The first book I ever read by Thich Nhat Hanh was called “Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames.” I read it in September of 2010 when I stayed at Deer Park Monastery in Escondido, CA for a week long retreat. My time there consisted of practicing mindfulness through meditation, reading, and deep listening. I was able to listen to my heart easily since I wasn’t bombarded with emails, Facebook, text messages, and phone calls. These things are not permitted during retreat. Most of my free time was spent connecting with others through face to face conversation, taking long hikes by myself, and lots of meditation: walking meditation, eating meditation, sitting meditation. This retreat happened at exactly the right moment, and I learned so much about myself in such a short amount of time. I learned to truly love myself unconditionally, without any judgements. I learned to be kind and forgiving to myself. I tasted real compassion for others for the first time. These are all virtues which must be practiced every single day, because like everything else in life – If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it. Really. You can learn something really well and practice it phenomenally for awhile, but if you think that the learning and practice stops there – you’ve got another thing coming. That “thing” is the return of old, familiar habits that are engrained into our minds. Consistent maintenance is required when adopting a new way of thinking and being.
The entire book is a wealth of knowledge and valuable insight. My favorite passages from the book are…
“Many of us begin a relationship with great love, very intense love. So intense that we believe that, without our partner, we cannot survive. Yet if we do not practice mindfulness, it takes only one or two years for our love to be transformed into hatred. Then, in our partner’s presence we have the opposite feeling, we feel terrible. It becomes impossible to live together anymore, so divorce is the only way. Love has been transformed into hatred; our flower has become garbage. But with the energy of mindfulness, you can look into the garbage and say, “I am not afraid. I am capable of transforming the garbage back into love.”
“When someone does not know how to handle his own suffering, he allows it to spill all over the people around him. When you suffer, you make people around you suffer. That’s very natural. This is why we have to learn how to handle our suffering, so we won’t spread it everywhere.”
“So in taking good care of yourself, you take good care of your beloved one. Self-love is the foundation for your capacity to love the other person. If you don’t take good care of yourself, if you are not happy, if you are not peaceful, you cannot make the other person happy. You cannot help the other person; you cannot love. Your capacity for loving another person depends entirely on your capacity for loving yourself, for taking care of yourself.”
“Touching suffering can help us nourish our compassion and be able to recognize happiness when it is there. If we are not in contact with pain, we cannot know what real happiness is. So touching suffering is our practice. But each one of us has limits. We cannot do more than we can do.”
“You have to be alone in order to fully appreciate the other person’s presence. If you are always together, then you may begin to take him for granted, forgetting to enjoy his beauty and goodness. Every now and then, take three or seven days off. Take time away from him in order to be able to appreciate him more. Although you are far away from him, he is more real to you, more substantial than when you are constantly together. During the time you are apart, you will remember how important, how precious he is to you.”
“Everything must begin with you.”
“Yet you cannot force your insight on others. You may force them to accept your idea, but then it is simply an idea, not a real insight. Insight is not an idea. The way to share your insight is to help create the conditions so that others can realize the same insight – through their own experience, not just believing what you say. This takes skillfulness and patience.”
I get angry at times – more often than I would like to. Instead of pushing that anger down deep inside of me, I am embracing it. I am exploring it’s roots. I sometimes let it out mindlessly. I have years of pent up anger that are stuck inside of me. I wasn’t able to release those feelings when I was younger. Writing about my anger helps. I’m starting to really understand where it comes from and now I’m doing my best to transform those negative feelings into compassion and understanding.
The Angry Truth
(A poem on anger written by Catherine S. Bradshaw)
You think you’ve seen anger? You haven’t seen anger.
Infuriating rage pulsing and beating louder than my lion heart. My blood begins to simmer ever increasing in temperature and depth of color. Death red blood rises to an ever increasing heartbeat and the monster’s symphony has begun.
First I try to hurt you with black words dipped in tar. I see that you are no longer effected by this, so it is time to reach down into the depths of my hell to find words and/or actions that will crush your heart, spirit and soul. I spray and spit at you my venom and I succeed. I wound you. Deeply. So deep that you are in a state of shock.
How could your angel, your baby, your soulmate crush you till your heart is broken into a million devastating pieces?
I do this because I know that I have the power to fix your broken love. I do this because I want you to feel how betrayed and alone I am. I do this because I am in an eternal pain and do not know a way out.
Your angel, your baby, your soulmate knows love like no other, but I’m still programmed to kill when you take your love away from me.
Please help me to change.
I don’t want to live this way.
“No mud, no lotus.” – Thich Nhat Hanh