Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Can Anger be "Yogic"?

At Shree for the next few weeks we are talking about the questions that Yudhisthira needs to answer to earn himself a sip of water to quench his thirst, and to restore his brothers’ lives in the ancient Indian epic, The Mahabharata.  Our question of the week for this week is:

Q: What enemy cannot be overcome?
A: Anger

At first I had trouble with this one – how “un-yogic” to think we cannot overcome anger!  But I think what is really being said is that anger arises - it tells us we care and that’s not a bad thing.  Its what we do with it that matters.  Anger in and of itself is not a "bad" emotion.  There is no "bad" emotion. If we choose to eschew anger, do away with it, bury it, etc. one of two things happen: we either become numb, insensitive, tuned out to reality, or we become resentful and bitter.  Because in reality its not possible, we will get angry (and that’s appropriate in many situations!) and its going to come out one way or another so may as well be prepared and know what to do so we can react in a way that is in alignment with our highest aspirations.  We recognize that if we perpetuate the anger - i.e., bring it forth into the world, we exacerbate the problem.  When we can feel anger, honor that we feel that way, and yet respond with loving-kindness we transform our world and the world around us.  Marc Gafni says "In a world of outrageous pain, the only response is outrageous love."  I agree.

So how can we put this into practice? I was listening to an interview with Buddhist scholar Sylvia Boorstein, and she was talking about helping her children get through struggles they face. She shared that when they are upset she says to them  "Sweetheart, you're in pain.  Let's pay attention to what happening, then we'll figure out what to do."  After many times saying this to her children, she realized she could say this to herself when she was feeling strong emotions. 

Anger is heating, it fires us up.  Heat is not "bad", it just is, like everything else. What do we do when we get heated up - how do we react?  If we take Sylvia’s advice we just become mindful and notice we are feeling a certain way and decide what we're going to do about it. Can we use that heat to fire us up to make a change for the better?  Like in every yoga practice, the asana give us an opportunity to work through our human-ness, our embodiment, with loving-kindness, without judgment about why we feel how we feel.   By purposefully heating ourselves us we "practice" dealing with it in a place that is safe for us to have that experience, then when we go out into the world we know what to do.

Here are some simple ways to “embody” your anger (or any other strong emotion you are having) on your mat:
Open to Grace: accept any feelings of anger as part of your human-ness
Muscular Energy: embrace the heat and emotion (don’t try to push it away or ignore it)
Organic Energy: offer out loving kindness, send out outrageous love in spite of how you are feeling