Defusing The Worst Evil There Is: Anger

How learning some simple things can help us deal with the anger we all carry around

Photo by Liza Summer on Pexels.com

by James Eke

From Warrior’s Way Podcast Episode 116

I think of anger as a dark, black and massive octopus-like thing that has an ability to reach out with its sinewy limbs and tentacles and make their way into parts of you that you don’t expect, slowly drawing you in, often unaware, until all there is left is its darkness.

Maybe you haven’t experienced it. Maybe you haven’t been aware of it. I expect however that you, like all of us, have more anger hiding in the dimly lit places inside of you than you realize.

You may think right now that this doesn’t apply to you but unless you are some kind of next level being, that kind of delusional thinking is only going to cause you problems.

Looking back over my life I can now see, thanks to a lot of training on this aspect of the human condition, that I have had whole periods of my life that were controlled to varying degrees by anger.

Of course at the time I didn’t realize it.

I’m sure that on the outside, people would have thought I was a pretty happy, go-lucky guy.

It is only when we start to really look for this sneaky thing lurking, wanting to grab a hold of us, wanting to dominate us from the inside that we can see the power it had and has. And here is the thing, anger is always going to be an aspect of human life. This is part of the reason why it is so important that we recognize it and root it out when we find it. Anger has a way of festering and growing and forming a whole different reality – it makes you see things in a different way than you would normally if anger wasn’t ruling the roost.

When it comes to training, one of the most important things any of us can do is come face to face with this, learn to see the root of it, recognize the power it has over you, and understand how it feels, where it came from and how you deal with it.

I’ve trained in martial arts that try to get people to tap into their anger to channel it into aggression so that they can release more power. This is the wrong way to do things. We don’t want to learn to use anger and be powered by it. What we need to do is actually the opposite.

This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t hit the pads. This doesn’t mean either that there aren’t times that we need to let go and give it. What we have to avoid simply is the fueling of that with anger. Walking this path just lets that dark octopus grab hold of more of us and eventually steer us around without us realizing it.

So what do we do when we believe someone has wronged us?

What do we do when someone hurts us?

What do we do when something really makes us angry?

I’ll tell you what I’ve learned to do. I shine a light on it as soon as I’m able to recognize it. I force myself to breathe. I recognize the anger for what it is, find its root and then acknowledge it and let it go.

Does this mean I never get angry? Of course not. This upset me. People upset me. Things get my gears going. What I do though is take these moments as opportunities to train myself to let the anger go and not let it fester within. I take it as a chance to really see things as impermanent and potentially bound to suffering – and let’s face it, anger leads to suffering, anger is suffering.

A Zen master I train with told me recently that to train against killing and to train against anger also means to train not to gossip, not to criticize and not to spread fake news or conspiracy theories. He pointed out that all the negative and mean things we say – even if we think we are doing right by saying them or posting them actually do us more harm than we realize and have the potential to harm others without us knowing it. He noted that we all have a choice to spread goodness that is really good or what we think is goodness that is actually bad, unfortunately most people aren’t able to see these realities in a time of social media where everyone publicly airs their dirty laundry and thinks that their opinions – whether right or wrong are somehow important to tell people about.

Think of how many people who have ended up in hospital from COVID due to all of the misinformation that has been spread around. People have died in hospital fighting to the end with their doctor and nurses that they couldn’t possibly have COVID because they read on social media that it doesn’t exist. You think what you spread in anger and delusion doesn’t matter but it can be just as dangerous as physical violence.

My view on this is to not criticize, not to spread foolishness, not to judge. Of course I’m human. I will get a bee in my bonnet just like anyone, but there is no reason to get into it with others, especially not in a way that can cause harm.

Most of our anger is based on fear and seasoned with ego. We want to believe that we are right and special and important and when something happens that makes us angry that thing is usually our deluded view of that thing somehow threatening our self-view. How dare that person do that to me? How dare that person be like that? How dare that thing think it can do that? Me, me, me.

To learn to train against letting anger take-over is to learn to let go of our clinging to this illusion of who we think we are, learning to see us all as flawed humans trying to do their best and failing, learning to see all life as a chance to train compassion, kindness and understanding.

Now you might think this is all wishy-washy rainbows and butterflies but it is actually what living an engaged and enlightened life is all about.

Learning to breathe and let go should be the core aspect of our training. It should be what we do when we train physically. It should be what we do while we are at work. It should be what we do when we are in school. Without it we are simply not finding out who we truly are and who we truly can be.

It isn’t going to be easy but I can tell you that training this way will change your life. Letting go of anger, not being controlled by it, lashing out, holding it in, being small – it is the difference between living in the darkness and living in the light.

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather train and try, every day, to live in the light.

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

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Enduring the fires of anger

How those who make us angry or even dislike us can be among our greatest teachers

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

by James Eke

From Warrior’s Way Podcast episode #114

Our enemies are our greatest teachers.

Nobody likes to have enemies – at least I sure don’t – but the reality is that just like the Dalai Lama, or Yoda would tell you, anger just leads to suffering and darkness. What we need to do, through training properly, is learn to see the root cause of our anger, see full on the stupid things we ourselves have done that created the discord, accept the result and learn from it all.

It is easy in Zen or the martial arts to look at training through rose-coloured glasses. You go through the motions, you see the tip of the iceberg, you commit yourself to the aspects that are easy or fit easily in your life – what you really are doing though is forgetting about the true work. The true Way.

The simple fact is that while all the external trappings of training are beneficial, the reality is that the most important aspects of training are also the hardest.

Someone either does you harm or dislikes you or has decided to do whatever they can to harm, discredit, ruin or judge you and you feel it in your bones that this enemy hates you or feels nothing but desire for seeing you in misery. We’ve all been there.  The automatic reaction to this is anger, confusion, fear, hostility, pain and any other assortment of things that are basically summed up with the word suffering. Then we want to somehow return some form of suffering to that person, whether physical, mental, emotional or spiritual. This is what I call the throat-punch reaction – someone does something to us and we automatically want to lash back.

Here is the thing, we don’t want to lash back with the throat punch reaction because of anything else except that you want them to feel like you feel and so you can feel right and believe that somehow they will see that they were wrong.

This is pointless though.

We all do dumb things – sometimes really, really, really dumb things. We are all human. I’m sure even the Dalai Lama has had moments in his life that he thinks to himself, “well now, that was really freaking idiotic…how have I been training this long and still do dumb stuff?” The difference between likely him and you though is he probably instantly laughs to himself and then uses that stupidity of being human as a great lesson to move on to a better place in his training.

I’m no Dalai Lama. I am a simple dude who tries to do his best, falls flat on his face, looks back on the past and wonders how on earth I’d ever been so dumb and I try to be better. Some lessons have come easy like a smack in the face that wakes you up, other lessons have been far slower coming. That’s ok though.

Over the past few years I have really come to see, despite hearing it for years or more likely decades, that compassion, patience, and letting go are the most important things to learn from training, that this is actually all that really matters in training.

You might want to believe that Zen is all about sitting. Or you might want to think that Jiu-Jitsu is all about tapping someone out. Or that you need to have high kicks or be able to meditate for 30 minutes without moving, or any other multitude of aspects of what you believe training to be. Thing is, you need to let go of that. You need to let go of this ego-centric view of what training means, this need to attain, this need to prove yourself.

What matters, what training, what the Way is about is coming to an understanding at our most fundamental level that we are all more connected than we can ever understand. This life and our view of reality in which we live is just a dream. Maybe even just a dream of a dream.

Doing harm to another just injures ourselves. This doesn’t mean not to train in your martial art though it means to train yourself so you never have to harm someone.

Responding to hate with more hate is maybe even worse than physical harm. When we lash out with hatred we lose a part of ourselves that we may not even realize we are tossing aside.

The same goes when we are judgemental, critical, mean, selfish, cruel and angry. Of course we are human so these kinds of things will still show themselves. What we don’t or shouldn’t do though if we are serious about our training is let them loose. Instead, see the anger, ask yourself where it is coming from, how much of it did we ourselves create? Then reshape that emotional response into patience and compassion.

Every morning when I sit for my meditation I think about all the people I remember and even those I no longer recall that I have wronged, that hate me, that I dislike and I send back into the universe that I hope they are loved, safe, healthy and will be liberated. I’m not doing this from some lofty perspective but from the perspective of a flawed human who makes mistakes and wishes and tries to learn from them.

If you love your life at all, or even if right now you don’t, you got here, right at this instant through all those events, mistakes, friends, enemies and whatever else has occurred. All of that happened so you could be here, right now, listening to this, breathing, maybe smiling. The question is, if you have been brought here by all these experiences, what are you going to do with it? What did you learn?

It took me 52 years to get to where I am right now. It has not been easy. Some of it was terrible. Some of it was sad. Some of it was wonderful. Some of it was crazy. All of it was, in retrospect, amazingly interesting in its highs and lows – a story of growth and change. When you can see your life in this light and learn from it you really start to see what training can actually be. What really matters most.

I hope that you are at the place in your own journey of training that you can see that compassion, and development of patience and kindness matter more than anything else.

I think that the fact that you are probably someone who understand that training is important, what I would hope is that you make patience for yourself and others the foundation of that, add to that the cultivation of compassion for others and yourself and strive, every moment you can to let go of anger. Be grateful when you get the opportunity to train to let go. Be understanding to yourself and others for the flawed humans that we all are and simply do you best to be better regardless of all the rest.

When you make this your central point of training, real growth can happen, real change.

Here is the thing: imagine if everyone lived life this way. Imagine if everyone trained this way.

Learn to breathe. Learn to let go. Endure the fire of anger with compassion.

LISTEN TO THIS FULL PODCAST EPISODE AT WARRIOR’S WAY PODCAST

The Anxiety Of Ending

Photo by Ben Mack on Pexels.com

by James Eke

from Warrior’s Way Podcast episode 112

I don’t think for a moment that anyone from crackpot-conspiracy theorists to hypochondriac germa-phobes and all the rest of everyone in-between will escape from COVID unscathed.

We have all been through something hard. Something bizarre. Something that has changed the way we think, act and feel.

Many people have lost those they cared about or lost businesses or simply their view of who they thought they were.

Where we go from here is anyone’s guess.

Will COVID ever be gone? At this point it doesn’t look that way. How will we have to respond to it? Well, it probably depends on where you live.

I’m in Canada and our government took things very seriously. My martial arts school for instance was shut down with imposed restrictions during the first lockdown, then we were allowed to open for a few months and had to stay six feet apart with masks on, then we were shut down another 8 months and as I’m recording this we probably have another month before we can open, likely with the same six feet apart rule.

More than one person has asked me what I think martial arts training is going to be like or, maybe more honestly, how they can feel ok with getting back to things like they were before.

My best advice is 100 per cent in line with my own personal blinking neon sign view of training – be kind and compassionate to yourself and to others.

What does that mean though?

COVID has been a very valuable lesson for us in terms of view of self and our relation to others. It has been valuable in teaching us patience and being in the moment.

Before COVID most people in the West looked at their lives as somehow solitary special moonbeams but suddenly we all had to realize that the things we do could not just impact others but could kill them – most importantly, the simple fact that all of us are connect to each other in ways we probably never realized.

I think that moving forward through the place we are with the pandemic and where we are headed it is important for us to be kind and compassionate with ourselves and others. Not everyone will be in the same place with this. We need to let go of the need to get things back to whatever normal used to be – whatever it is we remember that being. Truth be told, there was nothings so inherently great about the greedy, selfish, self-centred way things were before.

We have been given a chance to make a new normal for ourselves and for our world – a world that is kinder, more understanding, more supportive, more able to adjust to things.

We know now how important people who have our backs are and how important it is to have others backs.

We know now that we have to think about others perhaps more than ourselves.

We know now that we have to take care of this planet and our communities.

All of this is valuable.

As for what you need to do to move on from here, I think that first of all you need to make sure you are training your inner self to be resilient, calm and compassionate – this means meditation, this means learning to let go, this means training and cultivating compassion which can be a lot harder than learning how to sit and breathe.

I think you need to stay in shape physically. This means working out for sure but also getting back on the dojo mats and training. At first this might be some solo work or training that you can do at an arms-length.

Martial arts done in a kind and compassionate manner but allowing us to release frustration, allowing us to interact with others in a safe environment is going to be a salve for the wounds left by COVID.

We have to move forward. We have to follow that light at the end of the tunnel. We have to do it in a way though that is not going to harm others or cause any more misery.

Martial arts and training has always had a power to it – a power that has the ability to heal. This is going to be even more important in the months and years to come.

We have to have faith and understanding in our training partners. We have to have admiration for our teachers and schools that have weathered this terrible storm and ensured that we have dojos to train at when so many didn’t make it. We have to love our systems and styles that have given us so much and will continue to help us to evolve and grow.

Most of all though, we have to have compassion and kindness for ourselves. Don’t push ourselves too hard when what we need is to be slow and understanding.

This path of training is long and difficult but if we stick to it amazing things can happen. There is nothing to fear when we keep our light of compassion shining and our mind open and able to see what is right and what isn’t working.

We can push through this – we’ve made it this far together and we can and will be standing together in the new world that will replace that old one we have already lost. Let’s let it go and find something better together.

LISTEN TO THIS FULL EPISODE AT WARRIOR’S WAY PODCAST.

The ambiguity of being human

By James Eke

From Warrior’s Way Podcast episode #107

I wish someone, decades ago, had warned me about Shenpa and that resistance to the fundamental uncertainty of our situation, our fighting against anything and everything that we cling to and the uncertainty that life itself can bring.

I don’t know if I even realized in the past just how hooked I was to my delusions of who I was. Hooked on the drama of my past. Hooked on the uncertainty of the future. Hooked on believing my own bs.

Let’s face it – society really tries to shove down our throats just how unique and special and individual we all are. This is utter nonsense. You aren’t even who or what you think you are so how are you some kind of shining centre of the universe? None of us are.

Maybe we should have a new curriculm in our schools that teach kids that their uniqueness lies in their connection with everything and everyone around them. That what is more important than you believing you are more important than anyone else is that we cultivate compassion, kindness and understanding – putting others first and our selfishness out the window.

I don’t know about you but in my life I’ve learned the hard way that selfishness only breeds stupidity and suffering. COVID has shown us this as well – people don’t think about others first, or at all, and surprise, we have a pandemic.

We all get caught up in the hamster wheel of life. We somehow think that what we do doesn’t matter, won’t impact others, as long as we are happy or trying to be happy that nothing else matters.

Striving for happiness though is the hamster wheel itself – it won’t get you anywhere. You fill your life with surrounding yourself with things, trips, desires and you still feel empty and think that maybe that next thing will fill the void.

Before you know it you have drunk away a chunk of your life, deluded yourself in any multitude of ways another chunk and simply threw away more of it on other ridiculous attempts to avoid seeing what life is really about.

So how do we get there? Well, from 52 years of making lots of mistakes what I have come to really realize over the past few years is that that you need to let go. You need to see life as it really is – or at least try. You need to stop judging. You need to stop grasping. You need to throw away every negative and destructive part of yourself. You need to stop being mean. You need to stop blaming others. You need to have compassion, kindness, understanding and mindfulness in every moment of your life.

Imagine what the world would be like if everyone thought of others first.

If we showed compassion – no, not showed compassion but glowed with it and spread it into every corner of life.

If instead of being mean, petty, judgy we instead tried to support and understand, to help?

This is the true path. This is the way.

It is also a lot harder than the alternative which is why so few people will ever really get it, why so few people will actually do it.

Someone makes you feel this way or that and instead you judge, you look for vengeance, you spread cruelty. Think about it. Look back on the last time someone supposedly did something to you – how did you respond? Were you kind? Were you compassionate?

We cling to these ridiculous views of ourselves and our own self-importance.

Instead, relax. Stay in the moment. See what is actually happening. Don’t cling to any of it.

Help people. Let go of who you demand yourself to be, who you need others to be. Let go of it all and just, as I keep saying, be a good friend.

There you go.

Clinging to things as we want them or demand them to be won’t help us. It won’t help anyone or anything.

Let’s be better. Let go. Open your heart. Be kind.