How do we get angry? Why do we get angry? We have an idea of how the other person should behave and when the other person’s behaviour does not conform to the image we have we get angry. Then we have an image of our usual behaviour, and when our behaviour does not correspond to that image then we feel guilty, we get angry, we get disappointed, we get hurt because our behaviour does not correspond to the image we have formed of ourselves.
A very interesting practice in everyday life is, whenever you suffer, whenever you are disappointed, whenever you are frustrated, at that moment can you see for yourself that the image which you have is now clashing with what is actually happening. This is why the Buddha emphasised learning to see things as they are. But what we are doing is, we want to see things the way they should be, as they must be according to our way, my way.
With our thoughts, with our identifications, we all have images of who we are, the type of persons we are. Each person has a model, has an image of himself or herself. So I think what we are doing is that when other people accept our image then we feel comfortable with them, we feel at ease with them. And then we make it a point to always, or most of the time, impose this particular image on other people. Then we also have images of other people. A Western psychologist has said that when two people meet, there are six people. Can you work out how two people become six people?
There are two real people, and four imaginary people: who you think you are, and who you think the other person is; who the other person thinks he is, and who he thinks you are!
It is a very interesting point for us to reflect on. Sometimes when there are conflicts actually it is the images that are in conflict, but what the people really are is another question. So with meditation, with awareness, you understand this process, that whenever there is a conflict, the conflict is the result of the image you have of the other person.
As we all know, from the time that we wake up in the morning up to the time that we go to sleep there are continuous thoughts going through our mind which never stop. If you become aware, if you become mindful of the thoughts that go through your mind, then you’ll realise that most of the time the way we use thoughts is in this habit of giving plusses and minuses. So when you see this clearly, then the power that we have given to them may become less.
Then you realise that sometimes it is just an innocent thought that comes: Maybe the other person doesn’t like me; maybe the other person is giving me minuses; maybe the other person thinks that I’m silly or ridiculous, and so on. So if you are mindful you’ll realise it is just a thought that you’re having; who knows whether that thought corresponds to any reality? There is a strong imaginary aspect in our thoughts. This imaginary aspect and the reality are two different things. With awareness, with mindfulness, exploring, investigating, this may become clear to us and this will help us to work with and handle such thoughts, and their power will become less.
Emotions arise in connection with the way you relate to yourself, the way you relate to others, and the way you relate to your surroundings. So it shows relationship is a real challenge we have in life.
Many persons have problems relating to other people. Their problem is that they are concerned about what others are thinking of them. Especially fearing minuses.
So the question arises: Why have we given such power to other people that our happiness and unhappiness is dependent on them?
Because we lack self-confidence, because we don’t practise what is necessary for this, we depend on other people for it.
I think everywhere in this world this is a real problem human beings have to face. Let us see how meditation helps us to work with these problems.
I feel this is why meditation of loving-kindness is so important, in the sense that you learn to be your own best friend and if you can really make that connection with yourself, actually feel it, then I think your dependency on what others think of you becomes less, because whatever you need from others you get it from yourself. You will become self-contained within yourself.
Another way meditation helps us to work with this situation is through understanding the nature of plusses and minuses. It is very interesting that human beings have this very strong conditioning to give plusses or to give minuses in any situation, but we never pause to question whether these plusses or minuses are valid, on what basis are we doing this.
It is funny, we really become victims of this mechanism but we never inquire into the way these plusses and minuses operate, under what condition they arise, what is really creating them, what is contributing to them. So when we explore this question we realise that these are really related to thoughts, concepts, which have come due to various reasons from the society that you have been brought up into. Then you see them as part of your conditioning, you see them as a strong habit that we have got used to.
I would suggest that it is important for us also sometimes to think of the good things we have done. This can give us lots of joy, lots of happiness, lots of lightness, and it will also be an incentive to do more and more such actions of love.
In Sri Lanka we used to have a custom – now it is no longer there – to keep what is called a book of merits. The idea is that you note down the good things you have done, the skilful things you have done, and at the time you are dying someone reads from the book. Because usually we give more power, more energy to our mistakes, so I think this is very important. In fact it is mentioned in the Dhamma, to deliberately and consciously acknowledge our goodness, so when these memories come up you should acknowledge those positive emotions.
Let’s take a practical situation where a wound has been created in relation to what you have done to another person; you have acted incorrectly and then you suffer from guilt. The first point is to realise how the wound was created in the first place. So when you enquire into that question you realise the wound has been created by your idea: This is how I should have behaved. You realise the problem is with your model of how you should behave. It is helpful to understand this because this can help us to heal the wound. This is the first point.
The second point is to realise that we are still human, we are still imperfect, so therefore, as I have been saying very often, we need to learn to forgive our humanness, to forgive our imperfections.
Another suggestion is to realise that these things happened in the past. I cannot change the past, so why I am holding onto something that has happened in the past?
The last point – I hope I can communicate this – is that we carry the wounds in our memory. And as they are related to memories, the more we try to forget them the more they come. We have no control over our memory. The control we have is not in relation to the memory itself but how we respond to the memory. This is where meditation comes in. This is where we can work with it in practical terms. So when the memory comes in relation to what you have done, what you can observe is your reaction to the memory: guilt.
Now this is where awareness is relevant: with awareness we learn that there is guilt, and as we have also been practising, we learn to say okay to that guilt, we learn to feel friendly with that guilt, just to allow that guilt. Then after some time you might remember that incident again and then again guilt will come, so again we create space for that guilt to be there. It can also be interesting sometimes to deliberately and consciously bring the memory up and see how we are relating to it. Then one day you have the experience, the memory comes but there is no guilt, and when that happens it shows that the wound is healed. Then the memory might come but the corresponding emotion will not be there. We might even deliberately and consciously bring up the memory and the corresponding emotion will not be there.
One last suggestion is to realise that holding onto such wounds is something very self-destructive. So these are ways and means of healing such wounds. Whether it is guilt, whether it is grief, whether it is hatred, the tools are the same.
What is important when we practise loving-kindness is that we don’t have this fear to make mistakes; otherwise we become so concerned to do things perfectly, correctly, that this can generate such a lot of tension, such a lot of suffering. Please realise that this is not giving in to our shortcomings, but relating to them in an entirely different way, a more meaningful way, a more creative way, in a way that will reduce our suffering and enable us also to do what is necessary.
So then you say to yourself: Now let me see, next time I face such a situation how will I behave? And just wait and see. So you are waiting for opportunities to see how your behaviour is. To put it in another way, although you have got angry there is no wound. So we come to a state where, when we have got angry, there is less suffering as a result, and I think this is a very important state.
When we get angry unexpectedly, what do we do? The first suggestion is: Don’t be surprised! Because you are still practising, you are not enlightened, so don’t be disappointed, don’t feel guilty, don’t get angry with yourself because you got angry. This is very important. It can happen to meditators, especially when we take to meditation, that we form an image: I am a meditator now. I am practising loving-kindness. This is how I should behave. It is good to have an ideal but an ideal is one thing, reality is another.
So at that moment when you have not been aware and you got angry, what you can do is just be with that anger without feeling bad: no need to give yourself a minus. Please realise that. It is very important.
But what has to be done is after you recover from that anger, maybe after five minutes, maybe after ten minutes, maybe after thirty minutes, it doesn’t matter even if on the following day, when you have recovered then you reflect on that anger. And this kind of reflection has to be done in a very friendly, gentle way. Just to ask the question: What really happened to me? So you take your mind backwards and try to see the incident objectively, and also see the different aspects of that incident. So our anger becomes the object of meditation. In this way our shortcomings, our failures, become learning experiences.
Sometimes I think you need to speak firmly to some people. Before I went to the meditation centre, I was a librarian. So I tried to practise loving-kindness with the members of the staff there. It was not easy. People would come late, thinking: He is practising loving-kindness, so we can get up an hour late. He is practising loving-kindness, so don’t send in an application for leave, just stay at home! I realised loving-kindness didn’t work because some people understood only a different language. The only thing to do is to be very clear, that now I am going to be firm, speak to them very firmly. In doing that there is no wound made, there is no defilement created inside, there is just saying something that has to be said.
This feeling of warmth is very important because now human beings are for various reasons becoming more and more cold. With mechanisation human beings are becoming more and more like machines, and one aspect of this is that they lack feelings. So having this warmth, having feelings for other people and for ourselves, is something very important, very beautiful.
Another point which might be relevant to some people is that loving-kindness can develop a sense of self-confidence.
We lose self-confidence when we consider ourselves as unsuccessful, worthless, useless, always failing. So it is a very negative self-image we have of ourselves, mostly as failures.
With more and more loving-kindness, especially towards ourselves, we can see how it works: we can see our own potentialities and we can become more and more self-reliant, and this can give us a lot of self-confidence in the sense that we can handle whatever arises. So it is not that difficulties will not arise; anger will arise, problems will arise, difficulties will arise, but you have the confidence if they arise: I know how to handle them, I know what to do.