How can we deal with the horrific news about the multiple shooting deaths in Virginia? How can we feel safe and without anxiety as we send our children to school? Our schools are dangerous, our streets and airports are dangerous, our world is dangerous; only our armpits are well protected! What is happening to our children and our society? What are we doing to our children– what are they eating, reading, hearing and viewing, learning, thinking, being brainwashed by– which leads to such madness? Is there to be no end to this spiral of violence? Why do we continue to have ongoing war abroad as well as domestic violence at home, at school, and in the workplace, with no respite in sight? Is this to be the world we will leave to the next generation?
Why do bad things happen to good and innocent people? I believe it all stems from the ignorance, greed, fear and selfishness in the heart of man. This is where we must begin. As Fyodor Dostoievsky once said: “The true battlefield is the heart and soul of man.” Like all genuine spiritual traditions, Buddhism is an inside job. When I become clearer, everything becomes clearer, and my entire life and world is changed. We must learn to forgive and remember– learn the lessons, so we don’t have to constantly repeat them. If we don’t get it now, we’ll have to keep coming back until we do.
The Buddha said that hatred can never be appeased by hatred; hatred only appeased by love. Patience and forbearance is the antidote to anger and aggression. If you look into my chapter on the panacean practice of patience in my book (Chapter Three), you’ll find the six steps to Mindful Anger Management and impulse control, a tried and true conscious reconditioning and deconditioning of the knee-jerk irritable reaction we are all at times prey to. This small, practical and liberating, nondenominational awareness exercise can be applied to any afflictive emotion; it is something that anyone can learn to apply learn and apply, which could and should be part of secular education and life wisdom learning.
What are these six steps to managing difficult emotions? It is a skillful means of consciously and proactively encountering and integrating negative thoughts and emotions in the very moment they arise, thus sidestepping the typical knee-jerk stimulus-response pattern. How do we actually do that? Easier said than done. Yet it is certainly doable, simply by cultivating enough mindful attention to find room for a sacred pause, however brief, in which to be able to choose intentionally a better, more desirable response, or if to respond at all; thus we gain the mental freedom and and interior space to be able to better manoeuver and act more creatively and less instinctively.
In short, these six steps to mindful anger management are Recognizing (the familiar arising emotion); Recollecting (the advantages and disadvantages of habitual conditioned responses); Refraining (by restraining and reframing); Relinquishing (instantaneous impulses and reactivity); Reconditioning (through repition and practice); and Responding (appropriately, intelligently, in a measured, considered fashion). As shorthand for my students, I call them The Six R’s. Many have found them extremely useful in daily life, in dealing with interior anger, desk rage, road rage, as well as “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” coming from outside. “Count to ten before you hit back, Jeffrey” — this my beloved grandmother taught me when I was in second grade. Here in a nutshell is the essence of creating space for conscious awareness and creative, intentional action?
Shouldn’t we Buddhists and spiritual activists be contributing more to the public conversation about peacemaking and reconciliation, healing through forgiveness, and the wise and skillful practice of mindful anger management and impulse control through mind training, mental cultivation and attention training? Aren’t attention issues one of the main challenges our children face today? I believe we are up to this challenge, if we act together now.