Befriending the Trouble by Jack Kornfield

Befriending the Trouble

The good news about these powerful inner forces is that you can use awareness to understand and tame them. When you mindfully recognize your fear, anger, desire, or loneliness, you come to know it, and then it begins to be workable. If you are lonely, for example, study it. The Sufi poet Hafiz warns, “Don’t surrender your loneliness so quickly. Let it cut more deeply. Let it season you as few ingredients can.” If you cannot bear your loneliness, your boredom, your anxiety, you will always run away. The moment you feel lonely or bored, you may open the fridge, or go online, or do anything to avoid being with yourself. But with loving awareness you can endure, honor, and value loneliness and aloneness. And they can be informative. They can teach you about yourself, your longings, what you have neglected for too long. They can help you find a deeper freedom.

Grief is the same. The Lakota Sioux value grief highly; they say it brings a person close to the Great Spirit. When they want to send a message to the other side, they ask a member of a grieving family to deliver it. Whether you feel grief or anxiety, jealousy, addiction, or anger your freedom grows by turning awareness toward it. Zen teacher Myogen Steve Stücky told his friends and students, when he was in great pain, dying of cancer, “I’ve found relief from suffering not by turning away but by turning toward what is most difficult.”

In my own life, I’ve had to learn this with anger. My father was violent and abusive, a wife batterer who dominated all of our family with unpredictable outbursts of rage and paranoia. When he was most abusive, I would run away, and my mother hid bottles behind curtains in every room so she could reach for one to defend herself against his blows.

I determined never to be like him. I became the family peacemaker, mediating arguments when I could. So, when I went to live as a young monk in a Thai forest monastery, I thought it would be easy and peaceful. I was unprepared for the intensity of my own restless mind, the uprising of grief, desire, and loneliness I felt. Most surprising was my anger. In not wanting to be like my violent father, I had suppressed all my anger – it had become dangerous to even feel. But in the awareness of meditation and solitude, all the things I was angry about came up. It was more than anger; it was fury. First at my father for being so hurtful to our family. Then, because it frightened me and I had denied it, I was angry at myself for all the times I had suppressed my anger.

Ajahn Chah told me to sit in the middle of it, to wrap myself in robes even on a hot day, and learn to tolerate it. Later my Reichian therapist had me breathe hard, make sounds, shout, grimace, rage, and flail, until I expressed fury’s pain and wept. In these years of meditation and therapy I learned to work with the anger and discovered that it’s an energy that can be known and tolerated, not feared. I had to acknowledge when it was present and realize that I could feel it fully without becoming vengeful or violent like my father.

I also realized that when understood, anger has value. It is a protest when we feel hurt or afraid or when our needs aren’t met. At times, it even brings clarity. The ancient Greeks called anger a “noble” emotion, because it gives the strength to stand up for what you care about most. As I began to understand anger, I could see more clearly the frustration, hurt, and fear that were behind it. My sense of freedom grew as I became more intelligent about it, and slowly its energy was transformed into compassion for myself and others. Now I help others with their emotions as a part of my profession.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: