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