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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 through me.

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




From the September 2014 Shambhala Sun magazine. To see what else is in this issue, click here.

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