Inside the September 2014 Shambhala Sun magazine
Look inside the September 2014 Shambhala Sun magazine
FEATURING: Judy Lief, Norman Fischer, Emily Horn and Melvin McLeod on working with anger; Jack Kornfield on how to join the call for peace in Burma; Insight meditation teacher Gina Sharpe gets real about racism; Noah Levine's prescription for "Refuge Recovery," Thich Nhat Hanh's answers to children's questions; plus, book reviews, "About a Poem," and more.
Click titles below to read excerpts and select complete articles.
this issue's editorial:
Andrea Miller on how anger manifests in our lives. What good is it doing?
special feature section: discovering the wisdom of anger
How to transform anger from a cause of suffering into the powerful energy of compassion.
The buddhas are angry about the suffering of samsara. Melvin
McLeod on the enlightened power of no.
Anger is like a poisonous tree—you can prune it back, chop
it down, or find ways to use it. Judy Lief offers four Buddhist
techniques to work with our anger.
Emily Horn teaches us how to recognize, accept,
investigate, and not identify with our anger.
Zen teacher Norman Fischer applies five surprising
mind-training slogans to anger and other strong emotions
Insight Meditation teacher Gina Sharpe is working to create
a truly inclusive sangha. The place to start, she says, is facing the truth
that even Buddhist communities aren’t free from the suffering caused by racism.
Andrea Miller reports.
Children’s questions reveal that they, like adults, are
grappling with the human condition. We’ll all benefit from Thich Nhat Hanh’s
answers to their questions.
Taking refuge in the Buddha means taking refuge from our
suffering. Noah Levine offers Buddhist principles and practices to help
people free themselves from the suffering of substance abuse.
Paul Newman was one of the world’s biggest stars. But
according to former employee Michael Stone, he was also someone who
could sit still and watch the rain fall.
In meditation, you can’t just pretend obstacles aren’t
there, says Sakyong Mipham. You have to relate to them.
A religion known for nonviolence is being used to fuel a
genocidal campaign against the Muslims of Burma. Buddhist teacher Jack
Kornfield urges us to join the call for peace.
No one wants to be just another person in a world of seven
billion people. Geri Larkin on what happened when she embraced being
reviews & more
This issue’s roundup features books by Tom Robbins, Peter
Matthiessen, Nyanaponika Thera, and more.
Willis Barnstone on “Our White House,” by Charles
Shambhala Sun, March 2014, Volume Twenty Three, Number 1.
On the Cover: Yanluo, King of
Hell, China, 1523 CE. Royal Ontario Museum Gallery of Chinese Architecture. Photo
by Rajeshwar Chahal
All the Rage (Editorial; September 2014)
Shambhala Sun | September 2014
All the Rage
If a kid is cute enough, their anger is also cute. I used to
know a little girl like that. About eighteen months old, she had curly hair and
dimpled arms. She never seemed to cry or scream, and she liked to be picked up
and cooed over by adults, even strangers. Yet I remember being at a dinner
party once when she saw her mother hold someone else’s baby, and in a flash her
brow furrowed into unadulterated rage. I laughed as this tiny girl in a velvet
dress charged her mother like a bull.
This was an it’s-funny-because-it’s-true situation. The
little girl’s anger held up a true mirror to our adult anger. From my grown-up
vantage point, I could see that what she was mad about didn’t really matter.
Likewise, most of what gets us adults riled up is equally unimportant.
The little girl’s anger was a disguise for other, more
vulnerable emotions. She was jealous, and underneath that jealousy she was hurt
and afraid. She loved her mother more than anyone else and, moreover, she
depended on her for everything. The thought that she could be replaced by
another child was terrifying to her.
Adults also get angry when experiencing softer, more
vulnerable emotions. Hurt, sadness, despair—they’re so painful that we try to
protect ourselves from them with anger’s fiery energy. But adult anger isn’t
funny. At its best, anger is a formidable tool that shows us when something is
unjust and needs to be rectified. Much more commonly, however, anger is simply
an ugly and destructive force.
Recently, I edited the anthology All the Rage: Buddhist
Wisdom on Anger and Acceptance, which will be released by Shambhala
Publications in October. While I was putting together that book, as well as
this issue of the Shambhala Sun, I gave a lot of thought to anger and
how it manifests in my life. I became curious about what it would be like if I
stopped getting angry in the face of my soft, uncomfortable feelings, and so I
experimented. The first time was when I went to the Museum of Jewish Heritage
in Lower Manhattan.
On the first floor I saw personal artifacts from the late
nineteenth and early twentieth centuries—photos of newlyweds, worn shoes,
menorahs. I had that bittersweet feeling I always have when seeing the photos
and belongings of people long dead. But I also felt a thread of dread. I
wondered who died before the war that was to come and who had to suffer it.
On the second floor, dedicated to the Holocaust, anger
immediately bubbled up in me. How could one group of human beings do this to
another? Then I came to the section on children and I felt like my chest was
going to burst with rage. Instead of protecting children, the Nazis had
targeted them—starved, tortured, and killed them. The anger just kept pounding
But what good was it doing? Suddenly I realized that
there was a hard nugget of violence in my anger, which if given the
circumstances could explode. Taking a seat, I stripped my anger to the sadness
behind it. I inhaled and exhaled and discovered that my soft, vulnerable
feelings were bearable after all—maybe more bearable than the fire I’d been
trying to cover them with.
Whether angry or grief-stricken, I do not have the power to
travel back in time to rescue those children. I do not even have the power to
rescue all of today’s children from painful circumstances. But I could—when I
left the museum—be a little less angry and a little more full of compassion for
the human condition. That, I think, is the place to begin in doing good.
—Andrea Miller, Deputy Editor
A Refuge from Addiction (September 2014)
Shambhala Sun | September 2014
A Refuge from Addiction
Taking refuge in the Buddha means taking
refuge from our suffering. NOAH LEVINE uses Buddhist principles and
meditation practices to help people take refuge from the terrible
suffering of substance abuse.
To End the Suffering: The Eightfold Path of Recovery
Active addiction is a kind of hell. It is like being a
hungry ghost, wandering through life in constant craving and suffering. Refuge
Recovery, a Buddhist-inspired approach to treating addiction, offers a plan to
end the suffering of addiction.
Refuge Recovery follows the traditional Buddhist system of
the four noble truths, which begin with four actions:
1. We take stock of all the suffering we have experienced
and caused as addicts.
2. We investigate the causes and conditions that lead to
addiction and begin the process of letting go.
3. We come to understand that recovery is possible and take
refuge in the path that leads to the end of addiction.
4. We engage in the process of the eightfold path that leads
The core philosophy of Refuge Recovery is based on
renunciation and abstinence. We believe that the recovery process truly begins
when renunciation is established and maintained.
We also understand that imperfection and humility are part of the process. Even
when we refrain from the primary drug or behavior, addiction at times manifests
in other behaviors. We are not holding perfection as the standard, but as the
goal. We believe in the human ability and potential for complete renunciation
of behaviors that cause harm. We understand that for many this is an ongoing
process of establishing and/or reestablishing renunciation.
Renunciation alone is not recovery, however. It is only the
beginning. Those who maintain abstinence but fail to examine the underlying
causes and conditions are not on the path to recovery. They are simply stopping
the surface manifestations of addiction, which will inevitably resurface in
The eight factors, or folds, of the path are to be
developed, experienced, and penetrated. This is not a linear path. It does not
have to be taken in order. In fact, all the factors need to be developed and
applied simultaneously. And to truly break free from addiction, the eight folds
of recovery must be constantly maintained.
This eightfold path leads to safety, to a refuge from
1. Understanding. We come to know that everything is
ruled by cause and effect. The four truths are an ongoing practice. In this
step, we gain insight into the impermanent, unsatisfactory, and impersonal
nature of life. Forgiveness is possible and necessary.
2. Intention. We renounce greed, hatred, and
delusion. We train our minds to meet all pain with compassion and all pleasure
with nonattached appreciation. We cultivate generous, kind, and compassionate
wishes for all living beings. We practice honesty and humility and live with
3. Communication/Community. We take refuge in the
community as a place to practice wise communication and to support others on
their paths. We practice being honest, wise, and careful with our
communications, asking for help from the community and allowing others to guide
us through the process. We practice openness, honesty, and humility about the
difficulties and successes we experience.
4. Action/Engagement. We purify our actions, letting
go of the behaviors that cause harm. The minimum commitment necessary for the
path toward recovery and freedom is renunciation of violence, of dishonesty, of
sexual misconduct, and of intoxication. Compassion, nonattached appreciation,
generosity, kindness, honesty, integrity, and service become our guiding
5. Livelihood/Service. We try to be of service to
others whenever possible, using our time, energy, and resources to help create
positive change. We work toward securing a source of income/livelihood that
causes no harm.
6. Effort/Energy. We commit to the daily disciplined
practices of meditation, yoga, exercise, wise actions, kindness, forgiveness,
generosity, compassion, appreciation, and the moment-to-moment mindfulness of
feelings, emotions, thoughts, and sensations. Through effort and energy we
develop the skillful means of knowing how to apply the appropriate meditation
or action to the given circumstance.
7. Mindfulness Meditations. We develop wisdom through
practicing formal mindfulness meditation. This leads to seeing clearly and
healing the root causes and conditions that lead to the suffering of addiction.
We practice present-time awareness in all aspects of our life. We take refuge
in the present.
8. Concentration Meditations. We develop the capacity
to focus the mind on a single object, such as the breath or a phrase, training
the mind through the practices of loving-kindness, compassion, and forgiveness
to focus on the positive qualities we seek to uncover. We utilize concentration
at times of temptation or craving in order to abstain from acting unwisely.
Addiction is the repetitive process of habitually
satisfying cravings to avoid, change, or control the seemingly unbearable
conditions of the present moment. This process of craving and indulgence
provides short-term relief but causes long-term harm. It is almost always a
source of suffering for both the addict and those who care about the addict.
Recovery is a process of healing the underlying
conditions that lead to addiction. It is establishing and maintaining the
practice of abstaining from satisfying the cravings for the substances and
behaviors that we have become addicted to. Recovery is also the ability to
inhabit the conditions of the present reality, whether pleasant or unpleasant.
Renunciation is the practice of abstaining from
A refuge is a safe place, a place of protection—a
place that we go to in times of need, a shelter. We are always taking refuge in
something. Drugs, alcohol, food, sex, money, or relationships with people have
been a refuge for many of us. Before addiction, such refuges provide temporary
feelings of comfort and safety. But at some point we crossed the line into
addiction. And the substances or behaviors that were once a refuge inevitably
became a dark and lonely repetitive cycle of searching for comfort as we
wandered through an empty life.
Not Too Tight, Not Too Loose: Recovery Practice
Recovery is an act of intentional redirection of our life’s
energy. This is where the intentional application of energy comes into play.
Everything we are talking about takes effort. None of these practices or
principles are easy to develop. We all have the energy necessary for this, but
only with wise and intentional use of that energy—that is, with effort—can we
master these liberating practices and avoid the habitual reactive tendencies
that create more addiction and suffering in our lives.
When it comes to training our minds and hearts in the path
of recovery, each of us must find the balance of applying the right amount of
effort: not so much that we get strained, not so little that we get spaced out.
Developing a balanced effort and energy in our spiritual life is key to our
The Buddha likened spiritual effort to the tuning of a
stringed instrument. If the strings are too tight, it doesn’t play correctly.
If the strings are too loose, it doesn’t sound right either. The path to
recovery and freedom takes great effort and fine-tuning.
Here are some suggested guidelines for developing a recovery
From the beginning: Start with the practice of
meditation right away. Meditation is the most important tool in supporting your
renunciation and beginning your recovery. Begin with simple breath awareness
concentration practice. After a week or so of renunciation/abstinence, begin to
alternate forgiveness meditation with breath practice every other day.
2 to 6 months: Meditate for twenty minutes daily. Go
to as many meetings and meditation groups as you can. Ask someone from the
recovery community to mentor you and call him or her regularly to check in
about your practice of the four truths. Complete your first truth and second
truth inventories. Perform weekly physical practices like yoga, dance, or other
exercises with mindfulness.
6 to 12 months: Increase your meditation
practice to thirty minutes a day, and begin expanding the mindfulness practice
to include forgiveness practice in your meditation for at least fifteen minutes
every other day until you have no more resentments. Attend a weekend retreat.
Begin making amends as part of the forgiveness process.
1 to 5 years: Begin daily meditation of
forty-five minutes in one sitting or split into one thirty-minute and one
fifteen-minute session. After the first year of renunciation/sobriety/abstinence,
begin practicing the four foundations of mindfulness and the heart practices of
loving-kindness, compassion, appreciation, and equanimity. Incorporate more and
more mindfulness and heart practice in daily life. Complete the amends process.
Attend a seven- to ten-day silent meditation retreat yearly. After completing a
retreat and finishing your amends, begin mentoring others. Do an annual
inventory on your recovery, looking at how you are currently engaging with the
four truths and the eightfold path. Where are the weak links? What needs more
attention and effort?
5 years to life: Stay involved, continue to practice,
and share your experience, time, and energy with the newer people. Include the
forgiveness practice in your meditation for at least fifteen minutes every
other day until you have no more resentments. Try to attend a longer retreat
that is one to three months in length. Continue to do an annual inventory on
your recovery, looking at how you are currently engaging with the four truths
and the eightfold path. Where are the weak links? What needs more attention and
Opening the Meeting: The Refuge Recovery Preamble
“Refuge Recovery is a community of people who are using the
practices of mindfulness, compassion, forgiveness, and generosity to heal the
pain and suffering that addiction has caused in our lives and the lives of our
loved ones. The path of practice that we follow is called the Four Truths of
“The Four Truths of Refuge Recovery is a Buddhist-oriented
path to recovery from addictions. It has proven successful with addicts and
alcoholics who have committed to the Buddhist path of meditation, generosity,
kindness, and renunciation.
“This is an approach to recovery that understands that ‘All
beings have the power and potential to free themselves from suffering.’
“We feel confident in the power of the Buddha’s teachings,
if applied, to relieve suffering of all kinds, including the suffering of
Diagnosed with the Human Condition: Mary’s Story
Formal Buddhist practice took the recovery program I had
developed through the 12 steps and my own experience and sharpened it to a
precision edge. Ideas that were partially formed before, such as staying in the
now and being with life as it unfolded, came into focus and were outlined and
delineated in such a way that I couldn’t imagine this practice not being a part
of recovery or of my life. These practices became tools to use to continue the
journey. I had been floundering for a few years, and now, finally, the path had
been opened. And the work was just beginning.
I have hit wall after wall in practice. Daily meditation and
extended periods on retreat have helped melt the barriers that
self-preservation built. For the first time, I started to look at the impact my
early years had on me, and, through meditation, I was able to sit and begin to
see how those experiences conditioned me in a way that I could not have seen
otherwise. I had spent my whole life in my head. I kept turning to food or
drugs or alcohol to keep the pain away. With meditation I allowed the feelings
to arise and learned to be quiet with them. For so many years I had listened to
the stories in my head, and although I knew they were false and I tried to
power my way through them, I couldn’t.
Occasionally I had breakthroughs where the experience moved
from the mind to the heart, but here were tools I could use specifically to address
my recovery. Not just recovery from my physical addictions, but tools to enable
me to heal at a deeper level. The walls I put in place began to dissolve with
the patient application of mindfulness. The willingness to look at what arose
inside, whether it matched the story in my head or not, was the effort the
Buddha talked about that was necessary for liberation.
The Buddha taught that we don’t get out of this life without
pain, but I had spent my whole life avoiding it. I was diagnosed with the human
condition and finally was able to turn and face the pain. The grasping for
something out there to fix me was never going to work. Turning inside to heal
is where the practice occurs. The first healing was internal. I learned it was
not self-indulgent to bring compassion to your own experience. In fact, it was
the answer. Not lame, but strong. Oh, who knew? Grief, anger, and shame saw the
light of day for the first time, and I welcomed them.
But this is not a practice that promises instant
gratification or permanent bliss. As I continue to live and breathe and stay
willing, mindfulness and effort allow more insights. I hit another wall a few
years later and found that the old ideas of self were still strong. They still
kept me from connecting with others. I went into therapy to help me clearly see
what was keeping me from other people. Another wall came down.
Nothing in my past has changed. Nothing about my story has
changed. What has changed is my ability to see the habitual patterns of
thinking that kept me suffering, dissatisfied or stressed, or off-kilter—or
however you want to translate dukkha. My perception of the facts is
ever-shifting. My ideas are dissolving. The practice requires a continual
effort to feel whatever arises in each moment. Continued focus on each moment
requires more and more subtlety and feeling of each moment. “What is this?”
becomes the question of the moment, every moment. And the new response is
kindness rather than a search for a way out of the present, however justified
it may seem at the moment. It’s okay to receive a diagnosis that reads, “Human
condition.” In fact, it’s the only response that allows the connection with
others I didn’t even know I was missing.
Today, I continue the work on the path and I continue to
uncover my heart’s true nature as I cultivate a mind-body connection that
responds to life with love and compassion. The judgmental and belittling voices
still show up, but I say hello and let them continue on their way. I now feel
ease and comfort while experiencing life as it unfolds, along with a deep
knowing that drinking or drugging or eating or anything will not fix what’s not
Adapted from Refuge Recovery: A Buddhist Path to
Recovering from Addiction, by Noah Levine. © 2014 by Noah Levine. With permission
of HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.
The Poison Tree: How to Transform Anger in 4 Steps (September 2014)
Shambhala Sun | September 2014
The Poison Tree:
How to Transform Anger in 4 Steps
Using the traditional metaphor of the poison tree, JUDY LIEF teaches us four Buddhist
techniques to work with our anger.
Buddhist psychology, anger is one of the six root kleshas, the conflicting
emotions that cause our suffering. Its companions are greed, ignorance,
passion, envy, and pride.
Anger can be white hot or freezing cold. Anger can be turned
outward to other people, to a particular situation you are stuck with, or to
life in general. It can be turned inward, in the form of self-hatred,
resentment, or rejection of those parts of yourself that embarrass you or make
you feel vulnerable. Anger can cause you to kill; it can lead you to commit
Anger is fueled by the impulse to reject, to push away, to
destroy. It is associated with the hell realm, a state of intense pain and
claustrophobia. That quality of claustrophobia or being squeezed into a corner
is also reflected in the origins of the English word anger, whose root means
“narrow” or “constricted.”
Anger can be extremely energetic. You feel threatened and
claustrophobic, and that painful feeling intensifies until you lash out like a
cornered rat. Or it can manifest as a subtle simmering of resentment that you
carry along with you always, like a chip on your shoulder.
Like the other kleshas, anger is a part of our makeup. We
all have it, but we deal with it very differently, both as individuals and
Because the experience of anger is so potent, we usually try
to get rid of it somehow. One way we try to get rid of it is to stuff it or
suppress it, because we are embarrassed to acknowledge or accept that we could
be feeling that way. Another way we try to get rid of our anger is by
impulsively acting out through violent words or actions, but that only feeds
Since anger is a natural part of us, we cannot really get
rid of it, no matter how hard we try. However, we can change how we relate to
it. When we do, we begin to glimpse a quality hidden within this destructive
force that is sane and valuable. We can save the baby while we throw out the
In Buddhism there are many strategies and practices for
dealing with anger. The overall approach is to start with meditation. In the
context of formal sitting practice we can begin to understand the energy of
anger, as well as the other kleshas, and to make a new relationship with it. On
that basis, we can begin to apply this insight in the more challenging
environment of day-to-day living.
How Mindfulness Undermines Aggression
The formal practice of mindfulness is the foundation for
exploring the powerful energy of anger. It is hard to deal with anger once it
has exploded, which is why meditation practice is such a helpful tool. By
slowing down, and by refining our observational powers, we can catch the
arising of anger at an earlier stage, before it has a chance to overtake us
The practice of sitting still, breathing naturally, and
looking attentively at one’s moment-by-moment experience is in and of itself an
antidote to aggression. This is true because anger and other emotional
outbursts thrive on being unseen. They thrive on the ability to lurk below the
surface of our awareness and pop up whenever they please. So extending the boundary
of your awareness takes away the natural habitat that sustains the kleshas.
Through meditation, we learn to tune in to what we are
feeling and observe that experience with dispassion and sympathy. The more we
can do that in formal mindfulness practice, the less under anger’s iron grip we
will be. In turn, the more chance we will be able to transform our relationship
to anger in the midst of daily life as well.
Where does anger arise? It is in the mind. So by taming the
mind we can establish a strong base for understanding how anger arises in us
and how we habitually respond to it. We can see how anger spreads and settles
in our body, and how it triggers formulaic dramas about blame and hurt. We can
expose our conceptual constructs about anger, our justifications,
defensiveness, and cover-ups. On that basis we can go further using the
The Poison Tree: A 4-Step Anger Practice
One traditional analogy for a progressive, step-by-step
approach to dealing with anger and the other kleshas is the poison tree.
How do you deal with a poison tree? The first thing you
might do is prune it, to keep it from getting too large or from spreading. But
that just keeps it under control. The tree is still there.
However, once the tree is a more manageable size, it might
be possible to dig it up and get rid of it completely, which seems to be a
slightly better approach.
But just as you are about to do that, you may remember that
a doctor once told you that this tree’s leaves and bark have medicinal qualities.
You realize that it doesn’t make sense simply to get rid of that tree. It would
be better to make use of it.
Finally, according to this story, a peacock comes along,
notices the tree, and without further ado, happily gobbles it up. The peacock
instantly converts that poison into food.
1. Pruning the Tree: Refraining from Indulging in Anger
The first step is to refrain from speech and actions based
on anger. When anger arises, it has usually already taken us over by the time
we notice it. The intensity of the emotion and our reaction to it are so tied
as to feel almost simultaneous. We are desperate to do something with this
anger, either to feed it or to suppress it.
In this step, we refrain from doing anything, no matter how
strong the urge to do so may be. The practice is to stay with the experience of
anger. We begin on the boundary, with the second-thought level, where we are
tempted to add fuel to the flame or try to stomp it out and get rid of it. The
practice is to engage in neither of those two strategies. It is to be with our
anger without interpreting it or strategizing.
Our reactions tend to be so strong and immediate that
initially we may not really get to the anger itself. But as our reactivity
becomes less heavy-handed, a small, almost miniscule gap opens up between our
anger and our reaction. In that gap it is possible for us to be with the anger
and at the same time refrain from being caught up in it. We can relate to our
anger more purely and simply, without second thoughts.
2. Uprooting the Tree: Seeing Through Anger’s Apparent
Once we are able to be with anger with more openness and
less judgment, the second step is to look at it more precisely.
When anger arises, we examine it. We ask questions. To what
do we attach the label “anger”? Is it a sense perception, a thought, or a
feeling? How real is it? How invincible? Is it still? Is it moving? When we try
to pin it down, does it slip away? Where does it come from? Where does it live?
Where does it go? What are its qualities? Its texture? Its color? Its shape?
What gives anger its power over us?
In this step we examine anger as a simple phenomenon. Where
is the anger coming from? What is it aimed at? Is it our fault or is it the
fault of someone or something else?
Look as directly as you can. What are anger’s roots? What is
feeding it? Go level by level, deeper and deeper. Can you find its root cause?
3. Distilling the Medicine: Uncovering Wisdom in the
Midst of Pain
In the third step we contemplate what it is about anger that
is harmful and what might be of benefit. How could anger possibly be a form of
medicine? If we got rid of our anger what would be lost?
Here the practice is to discern the difference between
harmful anger and anger that benefits in some way. Clearly, the mindless
expression of anger through words or deeds leads us to harm others and suffer
harm ourselves. Yet repressing our anger also causes harm. The anger doesn’t
actually go away but shows up in devious ways, wearing a disguise. So is there
According to Tibetan Buddhism, there is a flip side to
anger: there is wisdom in it. Normally we are too caught up in our personal
struggles to connect with this wisdom, but anger actually has an integrity and
a sharpness. It is a messenger that something is wrong, that something needs to
be addressed. Anger’s awakened energy is said to be crystal clear, like a
perfect mirror. It tells it like it is with no dissembling. Anger clears the
air. It is immediate, and it is abrupt, but it grabs our attention and gets the
point across. Anger interrupts our complacency and mobilizes us to take action.
When we encounter injustice being done to another, when we
see violence inflicted on innocent beings, when we see the ways that humans
justify almost any crazy act of violence, it is heartbreaking and makes us
angry. So anger could be the catalyst that causes us to act with courage and
compassion to address violence, injustice, and entrenched ignorance. And the
more clearly we see such tendencies in the world around us, the more we come to
recognize within us traces of these same tendencies to violence and
dissembling. So anger has the power to strip the screens from our eyes, to cut
through our ignorance and avoidance of harsh realities.
The destructive force of anger is real and apparent. In
addressing its destructive force, we practiced restraint in the first step and
we began to see through anger’s apparent solidity in the second. Now we are
working with the wisdom potential of anger.
In fact, it may not be the anger itself but our tendency to
hold on to our anger and its accompanying story line and self-absorption that
is so harmful. When anger awakens us to a real problem that must be addressed,
we can respond by wallowing in the anger and feeling good about ourselves for
doing so. Or we can actually listen to whatever message that anger is bringing
to us, while at the same time dropping the messenger. Then we can deal with
what has been exposed to us by anger’s clear mirror.
4. The Peacock: Engaging Anger Without Fear or Hesitation
The final step is not actually a further practice, but more
the result or fruition of mastering the other three steps. We continue to
practice refraining from impulsive displays of anger, seeing through the
apparent solidity of anger, and opening to the messages anger brings without
clinging to the messenger. When we can do all that with ease, we may finally
begin to be able to make use of anger as a tool or skillful means. If anger is
called for and would be useful, we are not afraid to apply it. And when
destructive anger does arise, we are not seduced, nor do we run away from it.
We gobble it up on the spot. Not a trace remains.
Buddhist teacher Judy Lief is the author of Making
Friends with Death and the editor of many works by her teacher Chögyam
Trungpa Rinpoche, including the recent Profound Treasury of the Ocean of
About a Poem Willis Barnstone on Baudelaire’s “Our White House” (September 2014)
Shambhala Sun | September 2014
About a Poem
Willis Barnstone on Baudelaire’s “Our White House”
Our White House
Outside the city I have not forgot
Our white house, small but in a peaceful lot,
Her chipped Pomona and her old Venus
In a skimpy grove hiding their bare bust,
And twilight sun both dazzling and superb
Behind the pane where its immense eye burned
Wide open, and the intense curious
Pondered our long silent meals and the eye
Of sun mirrored in candlelight to merge
On frugal tablecloth and curtain serge.
Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867) is often called the father of
modern poetry. A drunk, a sinner, and a street stroller, he was also an
impeccably dressed dandy and an unusually courteous gentleman. He was sentenced
to prison for a year for his “obscene” writing, specifically his series of
poems alluding sympathetically to Sappho and her lesbian friends, but the
sentence was commuted. Baudelaire wrote about the lowest ranks of society—the
beggars, the blind, and the freezing prostitutes and sneak thieves on winter
streets. A master of sonorous prosody, he rendered many poems hard to forget.
In “Our White House,” the poet speaks as a city man, off to
the country to visit his maternal refuge, probably on a Sunday evening.
Baudelaire’s twice-widowed mother, whom he adored, was Caroline Archenbaut
Defayis Aupick. She angered him by not turning over all his inherited estate,
but her prudence ultimately guaranteed him a lifetime allowance to carry him
through the years. They also fought because she didn’t approve of his “black
Venus,” Jeanne Duval, on whom he lavished moneys he didn’t possess, and because
of his dissolute ways that led to his early death. But his mother was loyal to
him and his art, and he died in her arms in hospital. Then in her remaining
years, she devoted her life to editing his work and enhancing his name, making
him the most fabled poet in the French language. In many ways Baudelaire was
closer to his mother than to any other person, as we may observe in their
silent dinner in this short poem.
The first lines reveal Baudelaire’s nostalgia for their
modest house with rundown neo-classical statues. Our white house is peaceful,
he states. “Her chipped Pomona and her old Venus” and the skimpy trees are a
sorrowful patch of nature. But then, the poet declares the grandeur and beauty
of the sun and intimately humanizes the heavens, speaking of the “curious sky.”
He also reveals the material setting of the table, citing the “frugal
tablecloth.” The poem ends not with drapes made of linen, cotton, or silk, but
cheap serge curtains.
The power in the poem resides in its understatement.
Baudelaire is writing a poem about his mother’s house, which is also about him
and his mother and their full relationship. To do so he paints the sun and sky,
the garden, the table, and the candlelight of intimacy, and only then does he
yield one key personal phrase: “our long silent meals.” The voyeur sun
witnesses the scene.
On a personal note, Baudelaire is a French poet I’ve been
attached to since my student years in Paris. One afternoon in my room on la rue
Jacob, a young woman, whom I’d seen for only a few moments at a cafe, came to
the door with the unexpected gift of a pre-war leather-bound edition of
Baudelaire’s poems, and then she left. I now take this same volume to France
each summer and, though the Baudelaire corpus of poetry is not large, I never
finish reading it.
Willis Barnstone’s many books include The Restored
New Testament, The Gnostic Bible, and the volume of poetry Moonbook and
Sunbook. He lives in Oakland, California.
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