own peace. They may be struggling with their own feelings of anger, guilt, and jealousy, and their reaction to these emotions is to blame others around them for their difficulties.  Sometimes this results in choices and behaviors that defy reason and cause great pain and suffering to others. Even the most enlightened person reacts to injustice with feelings of anger and hurt;  what we must be mindful of is how we manifest that anger.  

"If you can cultivate the right attitude, your enemies are your best spiritual teachers because their presence provides you with the opportunity to enhance and develop tolerance, patience and understanding." 

Part of cultivating the right attitude means knowing how to use the negative energy created by anger in a positive way. There are times when our reactions to a given situation are justified; this is when it is most important to "go within" and find a spiritual calm amidst the storm so a solution may present itself. 

I cannot change the people around me who choose to live life from a place of anger and hatred.  Only they can come to a place of peace within.  But I can change my own reactions and use my own wisdom and experience to understand why they are reacting the way they are. I must also be mindful of their suffering and pain, and have compassion for same, even if they do not extend to me the same courtesy.  Choosing to combat anger with anger only creates more of the same, and that will never create the harmony we all seek.

The next time you are face to face with an "enemy"; that person who pushes all of your buttons, "go within". Count to ten, and breathe. Know that we are all one, all carrying our own scars and suffering. Dig deep in compassion's garden and cultivate peace. ☼

"Only the development of compassion and understanding for others can bring us the tranquility and happiness we all seek." 



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