Is it just me, or does it seem like anger and righteous indignation is the default state of things in our world? I’d go so far as to say that in some circles, the attitude is that if you aren’t raging against the machine in some way, then there is something wrong with you.
I can’t imagine that this is good for us.
Now, granted, there is a lot for us to be mad about. But hasn’t that always been the case? I know what some of you are thinking, “Yeah, but there has never been a time when ___ (fill in the blank with whatever it is you are hopping made about at the moment).
And you may be right. But unfettered anger ultimately leads to some very dark places on a personal level, which is why I think Jesus warned us about it in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:21ff).
In the contemplative tradition, there is a wonderful practice known as “dispassion” that can help.
In the third century, a Greek Father named Maximos the confessor wrote to his fellow monks, “The intellect of a man who enjoys the love of God does not fight against things or their conceptual images. It battles against the passions that are linked with these images. It does not, for example, fight against a woman or against a man who has offended it, or even against the images it forms of them. But it fights against the passions that are linked with those images.” Philokalia (Skylight Paths, p. 147).
In other words, to find peace in the middle of all the things you are mad about, you must learn to separate the passion (feelings of anger, indignation, frustration, helplessness) from the object (person, injustice, cause).
I know, this is sounding a little weird. But let me break it down with a practical example.
Imagine sitting by a river of thoughts. An image floats by. Something you can’t forgive. It wants you to experience fear, pain, or anger. It demands that you lash out, vent, do something passive aggressive, or aggressive aggressive. And you feel you must, because, that’s what is deserved by the perpetrator.
Except this time, you see the thought for what it is. Simply a thought. And though in the past this has clutched onto you and forced you to relive the experience prompting fear, pain, or anger. This time, you are not its victim. This time, it has no power over you. For this moment, you are simply an observer, and you place the thought back in the river and let it float by.
There are entire books written about this, and I’m oversimplifying it. And it’s a skill that takes time to develop. But for many, it is one way to gradually and ever so slowly…