What makes it possible to respond rather than react in the face of a powerful emotion like Anger? It’s not easy, and doesn’t come just by wishing for the better response. Eric guided our investigation of reactivity and response, drawing on his own personal experience and practice as well as a dharma talk by Brian LeSage, with implications for our national as well as personal suffering.
Brian LeSage’s talk can be heard here: https://dharmaseed.org/talks/66842/
Below is the guided meditation that Eric read to start our sitting together:
Feel the contact points of your body with the ground, the feet on the floor, the sit bones on the chair or cushion beneath you. Can you feel a heaviness increase in these points as you inhale, sending the breath deep into the belly.
If it is available, can you gently rock forward on your sit bones so the top of your pelvis tilts forward, allowing your lower spine, the lumbar region, to take its natural curve. At the same time, try to keep the head balanced directly above the tailbone, tucking the chin just a bit, as if you were holding a grapefruit between the chin and the chest. Can you feel a lengthening at the back of the neck? Notice your shoulders, allowing them to relax away from the ears. Now, as you inhale can you feel not only the heaviness in the contact points with the ground, but a lifting energy at the crown of the head, allowing you to find just the tiniest bit of extra space between each vertebrae, lengthening the spine, careful not to lose the strength and stability inherent in its curved shape.
(take a beat)
In this way, we search for right effort, using balance rather than strain to counter gravity.
(take a beat)
In this position, without judgment, and without trying to change anything, bring your attention to the breath.
Now, I invite you to recall a situation when anger arose in the mind and body. Try not to pick the most severe instance in recent memory, but perhaps a more mundane occurrence, like hearing something you didn’t like on the news, or a housemate leaving a mess, or someone being late for a meeting, or one of the myriad moments of anger caused by having to drive a car. With intention and interest, allow the story to unfold and notice the emotions and thoughts associated with it. Particularly, pay attention to what was happening the moment anger arose. How did you feel about the person or situation that you felt was the proximate cause for anger in that moment?
Try to expand the story beyond emotion and thought into the more fundamental feelings in the physical body at the time and perhaps right before anger arose. Were you hungry? Hot? Tired? Rushed? Or perhaps you were quite happy and the anger arose because you were knocked out of your pleasant feeling tone for some reason.
As you recall this event, how is your energy level now? How is your breath now? Is it long or short? Shallow or deep? Rough or Smooth? The breath can be just a starting point. Use the story of anger arising as a tool to provide you with physical sensations to explore anywhere in the body.
Where in the body do you feel strong sensations associated with the story. How do you feel in the Belly? The Chest? The Neck? The Jaw? Is there pressure? Vibration? Tension? How is the temperature? In this hopefully safe space we are trying to understand the phenomenology of anger so we can more easily recognize it when it arises unbidden.
As we continue the meditation, try to attend more to feeling and less to thought. But don’t force it. Simply allow a release of story by slowly bringing more focused attention to feeling tone and energy level.
If the sensations become too strong or the story too sticky, try to take a wider view. Bring your attention to the entire breath, lengthening and deepening the inhale and exhale. Zoom out and take in the entire body : Scanning from head to toe. You might open your eyes and take in the room or even look out a window at the sky. If you need to, stand up and take some mindful steps.
Now, I invite you to bring to mind an everyday, simple pleasure. A sunset. The smell of your favorite coffee shop, bakery, or flower. Running into a good friend while out walking. A cup of tea. A puppy or kitten in your lap, wanting nothing more than a little scratch behind the ears. How does this thought change your breath? Your bodily sensations? Can you use this image to engender a feeling of good will, that is, metta, towards this moment?
If there is a pleasant sensation, such as a warmth in the chest or belly, or a tingling on the surface of the skin, see if you can sink into it and allow it to expand. If not, simply bring to mind a pleasant image and an intention to breathe calmly, deeply, and slowly. And remember an intention does not depend on its fruition. In this practice, we are not trying to control the results of our intention, but merely noticing them.
I now invite you to send metta into the world. Again, the effort here is on the intention, not the result. I’ll offer a few phrases, or you can use your own, or simply imagine any feeling of good will you can generate spreading out in all directions.
May this body find peace and ease.
May our loved ones be safe.
May all know the preciousness of this moment.
May we be happy.
In silence now….