Every Jewish month contains a unique energy. This new month of Tevet comes on the very last day of Chanukah, the festival of light, miracles, and deep trust in the Divine.
Chanukah takes place in the month of Kislev, the month we are invited to relax into trust, like that last pose of the yoga practice where all the poses, thoughts, and experiences become released into pure awareness. Then, before the eight days of Chanukah are over, the month of Kislev turns into Tevet, the month of anger.
Today is the 2nd day of Chanukah, and I was actually pondering this transition of miracles to anger, as my right foot stepped off the curb to cross the busy intersection by my house. As the traffic light sign flashed “walk” apparently I wasn’t stepping fast enough because as soon as I stepped onto the crosswalk, an angry man trying to turn, began honking his horn and gesturing at me. This exact angry behavior happened to me two weeks ago in the same spot, with the same traffic light flashing “walk” only in this version, it was an angry woman honking behind her wheel. When it happened this morning, I was first startled by the horn. Then, I began doing pirouettes in front of this man’s car; my arms raising into a beautiful 3rd position in my puffy winter coat, and my cowboy boots turning on the ice as if in soft ballet slippers. I know – this is risky behavior in this day and age of people mowing others down in their cars from out of control rage. When I finished my dance, the angry man sped past my back, with the rest of the busy traffic watching. He rolled down his window to yell profanities at me to conclude his experience.
The Buddhists believe that we have all reincarnated so much that at one point we have all been someone’s mother. I probably have been this man’s mother, and he should have shown me some respect, for that alone!
Anger is a puzzle. It is like a fire that can destroy, and it is not just going to go away at some point soon. We all experience it, from the furthest reaches of our political views to our private inner state of what we think of another’s behavior or our own.
There several patterned styles of reaction to choose from when dealing with our anger. But mostly we react the same way as we have in the past, do you agree? Here are the styles :
1. Rage and lashing out – like my fellow human in the car.
2. Passive aggression, withhold, indirect putdowns, and indirect punishments – I am particularly fond of this one!
3. Gossip – punishing that person who wronged us by telling everyone we know about the incident and or other nasty judgments we have about this person. I have never found this method to be that fulfilling because after I have said what I wanted to say, a feeling of being poisoned sinks in afterward.
4. Withdrawing into an inner attempt to squeeze and repress the anger that is being felt. This method hasn’t proved to be that great either because the anger never gets resolved and the incident or thoughts keep circling back to mind over and over, over and over, trying to become complete.
My meditation teacher Doug Bentley says that we need to keep a “bigger picture” perspective. Our individual lives, with our personalities, and our anger are being held within a larger picture. What is flowing through us is much more than a personal thing, just as the month of Tevet points to – there is anger in this world, not "you have got some anger issues!" The angry man in his car gets this. What the hell did I do to him anyway but walk on the crosswalk when the light said, "walk".
His anger was already at a 10 when his car crossed my path. I may have never been as obnoxious as this guy with his car, but I do know the experience of already being at a 10 and trying to deal with the other aspects of my life. I have hosted a dinner party with poor unsuspecting guests having to absorb the unseen energy in the room behind my smile and conversation.
Meditation teacher Tara Brach says that anger stems from an unmet need. As long as we keep our focus outward and on other people and the problem with them, we are not going to be able to address our real needs; we are not going to be able to respond to others with the true intelligence of which we are capable. Brach says that the steps to take to begin to grow through our anger are taking on this liberating attitude that we are 100% responsible for our experience. We are not responsible for how others behave, but we are responsible for owning our experience, with understanding and empathy. She claims there is a way you can frame this with an intention that as soon as something sets you off and you are angry, you can say, “please may I wake up through this experience!” as soon as you do that, you are taking responsibility. G-d I love that thought – “please may I wake up through this experience!” There could almost be humor in it, as in the unfortunate dinner guests absorbing my misplaced anger. Please let me wake up through this experience of trying to squeeze my anger and make it disappear.
Brach says that as we are entering into an angry reaction, we should pause. There is no way to create new neural pathways of responding unless there is this pause. And you should know from the start of this practice; you are going to fail because you are not always going to be able to pause. If you fail, you pick yourself up, forgive yourself and get back on the horse. You take that pause, knowing that no matter how much that other person seems like the problem, the place to attend is inside yourself.
When you are calm enough to communicate without raging, you then take the Marshal Rosenberg approach from his book “Non-Violent Communications.” After you are grounded enough to talk, you begin naming what happened objectively, without blaming. For example - “when you changed our plans, I felt hurt and upset because…” and then you name your unmet need – “ I need to feel valued and respected”. Of course, practicing the psychological talk is not going to work if the pause you took wasn't long enough to calm yourself, and you are still mad as hell. Ask my husband and me; we’ve tried it. There needs to be enough of a break to be able to get to the place of vulnerability and empathy towards yourself and the other.
With this coming month, to the best of my ability, I am taking on the practice of total responsibility for my experience. At the very least, I am going to keep that intention, "Please may I wake up through this experience!"