Anger is an interesting emotion. It can move a person to action or, if it becomes a sustained feeling, be a force of destruction from the inside out. In truth, anger can’t be suppressed completely. Even the most advanced spiritual masters admit to succumbing to the emotion from time to time. Therefore, anger is best utilized in a sprinting fashion, by allowing short bursts to move one to action, followed by a period of recovery.
But what are we to do if the outside world seems continually angry? How are we to respond to sustained emotional attacks that would under normal circumstances be rare and evoke an appropriate amount of anger?
Under those conditions, most people don’t fare very well. They either try to match the intensity of the anger they perceive as being pointed at them or try to numb themselves to the emotion with food, alcohol or drugs.
Outrage is Not Sustainable
If you mix anger, fear, and discontent with a dash of other emotions, you get outrage. In recent years, we, as a society, have experienced one wave of outrage after another. Even when justified, outrage is not a sustainable emotion. The reason is simple. Outrage is so enervating that it is bound to evaporate. It cannot be sustained for any length of time. Even when a person has every reason to be outraged, the feeling will dissipate because it will, eventually, cause exhaustion. I know that many people are greeting the New Year with less energy than they are used to for exactly that reason.
What Can We Do Better?
What can we do better? I have been asking myself that question for the past few years. The only sustainable solution I see is spiritual transmutation. We need to transmute these emotions into something else, something better.
We can, for instance, morph anger into beneficial action, let e-motion stand for energy in motion. If anger has turned into hatred, it seems that the only force strong enough to melt that away is love. In the Dhammapada (Sayings of the Buddha) it says:
“For hatred can never put an end to hatred; love alone can. This is an unalterable law.”
Meeting hatred with love requires us to continually fill our reservoir of love and increase our capacity for doing good. As Gandhi said:
“It is easy enough to be friendly to one’s friends. But to befriend the one who regards himself as your enemy is the quintessence of true religion. The other is mere business.”
Befriending those who regard themselves our enemies and meeting hatred with love are difficult indeed, but both are the heart of spiritual transmutation. If outrage is to be effective it must be tempered and converted into long-term action. Events that cause outrage usually require an enduring response, not a quick social media campaign.
Engaging in Spiritual Weightlifting
None of this is easy. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it. This is true about every spiritual path. Albert Schweitzer remarked on his relationship with Jesus thusly:
“The demands of Jesus are difficult because they require us to do something extraordinary. At the same time He asks us to regard these [acts of goodness] as something usual, ordinary.”
There is nothing easy about turning the other cheek, loving thy neighbor as thyself, or treating the least among us as if they were the savior himself, but that is what Jesus asks of those who follow his teachings.
My point is that all the religions, all the wisdom traditions, ask their adherents to do what is hard. That is what is needed these days. To do what is hard.
If you are willing to engage in spiritual weightlifting and bring new energy into your life in the coming year, you may want to engage in the following:
- Convert anger into action
- Meet hate with love
- Transform outrage into sustained effort
While you work on that—and we always encourage people to choose progress over perfection—remember to take care of yourself, just as you would take care of your diet alongside physical weightlifting efforts. Engage in a spiritual practice of your choice that will allow you to be a reservoir of love, compassion, and understanding. Become the person you want to see other people become. Work for justice. Take baby steps and be kind to yourself along the way.
Stronger in the New Year
These are aspirational goals, but it is only by doing what is hard that we become stronger. Let us work together towards a more harmonious society in the New Year.
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Founded in 2018
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