Anger: My way to the eightfold path

Like fine dust thrown against the wind, evil falls back upon that fool who offends an inoffensive, pure and guiltless man

– Dhammapada 125

It has been a while since I posted on my blog. I have been visiting dear friends and I have been doing a lot of positive things over the past couple of weeks and months, often leading to beautiful insights and insipring conversations which have all contributed to an enormous wave of positivity which is currently fuelling my daily life. I am very grateful and very thankful for all of this. Because of this positivity I am feeling a lot stronger. I have been confronted with my borderline personality disorder and I feel like I have made a lot of progress again. I now finally feel confident to write about the theme ‘anger’, something I have been waiting to do since I started blogging.

The first clear indication of psychological problems in my life has been an extreme anger-attack, which I haven’t consciously experienced. I just blacked out and came to surrounded by police officers, a traumatising experience. I had been living with a lot of repressed feelings and problems back then, going back to bullying in elementary and high school. From that point onward, whenever I was confronted with powerlessness or impotence I erupted into a state of uncontrollable anger, pure aggression which always led to destruction. I have tried to explain a bit about these anger-attacks before. They were very vicious attacks of extreme anger over which I had no mental nor physical control. I did see myself, kind of like a bystander, floating outside of my body, screaming at myself to stop at the top of my lungs. Still, I could not respond, only watch and feel guilty later, fuelling a guilt-complex and an idea of utter failure in life. This in turn was the beginning of a negative spiral, leading me to the conclusion that life had become worthless and there was no point of living on like this. I believed that whatever I would do, in the end it would always bring about something negative.

Hole
A partially patched up hole I punched in a solid door. A silent witness to my anger

The anger attacks became more intense and frequent over time and I asked for professional help. They were then ascribed to a psychological disorder with many symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress. As you may have noticed, I am writing in the past tense. This means that I have  learned to (largely) control my anger. Insight gained from the Buddhist Dharma has been a keystone in the process. It took many months of therapy, meditation and individual Dharma study in order to overcome mental obstacles, so the teachings of the Buddha were able to seep into my mind and lead to change. The Noble Eightfold Path was the answer, just like the Buddha said, but sound therapy was the tool I needed to clear my mind. I’ll try to explain how.

My anger attacks started shortly after my mother had been admitted to the pshychiatric ward in the local hospital, suffering from severe depressions and a bi-polar disorder. At first I partially  overcame my aggression by attending psychotherapy and soon I found my way to martial arts. I joined a krav maga class where I met other people suffering from similar conditions and I forged new friendships there. Krav maga changed my way of life and I will be forever grateful toward my teacher(s) and the inspiring people I have met at my gym. Martial arts provided me with a better physical health, self-confidence and many other insights which would prove to be crucial later on in life. Slowly, I started to understand that I was only able to help myself through insight, so I turned to the Buddhist Dharma.

breakup

Eventually, in 2014, I ran into a break-up in a relationship that somehow completely broke me again. Deep in my heart I loved this girl too much (if loving too much is possible). Thich Nhat Hanh has written that falling in love is literally a kind of falling, you fall and lose your freedom if you let the internal formations and emotions run unchecked. That way, it becomes an ultimate expression of attachment and thus suffering. Immediately after the break-up the anger attacks started to return in full force, more violent than ever. I fell. Hard. I did my utmost best not to turn them against living beings, so I turned on the furniture and everything I could get my hands on, including myself. It was pure, unbridled destructive hatred which I unleashed, which becomes a volatile cocktail when mixed with self-destructive tendencies. I have sustained many injuries in the process by hitting objects full force, punching through glass or sueezing breakable objects. In a sudden panic attack I stabbed myself with a piece of glass. I confronted the authorities and fought those who love me. I instilled fear in my loved ones and those who witnessed me. My closest friends and family feared for my life. I shunned society and the outside world in order not to create chaos and to prevent ending up in fights. I felt like a monster. It is still very confronting and hard to write about these things. I want to share them. This is the right time.

Four years after I had started martial arts I had to abandon them temporarily, as they somehow taught my unconscious mind that aggression in some cases will be rewarded. Furthermore, I was able to use my training to keep myself in check, but when I lost control my training turned me into a weapon. Without the proper mental constraint, I was not able to master my anger physically and thus I became very dangerous. The strange thing is that I have always held a certain respect for firearms. I grew up in a hunting family and I have always been taught to have respect for a firearm. I would never, not even subconsciously, use a firearm in anger. Some subconscious mental constructions lingered in my mind, giving me a slight degree of control. I struggled on for about a year and then I learned I was suffering from a Borderline Personality Disorder. Finally I could name my physical vulnerability. Finally I was able to find the proper kind of therapy and the first problem at hand was tackling these vicious anger-attacks.

He who checks rising anger as a charioteer checks a rolling chariot, him I call a true charioteer. Others only hold the reins

– Dhammapada 222

Buddhism contains a lot of insights about the futility of anger. In Buddhism, anger is one of the main causes of suffering, the so-called five hindrances. Many Buddhist scholars have written about the subject including Thich Nhat Hanh’s ‘Anger: Buddhist Wisdom for dousing the Flames,’ a book that provided me with simple and clear insights. I tried to apply the lessons I have learned from the Buddha’s teachings, but there was a lot of chaos and confusion in my head and I often failed to apply the lessons learnt. The important thing here, which has been stressed by Buddhist scholars and the Buddha himself is to understand that the dharma is a journey, not a goal. Every time you fall, acknowledge it. Stand back up again and try again. That applies to many things in life. Eventually, by beaing mindful of your actions and trying to apply the lessons again, you will gain more insight and you will refine your mind. The teachings by then will come to you naturally. Just don’t give up and never think that you have failed. There is no thing as failure or success if you stay mindful. You can only learn or you and grow by your actions and gain more insight, as long as you are willing to do so. The only way to truly fail is to give up life. Life is the most precious gift there is, since only through your life can you access your mind and your mind is the only way to experience and understand the world.

Before I could learn to understand my mind and love myself again, I first needed professional help. I couldn’t do it alone. There were a lot of deformed mental constructions in my head, which gave me a false view of myself and my place in the world, obscuring reality and truth. You can compare it to Plato’s cave, seeing only the shadows of the real world, but never truly understanding them (Plato’s philosophical thought often overlaps with that of the Buddha). Another comparison is being caught in a mirror-maze in which some mirrors are glass panes from which you can see the outside world, though most of the time, you will just see a distorted image of yourself. Therapy was a guideline to reach the exit of the cave or the mirror-maze.

Platos CaveCat in Mirror Maze

My therapy is still ongoing. I attend one-on-one psychotherapy sessions with my psychologist. Through therapy I have learned to understand the workings of my conscious mind and the mental constructions I had formed unknowingly in my head. My therapist helped me identify my thought-patterns and the obstacles they created. We analysed my habits and he made me walk into a lot of glass walls, confronting me head-on with my inner demons and repressed ideas. It is always very tireing, but it shows me how I think, or rather thought. Buddhism helps me to gain insight into my subconscious mind through studying the dharma and reflecting upon it while meditating. It brings me back to the teachings of the dharma and the way in which I apply them to my life. By practicing and just keep practicing, the dharma is slowly becoming second nature. Somehow, somewhere, a few weeks ago a switch was flipped in my head during therapy, shortly after my last relationship failed this year. I was totally mindful of my actions and thoughts. I felt freed from my mental (de)formations, freed from anger! The mist on my personal eightfold path cleared and the path was clear again. I have never felt better!

I have let go of a pre-defined image of who I should be or the concept of what life should look like. There is no envy or jealousy, nor is there a feeling of failure or incompetence. I don’t mirror myself on others too much and I have learned not to adhere to titles, fame or  anything like that. I am who I am and I can only understand myself through my own mind.Buddhist scholar Bhadantācariya Buddhaghosa who lived in the 5th century said that anger is like grasping onto a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone (or something) else. In the end, it is you who gets burned. I have always taken this allegory to heart. How did I master my anger? By letting the dharma seep into my mind. By practicing, again and again and again.Anger has been my way to better understanding the dharma and the Noble Eightfold Path.

On the way I learned a few invaluable lessons from Buddhism that somehow have helped me immensely to overcome my anger, which I want to share with you before wrapping this entry up:

  • I always thought I was pretty fearless. Since I have leraned to understand that death is the only certainty in life, what else is there to fear? Fear however is one of the roots of ignorance (the ability to not see things fro what they truly are). It is a main cause of panic and anger. Learn to acknowledge your fears and learn how to face them. Therapy, sports, associations and true friends may all be able to help you here.
  • Anger is never a solution. Thich Nhat Hanh compares anger to a fire in a burning house. The angrier you become, the more you fuel the flames. If you run away however, the flames will consume the house. The only way to douse the flames is by confronting yourself and finding the root of your anger in order to calm yourself. Otherwise, anger will only lead to destruction.
  • In the words of Star Wars’master Yoda: Fear leads to anger, anger leats to hate, hate leads to suffering.
  • Anger is just an emotion and like all other emotions and things it is perishable and will go away.
  • Don’t feel too guilty in life. If you break something, turn it into compost in your mind and use it to grow something new.
  • Venting anger through hitting objects, shouting or ‘getting it out of your system’ is giving in to anger, it is rehearsing anger and training aggression. Instead, you need to train body and mind through peaceful activities. I is possible to combine mastering aggression and the mind through through sports like traditional martial arts, bowmanship, shooting, running, climbing, paintball/airsoft, bodyweight fitness etcetera.
  • Go outside and take a walk. Confront yourself with the world. Walking or running will create dopamine, a hormone that makes you feel better. My therapist told me that vitamin D, which we create as a reaction on sunlight, is the best anti-depressant.
  • Animals are a good indicator of anger and they may try to help you calm down by giving you a feeling of love and understanding. Think of service-dogs helping people with mental and physical problems or cuddling a cat (a non-aggressice one that is!).

This blog entry is just a version of how I overcame anger. It may not be perfectly clear, but if you have questions I will gladly answer them for you. Dear reader, that you may never become a victim of anger. Learn to defend yourself against it physically and mentally. Thank you for reading my story. I hope I have inspired you in some way and once again: if you have any questions or remarks, share them or ask me about them. Reflection is always a way forward. Stay strong and stay mindful!

 

 

 

 

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