The Art of Window Cleaning
Charles Hogg presents the methods to see the specialities in the self and others
In every street there is a Mrs. Judgement and a Mrs. Honesty. One day Mrs. Honesty decided to visit Mrs. Judgement. As soon as Mrs. Honesty arrived, Mrs. Judgement began to complain about her new neighbours, a family of foreigners.
“She is a terrible housekeeper”, said Mrs. Judgement, “you should see how dirty her children are... and as for her house! It is almost a disgrace to be living in the same neighbourhood. Just take a look at the clothes she has hung on the line, see the black streaks on the sheets and towels.
Mrs. Honesty walked up to the window to look, “Actually the clothes are quite clean, my dear. The streaks are on your window!”
Like Mrs. Judgement, how often am I deceived by my own dirty windows into projecting my own ‘misjudgements’ externally, fully convinced that I am seeing the truth? The original seed of misjudgement colours everything I see, so each interaction with my neighbours reinforces my attitude. Until a Mrs. Honesty arrives. Only then do I look closely at my eye-windows. As I begin the process of cleaning the dirt from the outside of my windows I notice something interesting. There is also dirt on the inside. The dirt outside is the product of external influences, atmospheres, opinions and attitudes. The inside dirt is of past experiences, perceptions and assumptions unconsciously colouring my vision.
Just stop for a minute, and reflect on the feelings of judgement and self-righteousness that arise in you, as in all of us. We are aware that these feelings leave us more separate, more isolated, more frightened. And yet within all of us we have the great voice of the critic or the judge. Everyone is on trial. Whether we verbalise our judgmental thoughts or keep them for our own private consumption, others do feel their effect. Reflect again on their opposite. Remember the feelings of forgiveness or understanding. Remember how you wish to be treated when you have made a mistake. Remember how you felt when you let go of someone’s past and offered them a fresh start. Just imagine the healing in relationships if I have the humility to let go of judgement.
My grandmother died a few years ago at the age of ninety-four. During her life she spent only one day in the hospital—at the age of ninety-two to have a cataract removed. She had a healthy, happy life and was loved by all. During one of my last visits, it occurred to me that much of her obvious contentment came from her ability to always tune into the good in others. They responded to her with the same feelings. In a natural way it created a life of giving and taking love. It seems there is a terrible price we pay for the eyes of judgement and criticism. We lose precious love from other hearts.
How do I feel when I see the specialities of others? I feel good about myself. How do I feel when I see my own specialities? Even better. But is it easy? Many times I have taken part in workshops where all participants are asked to make a list of their positive qualities and also a list of weaknesses they would like to change. The list of weaknesses is easy, but when it comes to strengths, almost all of us find it difficult to write even a few. Can I say I really know myself? Often what we write down are talents and skills, what I do or what I have learned, rather than those character traits that are unique to me.
How do I discover my specialities?
Try an experiment. Close your eyes and gently drift beyond your body. Now through your mind’s eye look back at yourself. As an observer of the person sitting below what do you see? What are your specialities? Think deeply about your inner motives, how you treat others, the things you value most. A list of specialities will begin to grow. Don’t just leave them as one word. Expand on them so the depth of your specialities is revealed.
An interesting thing can happen as you go through this process. Perhaps a little guilt or embarrassment enters: “Am I deluding myself? Has my ego taken over?” Somehow we have created in-built barriers that do not allow us to enjoy self-appreciation. Common sense tells me, if I can’t see the specialities in myself it is almost impossible to see them in others. My in-built barrier emanates from a deep lack of self-worth that tells me that I have no value. Breaking through this barrier is at the heart of the spiritual process. As I set myself free from this inner paralysis, my own intrinsic goodness becomes naturally apparent. Not only do my strengths become apparent, but my vision on my weaknesses is one of compassion. I am freed from the jail of hopelessness. I can change!
When I lack love and respect for myself, it manifests externally as arrogant disapproval of others’ weaknesses and mistakes. My own flagging self-respect is bolstered through dwelling on the weaknesses of others. A friend of mine worked as a news reporter for one of the main TV networks in
How many new philosophies and technologies appear on the market each year trying to encourage leaders and managers to improve their game? I feel the most powerful tool of any leader is positive vision towards those he or she is working with. Here positive vision means an inner attitude of trust and respect, and acknowledging the specialities of colleagues. If people receive a double message; what they hear being different from what they feel, they will always trust their feelings. In other words, I can’t hide my inner attitude. If I carry mental criticism of those I live or work with, no matter how much I verbally encourage them they will never fully trust me. If I see the specialities of those around me it is a natural form of empowerment.
In learning the art of seeing specialities in others we need to apply the first Law of Spirituality, which says we are responsible for our own experiences; if I see the negative in others I feel unhappy; if I see the positive I feel happy. It is up to me to decide. To justify the way we feel we have become highly skilled at the Art of Blame. It is a skill we have refined over a long time to escape our conscience. The Media often seems to encourage this skill by glorifying intelligence as the ability to analyse weaknesses in others. With calculated intent the character of another is pulled apart. We learn this skill and pass it onto others. The great irony of the whole process is that I become the target. I am deeply hurt. We forget another Law of Spirituality, that of cause and effect. I will reap the fruit of my attitudes. It makes it even more important to consciously educate myself to see the specialities in the self and others.
It is often hardest to see the specialities in those I am familiar with: my family, friends and work colleagues. Below are some exercises that have helped me improve the Art of Window Cleaning.
Exercise 1 Virtue Inventory
In my diary I keep one section where I write the names of those closest to me. During a working day or at home when I notice a speciality or I learn something from someone, I make a note of it in my diary. It is like an inventory of their good qualities, and it can help me at a later date. When I become influenced by one of their negative qualities I can then refer to my diary and rectify the balance. I am reminded of the good in the other and not consumed by their mistake or temporary weakness.
Exercise 2 Acting not Reacting
If there is a person who has certain personality traits that upset or disturb me, I make that person my teacher. Why? Because their company will make me change. They make me aware of my own negative reactions. They teach me to act and not react.
Exercise 3 Editing my Memory Tape
Before going to bed I replay the day’s activities on the video of my mind. If I am carrying negative feelings towards someone let me resolve them by forgiving that person from my heart. I don’t only erase the negative feelings, but edit in something positive, so I consciously remember a speciality of that person, which will remain recorded in my sub-conscious. I then go to sleep and wake up much lighter.
Exercise 4 Seeing the Intentions
Another method of learning and holding the specialities of others in my mind is to see the intention and not the action. Sometimes people do make mistakes, or maybe I disapprove of the way they do things. If I focus on the activity then I will get upset. However, if I see a sincere motive, I can maintain an attitude of love or acceptance which will enable me to resolve disagreements respectfully.
Is this kind of thinking a bit naive? Do I see only good and remain blind to the negative? No, the art of seeing specialities means to see both the positive and the negative but then to let go of the negative. Why should I add to the negativity? Let my response to others’ weaknesses be with compassion rather than anger or hatred.
On the path of personal development and spiritual growth, the Art of Window Cleaning is essential.
Charles Hogg is Director of Brahma Kumaris Raja Yoga Centres in
Don’t Take Sorrow!
Sr. Kiran explains the difference between pain and sorrow, why another’s sorrow is not meant for personal consumption and how to avoid making a meal of it!
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” “Judge not, lest ye be judged.”
Having been raised a Christian, the wisdom of the Golden Rule and its derivatives were a big part of my understanding about how one should live one’s life. I also inherited a somewhat dim view of my own worth and a keen sense of my own shortcomings, which meant my worst fear was that criticism and condemnation might be ‘done unto me’. I therefore made special effort to be non-judgmental and forgiving, hoping that would be ‘done unto me’ instead.
Whenever something was done unto me from which I took sorrow, I added it to my inner landscape of low self esteem, for I believed that sorrow was my lot. “Mea culpa” was my subconscious motto. Yet often my immediate feeling was “I don’t deserve this!” Knowing that “as I sowed, so I would have to reap,” I refrained from deliberately giving anyone sorrow in return. However, I was not above silently blaming and cursing the person I thought responsible and secretly wishing them sorrow.
I know that I’m not the only one that does this! How often we button our lips and denounce others in our minds. We accuse and blame through our thoughts while feigning a smile. Or we write the other person off in our ‘book’ and gradually excuse ourselves from keeping their company. We think this doesn’t matter because there’s no ‘hard’ evidence that we’ve actually hurt anyone. We feel justified in our judgment and never consider there may be a price to pay for making it. Most of the time we don’t even realize we’ve made a judgment. Our attitude feels so ‘right’, so correct. When even our close relationships aren’t working very well, we never consider that our own mental attitude has anything to do with it.
My continuing search for wisdom eventually led me beyond the teachings of the Christian faith, beyond forays into many other religious, philosophical and occult studies and onto a more spiritual path on which I have felt at ease for over 27 years. I have learned (and am still learning) that sorrow is not my fundamental lot, but rather a temporary condition which has a beginning and an end. I am gaining an understanding of myself which includes a positive, wholesome vision of my original nature; an understanding which encourages me to accept my shortcomings without negating my value as an individual. Oddly enough, I’ve found that compassionate acceptance of my shortcomings is the prerequisite to moving beyond them.
I wasn’t far along this path before I encountered the slogan, “Don’t give sorrow, don’t take sorrow.” “What strange twist of the Golden Rule was this?” I wondered. The second half of this injunction puzzled me because, whilst I could understand that sorrow would come back to me if I dished it out; whilst I could accept the responsibility of refraining from hurting anyone, I could not grasp how it was possible to avoid taking sorrow. As far as I could see, sorrow just comes unbidden as part of life. I couldn’t see any connection between what I was receiving with what I had done unto others. Isn’t taking sorrow just a natural human condition?
Gradually, two aspects of spiritual knowledge have helped me make sense of the implications of this slogan. The first is a deep understanding of the great Law of Karma, the essence of which is captured in the Golden Rule. I began to realize that even the movement of my thoughts and feelings are subtle actions and reactions, also subject to the Law of Karma.
Gary Zukav, in his groundbreaking book, The Seat of the Soul, explains karma with great clarity:
“Every action, thought, and feeling is motivated by an intention, and that intention is a cause that exists as one with an effect. If we participate in the cause, it is not possible for us not to participate in the effect. In this most profound way, we are held responsible for our every action, thought and feeling, which is to say, for our every intention. We ourselves shall partake of the fruit of our every intention. It is, therefore, wise for us to become aware of the many intentions that inform our experience, to sort out which intentions produce which effects, and to choose our intentions according to the effects that we desire to produce...
Every cause that has not yet produced its effect is an event that has not yet come to completion. It is an imbalance of energy that is in the process of becoming balanced.”
Karma works on the principle of
“Karma is not a moral dynamic. Morality is a human creation. The Universe does not judge. The law of karma governs the balancing of energy within our system of morality and within those of our neighbors. It serves humanity as an impersonal and Universal teacher of responsibility.”
Because it is an “impersonal energy dynamic”, it is not a simplistic balancing that takes place, as in “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” or “tit for tat”. This is why trying to “settle the score” does not work. Trying to get even in this way creates additional karma, or, in Zukav’s terms, “another imbalance of energy which, in turn, must be balanced.”
The second aspect of spiritual knowledge that helps me understand “Don’t give sorrow, don’t take sorrow” is the concept of reincarnation, which says that the karmic, energy-balancing dynamic of my journey as an immortal soul continues over time and through numerous lifetimes. This explains why the connection between an effect and its underlying cause is not often apparent to what Zukav calls “the five-sensory” personality or what could be called the ‘body conscious self’. It also means that everything that goes around eventually does come around, without exception.
When I realized that nothing can escape the law of karma, I became even more careful to suspend judgment and prevent negative emotions from developing towards anyone, regardless of what they might be doing. Now, however, I maintain this caution, not out of fear of what others might do to me, but of what I am doing to myself. Gradually I am coming to accept that any sorrow coming to me is the effect of an event that I myself once set in motion; that I am partaking of the fruit of some past intention of mine.
But then, the question still remains, “How can I not take sorrow?”
First let me distinguish between pain and sorrow. That they are not the same is evidenced by our frequent use of the expression ‘pain and sorrow’. Pain is a signal or symptom that tells us something is wrong, that an imbalance is present, and that there is need of healing. It is not the imbalance or the illness itself.
In our culture, we are conditioned to avoid pain at all costs. This is because we haven’t understood pain. By making the pain go away, whether through drugs, alcohol, venting our anger, workaholism or other dysfunctional behaviors, we are merely treating the symptoms and not the underlying cause of the pain. We are in fact suppressing the pain. Anything suppressed or denied builds up pressure and erupts, usually in some far more serious form, sooner or later. It doesn’t matter whether we are dealing with pain in the body, pain in a relationship, pain between the haves the have-nots, or pain between races or nations.
Sorrow is my emotional reaction to pain. It is the depression which can accompany chronic illness; the grief which accompanies a loss, whether it be the loss of face or the loss of a friend. It is the fear and mistrust which follow the pain of being deceived, the righteous indignation which flares when one is insulted, the anger that follows the discomfort of being manipulated.
Healing begins when I accept the pain. Karma is created when I express the sorrow or other negative emotion that accompanies the pain.
Acceptance of pain doesn’t mean invoking it. Nor does it mean simply tolerating it or bearing up under it. It means making a connection between the pain and its underlying karmic cause. In order to heal, I must allow myself to feel the pain, the hurt, not to dwell on it, but to acknowledge and understand what it is trying to tell me. I can alleviate the pain by taking the pills, by sharing or confiding in someone who cares for me and whom I can trust, by working through and transforming my emotions through meditation, counseling or other positive means. But if I really want to heal, I cannot deny it, escape from it, or rationalize it away. And I most definitely will not heal if I take sorrow from the pain by heaping blame, shame, judgment, guilt, anger and recriminations upon myself or others because of it. For in doing so I’m adding insult to injury, harboring grudges and resentments, and further depleting my spiritual vitality.
I can learn to accept pain and heal my karmic imbalances only when I have a strong sense of my worth or value as a human being. At the deepest, innermost level, the way I think about myself, the regard I hold for myself is what determines my spiritual strength and vitality. In order to heal my karmic imbalances I must not only understand the cause and treatment of the imbalance, I must also know how to strengthen myself as a whole being.
“Wait a second”, you must be thinking. “This is all very well, but, doesn’t the one who hurt me have any responsibility? Do I just become a martyr? Where’s the justice in all this?”
The Law of Karma guarantees that we live in a just universe. I must remember that whoever is wounding me is going to get back what he or she is giving out in equal measure—not from me, but from someone, somewhere. Eventually, he or she will unavoidably experience the sorrow that I am now receiving. But does this knowledge make me happier? Does it give me satisfaction? Do I think, “OK you so and so, you’ll get yours one day!” If it does, then it is as if I am wishing upon the person who wounded me the sorrow that I am feeling. We are volleying pain and sorrow back and forth between us like tennis balls. The sorrow that I am wishing on them is eventually going to land back in my court. A better course of action is compassion. Let me instead think, “May they never have to suffer what I am going through right now.” Let us, like Jesus did, forgive them—for they know not what they do. This intention stops the volley and the game.
A deep understanding of karma can give us a perspective which Zukav calls “non-judgmental justice”. Non-judgmental justice is a perception that allows you to see everything in life, but does not engage your negative emotions. Non-judgmental justice relieves you of the self-appointed job of judge and jury because you know that everything is being seen—nothing escapes the law of karma—and this brings forth understanding and compassion. Non-judgmental justice is the freedom of seeing what you see and experiencing what you experience without responding negatively.
If I do not either give sorrow or take sorrow, what kind of person will I become? OK, maybe I won’t be judgmental, but will I become insensitive to others? Isn’t it important to empathize with another’s pain, to experience it as my own? There is a saying “By sharing happiness, it doubles; by sharing sorrow, it halves.” Does it follow that if we all shared each other’s sorrows there would be less sorrow in the world? Well, no it doesn’t. Let’s be honest. Feeling another’s pain does more to make me feel alive and involved than it does to alleviate that other’s sorrow.
Sometimes I take sorrow from what has happened in the past. I remember it, relive it, regret it, remorse over it. You might think this could itself be a way of balancing the energy, but in fact it further depletes it, because I’m not generating anything positive with my energy in the present. Whatever I need to deal with from the past will come up for me sooner or later in the present, so I don’t need to keep going back into the past to recall it. Many faith traditions speak of the dire consequences of looking back. There are far more positive ways to heal. Just as a sick person can change his or her diet and start an exercise program, so also, I can begin to nurture myself with positive thoughts and feelings, and engage in positive, selfless actions. This is a relatively painless way of redressing even long-term karmic imbalances.
Sometimes I take sorrow from things which are not intended to cause me sorrow. Someone inadvertently does something and I start interpreting the person’s actions and building a case against him or her. Then I ultimately judge/decide the case and render the verdict, “He or she is like this or like that”. Learning to not take sorrow also means learning how to be less sensitive or vulnerable, how to not take things personally.
Sensitivity which reflects an irritable or a delicate, easily offended temperament is a sensitivity rooted in dissatisfaction with the self, in low self-esteem. It is this sensitivity which convinces me that I am a victim, which then robs me of self-awareness, transforms my response-ability into reactiveness and renders me powerless.
So how to not take sorrow? Develop a kind and compassionate relationship with yourself, a solid sense of your own value. Heed the messages in your feelings, learn from your pain, accept responsibility for your karma. Forgive others and send them only good wishes and positive vibrations. Let the past be the past, remain compassionate but unaffected by the pain of others, refrain from taking things personally.
In every tradition there are memories and visions of a world free from sorrow. Have the faith that it will some day be a reality, and that we can bring it into being all the sooner by stopping the give and take of sorrow. Let us resolve to give and take only happiness.
Tips to alleviate pain and stop taking sorrow
- When something hurtful happens, view the pain as a messenger. Notice your emotional reactions and understand them as something which you caused someone to feel in the past. Love the pain for letting you know, and forgive yourself. Send the person who is hurting you love, forgiveness and pure good wishes.
- Be proactive. Be the one who stops the sorrow from going any further. Realize the excellent karmic return that you will create for doing so.
- Don’t dwell on the pain, hurtful remarks, et cetera, i.e. watch your thoughts.
- Don’t hold painful feelings inside. Let them out in a safe environment where they won’t harm you or others. For example, go to the seashore and fling rocks into the ocean, hike up a mountain and wail at the moon. Or confide your troubles to someone whom you can trust to not be affected by what you say, to not gossip to others or to use it against you.
- Get some perspective on your problems by looking at them within a larger framework of reality.
- Let the past be the past.
- Shift the energy! Put on some uplifting music and sing or dance.
- Find something that makes you smile or laugh. Spend some quality time with a child.
- Clean out your room, or a cupboard or the basement. Open the windows, let in light and air.
- Create some good karma: Give and take only happiness.
Sr. Kiran is the Coordinator of the Brahma Kumaris Centre in Eugene,
The Face of Honesty
Sister Mohini holds up a mirror which can provide us all with useful reflection
Sometimes ambition without aim, purpose or clarity can be dangerous. Ambition is fine as long as there is discrimination as to how a desire will affect others. This is real honesty. Honesty is something that neither brings harm to the self nor hurts others.
Most of the time, when we think of values like humility and lightness, thoughts turn to the self; but when we think of honesty, the thought turns outward. Conflict arises when we begin to think that honesty means fulfilling all our own desires. When honesty is understood as bringing satisfaction only to the self, this is not total honesty.
People who are addicted sometimes feel as though they can’t feel the pain. It’s the same with thoughts: there are certain thoughts that are not beneficial for us, but we allow them to continue because we don’t feel the damage these thoughts bring. Honesty is not just being natural, but giving to ourselves what is good and positive.
When a person uses abusive language, they often feel that they are just being ‘frank’. However, this frankness is a form of dishonesty because the person is not only hurting others, but the self as well. The power to discriminate is needed to determine which words bring relief and peace to the self and others. This is honesty.
Each part of the body is assigned a place. The tongue is supposed to be behind the bars of the teeth. It is said that before you speak, think many times because the wound caused by the sword of the tongue heals very slowly.
If you are honest, any little difficulty only comes to make you more honest. In performing various day to day tasks, we should ask ourselves: “Am I really being honest?” Any difficulty is because of lack of honesty
The more honesty, the more feelings of lightness we have and the burdens are taken off us.
We need to make sure that there is no selfishness mixed in with our honesty and that we are not trying to manipulate a situation or person in the name of honesty. Whatever is true or real should not be mixed.
Honesty—with the self, in our words and in relationships—is very important.
No one can take what belongs to us and we cannot take what belongs to anyone else out of greed or fear. Ghandi’s clothing was simple because he believed that if it were more than simple he would be guilty of taking someone else’s share. When we learn to share then we are free from jealousy and things seem to come to us.
Before most of us became spiritual seekers or practitioners, we experienced disharmony because of breaking certain laws of the universe. Once we learn to adopt honesty not only does disharmony dissolve, but there is never fear of what is going to happen to us. When we lack honesty, we live in fear. Lack of honesty creates sadness and insecurity. An honest person will always feel secure.
Respect is the essential core of humility and we should respect a person for whatever or whoever they are, while knowing that they need to change a few elements in their characters. According to the respect we give others, that much respect will be given to us in return.
The converse of humility is ego. We can develop ego from having many things, or from having nothing at all. Inferiority is also considered ego. In order to destroy ego, the consciousness of being a trustee is necessary. Trusteeship means that we don’t own something, but it has been given to us. No one has brought anything with them to this earth. When we came we were not wearing our clothes even, they were given to us. As much as we can be caretakers or trustees with honesty, that much we can experience abundance and then there is no need for arrogance.
We witness heaviness because we walk around in ‘title consciousness’: “I am this, I am that.” This makes us feel burdened. If we perform our tasks as trustees, we can be very, very light. Another reason we experience burden is because we do not have enough tolerance or patience, and so we respond negatively in our relationships with others and we don’t know how to forgive. Forgiving means for giving. We become so light when we give. Take what is useful, and don’t create a file of anyone’s negativity.
Sister Mohini is the Director of Brahma Kumaris Centres in North and South America and the
One of the unhealthiest emotions is our old friend anger.
It has been connected with cancer and it destroys our ability to think clearly.
Yogesh Sharda explains how we can manage it better.
What is anger, can it be overcome, and indeed should we even try?
If one were to ask a selection of people what triggers their anger I suspect there would be a wide range of answers. However one thing I am certain of is that whatever the cause, even a single word spoken in anger can leave an impression on a person’s heart that may remain for a long time, and has the ability to ruin the beauty of any relationship.
A famous sage once said, “How can there be peace on earth if the hearts of men are like volcanoes?” If within the person there can be peace and freedom from anger, only then can they live in harmony with others. So how can we set about creating that sense of peace within ourselves?
It starts with the realisation that we do have the choice to think and feel the way we want to. If we look at what it is that makes us angry we might discover there is nothing that has the power to make us feel this way. We can only allow something to trigger our anger—the anger is how we respond to some event or somebody. But because we are so used to reacting on impulse, we forget to choose how we want to feel, and then respond inappropriately, leaving ourselves with angry feelings.
Have you ever heard someone saying: “I really hate it when you speak like that to me?” Or how about, “How many times do I have to tell you to do it like this?” One lesson I have learned is that, try as I might, I can never control circumstances, people or situations, as they are constantly changing. The only thing I can control is the way I choose to respond. Only I can increase my capacity to tolerate; only I can develop my ability to understand; and only I can nurture my love for others regardless of whether one day they praise me and the next they defame me. Modern-day life comes with a whole host of challenges. In facing these I have come to see every interaction within our world as part of one large drama or game. And within this drama, every single individual has their own unique part to play, which is essentially an expression of their own inner self. As I come to accept this, rather than spending my time keeping an eye on what others are doing, I can begin to use my energy to play my own part to the best of my ability. I realise that I cannot possess or own the behaviour of others, because if I do, this will ultimately lead to conflict. Instead I need to practise the understanding that regardless of whatever action a person may be doing, according to their own part within the play there is some reason why they are behaving in that way. Therefore I should try not to jump to conclusions too easily; and rather than trying to control another person’s behaviour, it will be far easier and more productive for me to focus my energy on my own actions.
So what is so wrong in judging in their actions? There is a danger that if we become too concerned with their activity, we may begin to feel anger toward that person, which may lead to dislike for them. We put them into some kind of box, and fix a label on them. Then whenever we come into contact with that person, we will see him or her in the light of their past mistake. But in doing this, we are effectively imprisoning them in their past actions. However if we allow the person the dignity of actually growing out of their own mistake—if our vision allows them to do that—then, sooner or later, it is possible for people to change.
This concept of life being a drama can help us to detach ourselves from what’s happening around us, and this detachment or space is of great help in learning not to make judgements so quickly about others. If we create a small space, a healthy space between ourself and the drama of life, we find that that space acts like a buffer. Neither will we jump out and grab someone’s throat, nor will the drama of life be able to suddenly grab us unawares.
This is one of the many benefits of practising meditation. It helps us to create personal space within ourselves so that we have the chance to look, weigh up the situation, and respond accordingly, through remaining in a state of self-control. When we are angry, we have no self-control. At that moment we are in a state of internal chaos, and the anger can be a very destructive force.
It is often said that anger can be a useful thing. People say, “Look at all the problems in the world, surely unless someone got angry about it nothing would happen?” It reminds me of the story about an old man sitting by a river and talking to a group of his disciples. His hand was stretched out behind him and an insect came crawling along and bit him badly. As it did so, it slipped and fell into the river. This old man looked behind him and saw the insect struggling in the river, so he picked it up and placed it back on the ground. A few minutes later, the same insect crawled over to his hand and bit him on the finger, and again slipped over and fell into the river. The old man looked round, picked it up, and placed it back on the ground. When this happened a third time, one of his disciples said to him, “Master why do you do this? The insect bites you and yet you save it. Why do you not let it drown and it then it won’t be able to bite you?” He replied “It is in the insect’s nature to bite, it is in my nature to save”. Similarly, someone’s nature might be to criticise, or to backbite, or even to challenge us. Yet that is completely out of our hands. We can only do what it is that we have to do. We can’t justify a negative action by saying, “Oh well, you do the same thing too.” If we say that, then we are saying, “I will only grow and change when you decide to grow and change, it’s in your hands.” But can growth ever happen like that? If we wait for each other to change it is likely we will be waiting an extremely long time.
Sometimes anger is used as a kind of self-defence mechanism, a sentry guard standing outside the fortress walls of our inner selves. When anybody tries to attack or criticise us, anger pops up and demands, “Who do you think you are? Look at you!” Anger reacts. Anger is the emotion which tries to hold all the other illusions together. If anyone tries to attack what we believe in or care about, anger comes out to chase them away. This is an example of using anger to protect our simulated self, our sense of ego. However, by recognising ourselves as spiritual beings, and through the awareness and experience of the beauty of our true nature, our dependency on other people’s approval reduces as we rediscover an inner stillness and stability. Thus the need for anger as our protector is eliminated.
This form of stability can create a firm foundation, a kind of positive stubbornness. Others can say whatever they want, and it may also be true, but we don’t lose our peace or happiness for any reason. This is to respect what is eternal within each of us. We give ourselves the opportunity to maintain our own peace of mind, because let’s face it, no-one’s going to turn up at our door with a box full of peace and say, “Here, I think you could do with some of this today!”
There is a particular story about Buddha which illustrates an important principle. Buddha was under the tree of enlightenment when someone who had heard that the Buddha was an enlightened person came along to test his self-control. He came in front of Buddha and started swearing at him, calling him all the names under the sun and yet there was no reaction. Some time later this person got a bit tired so he went off and had a rest and came back and had a second go. He abused Buddha’s family and hurled every insult he could think of but there was still no reaction. He grew very tired and so asked Buddha, “I am defaming you every way I can think of, and yet you do not say anything back at me”. Buddha looked up at him and said, “If someone gives you a gift, but you don't accept it, then who is the gift left with?”
This highlights a crucial insight. We have a choice. If we have taken sorrow from someone, we cannot blame the other person and say, “It’s your fault, you spoke to me like this”. We recognise that we do have a choice in every moment. We can use our intellect as a filter to decide what we are going to allow to enter, and what we are going to prevent from coming inside and affecting me.
Broadly speaking, there are two methods which people suggest one should try and deal with anger. Some say if you’re feeling angry, then be angry as a way of expression—let it out. And indeed, at that moment we do become free from the anger, because we have let it out. However, as we deepen our understanding and experience of the way in which our consciousness works, we realise that the more we do something, the deeper that habit becomes. So tomorrow we will find it easier to become angry because we have already done it today. It is like a smoker trying to give up cigarettes. When he feels like smoking, he smokes, and so he doesn’t feel like smoking any more. Nice idea. But instead of removing that desire, the act of smoking has only temporarily fulfilled it, and the habit has taken an even firmer grip such that tomorrow the desire will be even stronger. So expression doesn’t transform the habit or feeling.
Another suggestion people might make is that you should suppress anger. If you feel yourself getting angry, stop yourself, suppress it. But this is the pressure cooker situation. I just get more and more heated up inside until I explode! I can only ever suppress for a certain period of time. And actually when I am suppressing, I am really pushing those fears and emotions into my subconscious, from where they will emerge in another form, rather like weeds.
But there is a third method, which could be described as sublimation, or the changing of form. Through the daily practice and application of spiritual principles in our practical life, the experience of our own inner peace can become a very natural. In this way, just as the form of water can be changed from solid to liquid to gas, so too the energy which was previously being used to express and feed anger, can also be changed to the force behind the expression of determination or courage instead. Rather than being angry with someone to prove a point, we can learn to be assertive. Assertiveness contains respect for oneself, whereas anger shows respect for neither the self nor others. Only by ridding ourself of anger can we become free to experience the peace of our true spiritual nature.
There is a story about Alexander the Great, as he was about to return to
Yogesh Sharda is a teacher of meditation and spiritual development currently based in Istanbul as a co-ordinator of the Brahma Kumaris Centre there.