Being Anger

A Zen priest on the radical--and liberating--practice of bearing witness to our own anger, in the safety zone of meditation.

BY: Sensei Pat Enkyo O'Hara

Reprinted with kind permission from

When we begin [practicing meditation], we are often immediately relieved that we've finally sat down and started to practice. We settle into the quiet and we bliss out for a while. But then, if we are really aware, we discover that we may be actually less comfortable than we were before. Somehow, things we have buried or numbed start to surface.

One of the things we might become aware of is how angry we actually are. Our first reaction, of course, will be to try to get rid of this anger. After all, doesn't one of the Buddhist precepts say, "Do not be angry." We live in a culture which doesn't tire of telling us to express our anger, that it's not good for us to hold it in, that repressed anger actually causes disease.

Only after years of practice and attention has it become easier for me to experience my anger immediately and learn from it.

And yet, those of us who grew up in difficult families learned that it wasn't safe to express anger. We would not be loved, supported or even acknowledged were we to do so. So, we found ways to hide, to cover our anger and we became very good at it. Yet years later, this cover would be blown whenever anything occurred that tapped into that hurt. We might flare up, totally out of control like a smoldering fire that has just had gasoline poured on it. I know I broke dishes out of helpless rage at my disappointment with others. This only made me all the more wary of it! It's been only after years of practice and attention, that it has become slowly easier for me to experience my anger immediately and to see what is triggering this anger and to skillfully learn from it.

The question is: how we can create a spacious container so that we can feel the anger without creating more angry karma? How can we ease our mind to the point that anger can arise and not be a hemorrhaging of resentment, rage or revenge, but rather a set of sensations and feelings that we experience, giving rise to healing and nourishing? Taking a breath, sinking into that space of not knowing, not judging, we must first surrender to the feeling of anger. Being the anger completely is not knowing, not being caught up with the story of our anger--which is really a distraction. The story of our anger is not the thing itself.

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