Anger: How to recognize it, work with it and gain wisdom from it

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by James Eke

From Warrior’s Way Podcast episode 125

Acceptance of the anger inside of us is vital in our training for a few reasons. Let’s face it, when we realize the anger we carry around, the anger we foster, the anger we feed – all of it can lead us in directions that we don’t really want and make us do things that afterwards we might look at and wonder how that ever happened.

Anger is your ego lashing out in a ‘how dare you do that to me’ kind of way or it can be in a repressed darker shadow way leading you down a different path. Anger is fueled by fear, fear of believed attack, fear of a wounded ego, fear of a lot of things – what comes out the end of that can be anything from seething rage to instantaneous anger.

Anger has a way of transforming itself in us and becoming other things.

Understanding where anger comes from is good but better is recognition of our anger. Facing it. Accepting it and then using it as a tool to both cultivate compassion but also to aid in our training in a way that will take us to see parts of ourselves that we wouldn’t otherwise have noticed.

Most people walk through life and just think that they are one person. Just an single individual but as you learn to recognize the inner workings of this human being you start to see that we are all like a layered human onion with all these different aspects, different voices, different versions of you.

For most of us, even realizing the anger we feel can be hard to reckon with. Who wants to admit they are angry? I mean sure, someone cuts you off in traffic or says or does something and we get upset but anger can have a whole different face to it that loves nothing more than to live inside of us and slowly control more and more aspects.

Believe it or not though, this doesn’t have to be a bad thing. When we realize that we have anger in us and aren’t afraid to look at it, really deeply look at it and find its root some pretty amazing things can happen especially when we learn to channel or let go of that anger and its associated attributes.

What I have found beneficial is two things, learning to let go of attachment to things that happen and the view that things are somehow happening to me.

This me-centric thing is so common these days. I myself have come to realize just how much of my own life I viewed as having had things happen to me, this person did this to me, that situation did that and so on. All of this leaves you carrying around a heavy rucksack filled of a whole lot of shadowy, dark garbage that you don’t need, that makes you act ridiculously, make bad decisions and choices and more than anything makes you react. This reacting, especially when out of anger whether it is new or old, anger  rarely makes any sense in retrospect from the vantage point of rooting out the anger.

Here is a shocker for you. Very little actually happens to you. Things just happen. Even when people do something seemingly to you it is almost always coming from the result of something else.

This is one of the reasons that we have to elevate our training and strive to – at the very least – not get balls rolling ourselves that go in directions we don’t really want. Of course, guess what, we are all human, prone to mistakes, impulses, and just plain idiocy. Few of us escape this life without shaking our heads in wonder at the things we have done.

Now, when you are able to look at your life and your failures, mess-ups, outbursts or whatever else and hopefully show yourself some compassion, so too should we start to realize that the anger we can carry or rage from can just as easily be used to build training in compassion and understanding.

And yes, turning anger into compassion isn’t always easy. What it is though is better than carrying around resentment, feeding fuel to a fire burning within likely for zero good reason.

You might tell yourself, ‘oh I’m angry at this person or this thing for a very good reason, because of A, B or C’ and you may well have yourself fully believing it but here is the thing, whatever it was not only happened because of something else but more importantly it is 100 percent in the past. It is done. Over. Gone.

Why cling onto something is done? Why make yourself miserable or start a whole new chain of anger and assorted other results over something that literally doesn’t matter anymore?

When we start to make one of the primary cornerstones of our training stillness in the present moment we will start to see not only the results of not having that being in the moment ground floor truth of reality but how we can end up being reactive to the influences outside of that present moment.

For me, I think it is vitally important to stay grounded in the present. To let go of the past. To let go of a lot of what we all cling to. And then, probably equally important is to make compassion and sending lovingkindness back out to the world.

There are plenty of exercises and visualizations and breathing techniques we can do to help us to deal with anger and life in general. What is probably more important though is to truly examine your life. Start to see it for what it really is. Learn to be still. Learn to perceive what you are actually perceiving. Expand your awareness. Let go.

When we begin to do this. When we begin to actually train what we find is that all the external things that once felt like arrows being shot at us now have no ability to harm us. We start to see the actions, decisions, outbursts or mistakes of others as nothing different than or external to us. And as our training teaches us how to let go, how to accept our failings, how to learn, how to grow, so too do we realize how to show compassion and understanding of others. Our anger may still come but it won’t be as overpowering, it might start even to be a source for us to turn it into compassion to ourselves and others.

In the end, our anger or anyone else’s anger doesn’t bring much of value into this world. No great things were done through anger. But when we transform that anger into something positive for ourselves and the world good can come from that.

Maybe you won’t think this is all that important. Maybe you like your anger or don’t believe you have any. Maybe this is all too much and too hard to do.

For me though, I’m learning every moment to let go more. Sure, things still upset me – I’m human too – but what I have found is that turning that rising rumbling into something positive is far better not just for me myself and my training but for what I put back into this universe.

I think that is enough.

Listen to the full podcast episode at Warrior’s Way Podcast

The True Meaning Of Discipline

Ways We Can Bring Discipline Into Every Moment And Transform Our Lives

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by James Eke

From Warrior’s Way Podcast episode #120

Discipline can mean different things to different people.

Some people think that everyone needs to be like they were trained in the military, up before most people would ever want to be awake, workout, have a fierce look on their face, and treat everything like you are going into battle.

Others look at discipline as being a detached stoic, treating everything in a hands off way.

Some think of disciple as best dealt with through almost obsessive control, monitoring every small detail so that everything fits nicely, monitored and recorded.

None of this is necessarily wrong. Life though, doesn’t always fit into our framework, follow our plans, or listen to us when we tell it how it should be.

Life is messy sometimes.

Discipline for someone who trains the mind, who trains the body and who strives to put the two together in understanding and living within what is ultimate reality means that we stick to training in a way that understands that attachment to our own delusion and BS and attachment to beliefs, ignorance and aversion is the opposite of what we need to do.

Discipline is all about cutting through all delusion. It is about being the calm in the storm. It is about understanding what we are told by society, by selfish desires, by things we cling to lead us down a road that takes us away from what is true.

So what is true then and what is discipline?

Well, there are a ton of people who are going to lead you down a road of their own explanation of discipline that is actually about ego, things that are fueled by selfishness, by want. They will make you buy into this idea that we have to be hard with ourselves so that we can get stuff done. The truth is that this is, from a training perspective and especially from a Zen sort of viewpoint to be just a delusional view of reality that so many of us are constantly told we need to buy into. It is as if the only way you can live a real life is by doing things, by getting after it, by accumulating.

Look at the world around us and ask yourself what kind of damage has been done by this societal view of needing, of wanting, of taking. It is a me, me, me perspective. It isn’t discipline. It is delusion and has consequences not just with ourselves but with the world around us.

What we and the world needs most is for us to all be less delusional. To see what life actually is. You aren’t going to get there by running yourself ragged, by getting no sleep, by trying to control everything and everyone. That isn’t freedom, that isn’t peace and is nothing more than a tyrannical capitalist view that you are trying to enforce on yourself.

That doesn’t mean that you should do things or have some level of control in your life. You definitely should but discipline doesn’t mean to become an obsessed person fostering ulcers because you are trying to live like some young kid learning to be a soldier in basic training.

I don’t love the term mindfulness these days. It has become just as clichéd as some have twisted what Zen means to fit a whole host of ideas that don’t really mean what it actually means. However, mindfulness in its true sense is the most important aspect of what discipline needs to mean. In other words, we need to learn to think with a big, huge, open mind that is also able to discriminate between what is real and what is fake, what is important and what is not, what is life and what is delusion.

I remember when I was in basic training myself and a Sgt who was putting us through the game that was the training told me that the reason they do room and uniform inspections that you can never really pass is that they are trying to get people who let their minds do whatever they want to do, to instead retrain them to focus, to concentrate on small things like making a bed or polishing boots and doing these things to a high degree and an even higher standard. He said that when you can force the mind to concentrate and gain discipline it changes everything about that person.

I remember thinking that this was like the kind of thing my first Sensei taught us when we were kids and what my first Zen master taught me when we would do working meditation or eat in meditative silence in the Zendo.

Discipline. True discipline has to start with the mind. It has to start with the way we view ourselves and what reality actually may be. True discipline means cultivation of true stillness and what that not only means but what we begin to see when we knock on that door.

Unfortunately this understanding is something that is lacking these days when it comes to training and people look at discipline as more of a physical thing, something that we have to push ourselves to do. It is true we need to be disciplined as in our stick-to-it-ness but derived from compassion and our understanding of impermanence and our desire to be free of delusion. In this way discipline also means being understanding of our failings, it means being compassionate to ourselves and others, it means being in a state of constant questioning of what it is that we are being motivated by and through training to mind to focus, to concentrate and to try our best not to be controlled by a mind that is like a crazed monkey jumping and leaping from tree to tree throwing fruit at everything around it.

Think of discipline as stability. When we are able to live a life without our mind being like that monkey, without the mind leaping around, fixating, dealing out whatever its impulses want then we are able to begin to see the truth with a capital T. We are able to focus. We are able to live a life far more free from the suffering that a crazed monkey mind creates and dishes out.

When we do this a whole new world opens up for us.

The best thing is that you can start right now. Take a look what is going on between those two ears of yours.

Is there are monkey there?

Listen to the full podcast episode at Warrior’s Way Podcast

In this episode we discuss the book In The Footsteps of Bodhisattvas: Buddhist Teachings On The Essence Of Meditation, by Phakchok Rinpoche, pick up a copy of the book here.

There Is Nothing To Fear

How Training To Remember All That You Have Is Right Now Can Completely Change Your Life And Make You Truly Fearless

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by James Eke

From Warrior’s Way Podcast Episode 117

What are you afraid of? What fears occupy your mind, even unknowingly?

Think about it.

Don’t tell me for a second that you don’t have any fears because, frankly, you’re lying if you tell yourself that.

Here is what I want you to do. Spend a day keeping track of all the things that come into your mind that have even the slightest tinge of something fear based.

This means things you are afraid to lose. Things you are afraid to let go of. Most of your anxieties. Probably a good chunk of your motivations too.

For instance you might workout like crazy but while this is definitely a positive thing I don’t want you to stop, you might be doing it because you are trying to keep old age away, sickness away or negative images of self. All of this is actually fear-based thinking. Personally I think some fear based motivations are positive and working out to keep yourself and healthy and biologically young for as long as possible is one of the best things you can do to improve the quality of the time you have here so don’t stop that, I’m sure not going to, but understand where it is coming from.

So I want you to truly examine your life and be honest with yourself and examine the things going on inside of you. See what comes from or fueled by fear. Don’t judge it, just examine it, write it down so at the end of the day you can see a bit more clearly what the truth is for yourself.

Here is the thing. Whether you are you, me or some sage sitting in a cave meditating all day, we are stuck clinging to our view of ourselves, the big view of ‘Me’ with a capital M.

This view of Me is something that we have been each indoctrinated with since we were tiny and we cling to it like it is the only think keeping us sane and safe. The thing is, it is all a bit of a convoluted bunch of BS that we tell ourselves and believe.

Some of us believe we are our job or our career – heck there are tons of people who go out of their way to remind us of all the things they did in their career that somehow should mean something to us. Think of all the people who tout themselves as somehow a cut above because they are a doctor, a politician, former special forces, actor, singer or whatever else. If you think about it from a Zen or just a common sense perspective, what the heck does any of that have to do with you or how you should truly see life and your place in it? It doesn’t mean anything. You can’t tell me that because someone did X that they are somehow far greater than someone who quietly picks up your garbage. For that sake, the garbage-man may well have some far deeper insights into not just their own life but reality as a whole than Mr Special Forces or Mrs I’m A PhD.

I’m not saying don’t listen to these people, I’m just saying that belief in our own hype is, from a certain perspective, completely ridiculous.

So if you aren’t your job or your education or your… whatever you want to fill in the blank here with, what the heck are you?

Well that is the best question you could ask yourself to get started on truly understanding your place in this universe.

Look at your hand for a second or two. Is that hand you? What if you didn’t have it anymore? Are you now less because you don’t have that hand? Now take that same experience and travel throughout your body. Is any of the physical aspects that you would believe yourself to be actually you?

Mind blown a little? Good.

Our physical view of ourself is part of this whole delusion of the capital M, Me. This Me is actually something that has never, ever remained constant. Think back to a year ago. Are you the same person you were back then? What about a week ago?

If you are catching my drift you’ll start to see that this view of Me isn’t all that solid. This Me has changed every single day – though more accurately it has changed with each moment in the present, in the now.

Yet we all cling to our view of Me. We live in fear of letting go of all of that. We live in fear of there not being a capital M Me. Here is a little whisper of a secret though – there never was any real capital M Me, it is just smoke and mirrors that we have bought into our view of ourselves.

Within us all though is something else. If you learn to practice stillness. If you learn to sit and breathe and let go, with time what you’ll find is that there is something hidden in there that is actual truth – and that is Truth with a capital T now. What you’ll find is just as there is this illusion and delusion of a Me there is also an I.

This I is an aspect of you that touches the universe, is in contact with all things, all places, all times. It has been called a whole lot of different names but don’t get yourself too caught up in that. Keep it simple and just understand that it is there, in the background, it is the aspect of you that is at peace, the aspect that feels the interconnection between the world around us and what lies deep within, it is that part of you that will suddenly smile when you are sitting outside and your thoughts drop away for a moment and see a leaf blowing in the air, a butterfly flutter by you, sunlight dancing in the dust.

You might think, wow this guy sounds like he has somehow transcended fear. Anyone who tells you they have transcended fear is probably full of it or full of something else. We all have fear. I’m sure that even the most enlightened among us still have fear at least to some degree. What they probably have in equal measure though is the ability to see it for what it is and either let it go or turn it into something to help them become more liberated.

I might have mentioned before that during the height of COVID I had a period of time that was deeply existential and wasn’t exactly fun. I saw vividly the mortality of not just myself but every single thing around me. I’m talking my home, the trees in the backyard, my dog, you name it, we were all going to be dead.

At first I was like, ‘Eke, what the heck is going on with your brain.’ And I didn’t like it.

Then I started to understand that my training brought this up from the mud that lays at the bottom of the pool that is that Me with a capital M. It was fear of losing not just the things around me but fear of losing myself.

As with all deep experiences, this one hasn’t completely gone. It still drifts back to remind me of the reality of life, the impermanence of all things. Here is the thing though, what it taught me after a lot of sitting, a lot of letting go, a lot of questions and swallowing the answers is that truly all we have is right now. It is all we have ever had. Now.

When we were children we lived in the now. That is why afternoons playing seemed to last forever. The same with summer vacation. It was because we let go of thoughts of the future and fear and were simply fully 100 percent in the now. Enjoying the sun. Enjoying our games. Enjoying our lives fully.

At some point we replaced all that with fear of the future, dwelling in the past, afraid of everything people might think, holding ourselves back until all there was left was fear that we didn’t really want to ever admit to so we just bury it.

Fear though is darkness. Fear grows into other things. What we need to do as people who are training on this path is let it go. Breathe. Let it go.

Examine that Me with the capital M and all that you cling to. What is its purpose? What false faces does it wear that you no longer need?

Examine the I that dwells beyond that. What does it say to you?

If we want to let go of our fear and find out what this universe is truly about and our place within it we have to do the work. It won’t be easy at first but it is a path of small steps. You’ll succeed lots, fail tons but just stick to it.

Understand that there is nothing at all to fear. Everything in life is change, constant, unending change and all that there is truly is right now. In this now is everything you could ever need but you have to embrace it, love it, appreciate it and give back all you have to it. Here it comes, right now. Oops it is gone you missed it. How about right….now.

Listen to the full podcast episode at: Warrior’s Way Podcast

In this week’s episode we discussed an excerpt from Normal Fischer’s book, When You Greet Me I Bow: Notes and Reflections from a Life in Zen (please click link and pick up a copy).