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Inside the September 2014 Shambhala Sun magazine Print

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:

All the Rage

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 Angry Buddha

The buddhas are angry about the suffering of samsara. Melvin McLeod on the enlightened power of no.


• The Poison Tree: How to Transform Anger in 4 Steps

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. 


• How RAIN Cools the Flames of Anger

Emily Horn teaches us how to recognize, accept, investigate, and not identify with our anger.  


• Abandon Hope & Other Surprising Slogans to Help You Handle Anger

Zen teacher Norman Fischer applies five surprising mind-training slogans to anger and other strong emotions


• There Is a Path that Frees Us from Suffering

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.  


• Is Nothing Something?

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.  


• A Refuge from Addiction

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.  


• On Track with Paul Newman

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. 

other voices

• Obstacles on the Path

In meditation, you can’t just pretend obstacles aren’t there, says Sakyong Mipham. You have to relate to them.  


• Buddhists Betray the Teachings

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.  


• Nothing Special 

No one wants to be just another person in a world of seven billion people. Geri Larkin on what happened when she embraced being ordinary.

reviews & more

• Books in Brief

This issue’s roundup features books by Tom Robbins, Peter Matthiessen, Nyanaponika Thera, and more.

• About a Poem

Willis Barnstone on “Our White House,” by Charles Baudelaire

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

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All the Rage (Editorial; September 2014) Print

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.

A Refuge from Addiction (September 2014) Print

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 to recovery.

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 other ways.

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 addiction:

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 integrity.

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 principles. 

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 harmful behaviors. 

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 recovery.

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 practice: 

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 effort?


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 Refuge Recovery.

“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 addiction.”


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 broken.

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.

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

The Poison Tree: How to Transform Anger in 4 Steps (September 2014) Print

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.

According to 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 suicide.

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 culturally.

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 more anger.

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 bathwater.

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 completely.

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 following practice.


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 Solidity

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 another option?

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 Dharma.

Read the rest of this article inside the September 2014 Shambhala Sun magazine. To see what else is in this issue, click here.

About a Poem Willis Barnstone on Baudelaire’s “Our White House” (September 2014) Print

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 sky               

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.

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

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