The one who manages our personal anger is a fox — a fox that guards the chicken coup. The manager, our ego, wants nothing to do with actually destroying anger. After all, anger is what rebuilds the ego after some kind of disrespect diminishes it.
We are out for a leisurely drive and someone cuts us off — so what? We’re in no hurry . . . but it gets under our skin. The other driver showed disrespect and disrespect knocks us down, so we tailgate the jerk to reassert our power and get some respect back. The other driver of course then slows down to reassert his or her power. Pretty soon, the situation escalates out of control and violence results. A familiar scenario that plays out on the world stage every day with our incredibly stupid wars. It’s all about respect and power, but more fundamentally, it’s about our idea of what and who we are.
If a situation is not too upsetting, we can substitute anger. We override it by thinking that we are above this sort of thing and smugly force ourselves not to become angry! This works with petty annoyances, but when real disrespect comes along, the long repressed anger explodes. We haven’t solved our problem; it’s been patiently waiting, and when we least expect it, our anger detonates.
When we deny anger, we aren’t being true to ourselves. We are still animals, in many ways (look at the sex act!), and one them is our fight or flight reaction. Anger underlies competitiveness — in business, in love, in religions — and maintaining a strong ego helps us fight instead of run. Maintaining an ego is problematic, however. As a matter of fact, the ego’s care and attention becomes downright stressful — the quintessential tension of our lives.
The ego is nothing more than a fantasy in our minds, it’s only an image, a memory, a projection of what we believe ourselves to be. It’s not real; but we make it real. We take on a name, “Carol, ” and we make “Carol” real. If anybody insults Carol, we become incensed. Carol represents everything we are, even though the representation is a complete myth. And the myth is the one who is attempting to control its anger! It’s so ridiculous that it would be laughable if it weren’t for the tragedy anger causes.
If you believe yourself to be real, that you have power, then control your destiny! Stop yourself from aging, from becoming diseased like everybody else. But you can’t; your body is made of the things from this earth, nothing more, because we eat things from this earth, and we will eventually return to this earth — we’re nothing special. Yet at times, we feel as if we are the center of the universe. This is an illusion; the universe is a big place, a very big place, bigger than any of us — or our perceived importance.
Maybe down deep we understand all of this and try to cope by creating our ego. The truth, that we are powerless in our pathetic position in the cosmos, is far too difficult to admit, so we use a crutch. The problem arises when we forget that we are on crutches. We begin to believe that our ego is real and powerful. This is exactly where we go so badly wrong, and where we set ourselves up for stress. Like an inexperienced middle manager who finds herself in an inept organization where she has absolutely no authority yet tremendous responsibility, she saddles her poor ego with the crushing duty of keeping itself propped up in the face of tremendous adversity, in the face of all that is apparent if we take the time to really look. But looking requires courage, and seeing beyond our small self requires the finest courage, courage more refined than becoming angry and starting a war! That’s not courage; that’s lack of wisdom. The contrived ego is a misunderstanding, and the contrived ego is the root cause of our anger.
So what manages anger? It’s nothing less than the myth of ourselves, and therefore anger cannot be managed; anger can only be understood. To begin to understand completely, to begin to courageously face the truth and be free of this confusion and stress, merely sit quietly in meditation every evening for 15 minutes. It’s so simple. In time, a transcendental awareness will develop and you will find the courage not only to understand the ego, but to let go of it, and to become truly free.
Copyright © E. Raymond Rock 2007. All rights reserved.
E. Raymond Rock of Fort Myers, Florida is cofounder and principal teacher at the Southwest Florida Insight Center. His twenty-eight years of meditation experience has taken him across four continents, including two stopovers in Thailand where he practiced in the remote northeast forests as an ordained Theravada Buddhist monk. His book, A Year to Enlightenment (Career Press/New Page Books) is now available at major bookstores and online retailers.