Staying Through the Storm

by Kino MacGregor

Confrontation is a grey zone on the spiritual path. Should you fight your way out of a defeatist victim-mentality? Or should you take a few breathes to ventilate your hostility before taking your inner rage out on your fellow freeway drivers? When is it appropriate to stick up for yourself & when is it time to quietly wait out the storm?

Anger, whether my own or someone else’s, has always been challenging for me. I remember the shock of experiencing the seething kind of backlash that years of unexpressed boundaries can bring about, and then, realizing that my anger was just that: mine. No matter how awful the situation, how many friends agree, how righteous you are, how indignant or cynical you become, no matter how grand and tragic the loss, whatever emotions you feel are always your responsibility. You always have a choice about how you respond to life.

The basic teaching of spiritual practice is to find yourself in the midst of your greatest challenge and stay. In moments where you find anger arising, try closing your eyes, reconnecting with your breathe & staying with the experience of you. See how it goes. What does this do? It at least breaks the cycle of adding fuel to the fire in the midst of a full-blown blaze. It at least gives you a little pause in an otherwise very sticky situation. It at least gives you an extra moment to find the strength to choose an enlightened action over the pattern of aggressively acting out, escaping into pleasure, or numbing-out in denial.

There is magic in staying with what Tibetan teacher Pema Chodron calls “the places that scare you”. For in those truly empowering moments you bear witness to the law of impermanence. Whatever aries in your experience, no matter how solid and sticky, will change. All emotions flow if we don’t hold onto them. Sooner or later, the seemingly solid righteousness of anger yields and gives way to the soft, forgiveness of peace and understanding. The greatest storm will pass and the sun will rise again another day.

Albert einstein says that you cannot solve a problem from the same level of thinking that created it. And so it is. Anger cannot create peace. Itching the scab that started the whole conflagration won’t end it. A middle way exists for this tempting emotion as well. The powerful choice to stay gives you the opportunity to create the space of transformation in your life today.

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