Keeping it Together in Trying Times

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Dear Still Water Friends,

Recently, I’ve been thinking about the old bumper sticker “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.” Despite my commitment not to water the seeds of righteous indignation within myself, it’s been hard for me to pay attention to the news of the day and not get swept up in waves of fear, pain, and yes…outrage. When I read about families getting torn apart, or official policies that disregard our environment, I struggle to stay present to the anger, anxiety, powerlessness that percolate inside of me.

In an effort to avoid uncomfortable feelings we can engage a variety of contortions: turning away from the triggers, trying to regain a sense of control by gathering information and predicting the future, or expelling our discomfort onto others. I’ve recently observed myself making all of these moves, which mainly result in inertia and irritability.

But when I choose to just stay with the feelings, something surprising has emerged. I noticed that when I feel bad about the world, I also feel bad about myself. I blame myself for not doing more. And my lack of efficacy about our political situation seems to contribute to a general sense of powerlessness. From this place, it’s hard for me to even think about a path forward.

Previously, I have spoken about cultivating compassion for our perceived political enemy, but in moments like these this ideal seems far out of reach. Pema Chödrön observes that “It is our lack of love for ourselves that inhibits our compassion toward others.”

So instead of escaping the difficult feelings triggered by the days’ events, I’ve been trying to meet them with kindness. When I notice agitation emerge, I’ve just tried to think of how I would respond to my daughter if she was upset by something she heard or saw. “It hurts to see people suffer and feel powerless to help them,” I say to myself, or “You are feeling scared that things could get worse.” “This is hard. I’m sorry”

These gentle, yet simple words have helped me observe the flames of anger without fanning them. I hope if I keep practicing this way I might begin to identify more ways for me to engaging the world’s suffering, and not just observe it.

This Thursday evening, after our meditation period, we will talk about how to stay present with difficulties we see in the world. What helps you calm your fear or anger? Do you try to be compassionate with yourself?

Some suggestions from Thich Nhat Hanh are below.

Warm wishes,

Rachel Phillips-Anderson

Registration is now open for Exploring the Four Immeasurable Minds: Still Water Fall Practice Retreat
Friday, October 5, – Sunday, October 7, 2018; and The Wonder of Friendship: Mindful Families Fall Retreat
Friday, October 19,  – Sunday, October 21, 2018.

Recognizing, Embracing, Relieving the Suffering of Anger

by Thich Nhat Hanh from Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames

The first function of mindfulness is to recognize, not to fight. “Breathing in, I know that anger has manifested in me. “Hello, my little anger.” And breathing out, “I will take good care of you.”

Once we have recognized our anger, we embrace it. This is the second function of mindfulness and it is a very pleasant practice. Instead of fighting, we are taking good care of our emotion. If you know how to embrace your anger, something will change.

It is like cooking potatoes. You cover the pot and then the water will begin to boil. You must keep the stove on for at least twenty minutes for the potatoes to cook. Your anger is a kind of potato and you cannot eat a raw potato.

Mindfulness is like the fire cooking the potatoes of anger. The first few minutes of recognizing and embracing your anger with tenderness can bring results. You get some relief. Anger is still there, but you do not suffer so much anymore, because you know how to take care of your baby. So the third function of mindfulness is soothing, relieving. Anger is there, but it is being taken care of. The situation is no longer in chaos, with the crying baby left all alone. The mother is there to take care of the baby and the situation is under control.


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