There is a beautiful prayer by a South Indian saint that says, “Lord, let my mind be a calm lake without any waves. Let my mind become like the needle of the scale where it is neutral to both clay and gold. Let me learn that neutrality, that equanimity in the midst of duality.” This is a wonderful prayer and something lofty to which we can all aspire. The goal of Yoga is to achieve the equanimity that this prayer addresses. It is one thing to pray, to meditate on lofty goals, to practice Yoga. But, how will you know when you have a balanced mind? How will others know that you are endowed with equanimity and serenity?
I like to tell a special story to demonstrate how difficult it is to achieve mastery over the mind, and particularly over emotions such as anger or hatred. Once upon a time, there was an old swami who went to an Himalayan cave. He lived inside the cave, practicing meditation, for ten years. Then, one day he came out. Everybody in the village was very excited that he appeared after so many years. They ran to him and asked, “Oh, is it true that you have been living in total silence during your ten years in the cave? You must have acquired a lot of control of the mind and many special powers. Can you please tell us what you have accomplished during these past years?” The swami replied, “Nothing much.” But the villagers had heard too many stories of sages and saints living in Himalayan caves and gaining great magical and mystical powers. So they pressed the swami and wanted to know if he had attained any of these abilities. He told them, “No, I am not able to fly or even hop. I can’t walk on the water, or any such thing.” Still, they couldn’t believe that this swami who had remained totally silent and secluded for ten years had not achieved anything at all.” So, they asked him again, “Swami, please tell us what you have achieved?”
The swami finally remembered one thing and he said to the crowd gathered, “Yes, you are right. There is one thing I have achieved. I used to be a very moody, hot-tempered person. Anger was my worst enemy. And I know that over this past ten years I have finally conquered that anger.” The villagers were fascinated by the swami’s reply and wanted to hear more about his achievement. They said, “Oh, that is wonderful. To overcome anger is really a great virtue.” All the villagers were nodding their heads in agreement. And they whispered among themselves, “Can you imagine to never become angry again in one’s life. That would be a wonderful thing.” But one villager had a doubt, and he questioned, “Swami, so you never got angry?” “No, replied the swami.” The man asked again, “Not even once? In all those ten years?” The swami confirmed it: “Never, sir!” Still, the man found this very hard to believe and so he questioned the swami further saying, “Sir, how can you remember all that happened over those ten years? Can you remember perhaps one time that you might have gotten angry? Could you please just think about it a little more?” Suddenly, the swami exploded shouting, “You fool, how many times do I have to tell you! I say I don’t get angry, and yet again and again you are asking me! Don’t you understand?” “Yes, swami,” answered the man. “I got it now.”
So, it is easy to brag, “Oh, I am a spiritual seeker. I am a Yogi. I am practicing meditation. I have mastered my mind, body, and emotions.” But when would you want your equanimity, your Yogic capacity, your balanced mind to be put to the test: Under very nice, pleasant, and calm conditions? No, only when you are put into a challenge or a difficult situation will your true colors show. That is the moment you should prove that you are a good Yogi. It is wonderful that you practice meditation. But the moment you come out of the meditation room and you see one of your shoes is missing, you shout, “Hey, who took my shoe!” You immediately get annoyed because you can’t find the shoe. Yoga is something that is to be applied in your daily life. That’s what you call real spirituality. Real spirituality is not found by hiding in a cave.
Instead, you must gain greater awareness and self-reflection so you can go to the root cause of one’ s problems in life. You can learn how to overcome feelings of anger or hatred. You will begin to recognize that it is one’s own expectation that creates these feelings. It’s easy to blame anybody else when you get upset. But, truthfully, you are the cause for your own anger, your own sadness, and your own depression. Toxic thinking can create all kinds of problems. Dr. Hahnemann, (the well-known doctor who developed homeopathic remedies) determined that the origin of disease is toxic thinking. You know the saying, “As you think, so you become.” If you think well, you become well. Mind over matter. If you think toxic thoughts, your mind and body become toxic; they get infected. So, the root cause of disease and disturbance is your own thinking. And the best way to heal oneself of toxic thinking is to practice Yoga.
When you want to grow and develop spiritually, you realize that it is the easy and lazy way to blame others for your problems. But how does that help you to grow and become a better person? It doesn’t take a particularly accomplished person to flare up in anger. The person who wants to make progress on the spiritual path will make use of every difficulty as an opportunity for learning. He or she will not waste their time getting angry and frustrated over things. There is also a saying, “Adversities are blessings in disguise.” Someone once asked me, “How can I keep from being angry when someone who owes me money goes off on vacation while I’m working so hard? I replied, “Don’t you know that the other person is teaching you a lesson? The lesson that person teaches you is to not lend money to such people anymore! What is the point of getting angry? Instead, learn the lesson. It’s easy to blame others. Examine yourself and see what you can do to change yourself, because ultimately, we only have control over our own minds.
I am not suggesting that anyone repress their feelings or suppress their anger. That is not healthy either. But you can learn to understand your feelings and handle them in healthier ways. You can educate your mind how to deal with difficulties in ways that will be more helpful to you in the long run. Wouldn’t you like to know what you can do so that your feelings don’t turn into excessive anger and hostility? You can learn to handle your anger so that it doesn’t handle you!
The best way is to analyze the anger itself. Deconstruct the entire process of getting angry. First of all, find out what led to this feeling. So calm yourself and think, “Why am I angry?” Of course, immediately, the answer might be, “That person did such and such.” Watch your reaction? The tendency is to first point the finger at somebody else. When you point the finger at somebody else you are pointing only one finger and you forgot there are three fingers of your hand pointing back at you. So, the easy and lazy way is to simply blame others. You will become a victim of your anger, or any other emotion, when you lose the ability to analyze. In order to gain mastery over one’s emotions, there needs to be a very clear awareness of what causes the anger. What makes human beings different from animals is that we have the ability to be self-reflective; to analyze our feelings and actions rather than to just simply react. If you simply react to a situation, you deny yourself the opportunity to learn from that situation
So, let us try and take an example of how one could analyze the process of getting angry. First, the idea is to get enough control of mind, that you can take a step back from the anger and ask yourself some questions. It is difficult in the beginning. In the heat of the moment you may find it difficult to step back and question yourself. That is all right. You will learn how to do this over time. If the anger gets flared up, try and recognize what you are feeling and even if you simply react, be sure that as soon as you can calm yourself down, that you take the time to consciously analyze what happened.
How to analyze? Let us look at an example. Imagine that Sue, your boss, told you that she would put in a recommendation for you to get a promotion. But, in fact, she didn’t do it. When you find out that the letter was never turned in, you get enraged. Let’s look at one other example. You and your friend Bob make a date to go out bowling. You show up at the bowling alley and Bob is not there. You wait 10 minutes, 15 minutes and then call his house. Bob doesn’t seem to be at home and you leave a message on his answering machine. Then, you wait another 5 minutes or so, but no Bob. You go home and there’s no message from Bob and only a few days later does Bob phone you to say, “Sorry, I forgot to call you but something came up.” You have already been steaming over the past few days and you completely blow up over Bob’s lame excuse.
In both these examples, what is the common theme? One theme is that someone agreed to do something and they didn’t keep their agreement. That certainly is true. What about you? What is the theme behind what you are thinking in these situations? Let’s take a look at the first example. Sue promised to send in a recommendation. She didn’t do that. But what were you thinking? You were probably thinking, “I expected something from Sue. I wanted her to send in that recommendation and help me. I wanted something to happen right away. I wanted something to happen in a certain way and it did not happen that way, so I am angry.” That means, “I wanted, I didn’t get it, therefore I am angry.”
In the second example, what were you thinking? “I wanted to go bowling. I asked Bob, he agreed, but it didn’t work out. I wanted to go. I wanted him to join me but I didn’t get what I wanted and so I am angry.” Right? I’m not saying that Sue and Bob acted in the proper way. And certainly you have a right to think that if someone says they will do something that they will do that. And, it’s true that if they don’t follow through, that is not very nice. But there are two things I want to point out here. One thing is your expectation, and the other thing is your reaction.
Are you a person who wants other people to determine how you feel? Because if you expect others to behave or act in particular ways and only if they meet your expectations will you feel all right, then you are going to face a lot of disappointments, a lot of problems in life. And, if you are going to react to every disappointed expectation with an automatic response of anger or rage or by getting upset, you are only harming yourself. You wind up being a slave to your emotions. Do you want to control your emotions or do you want them to have the control over you? It is up to you to decide. Still, you might say to me, “That is nice advice, but Sue probably caused me to lose my chance at a promotion because she let me down! I’m really mad about that.”
Well, let’s consider that for a moment. I want you to imagine that you go and confront Sue. You are really upset with Sue and you go and see her. How will your face look? Imagine, you are really angry. You seem to have lost a chance at that position you wanted. Your blood will be boiling, your hands will be shaking, your stomach is in knots. True? You should realize that by your resentment and anger you are not going to achieve anything much. It’s going to spoil your own body and mind. People with resentment and anger will fall sick quickly; they will wreck their nerves. Your resentment and anger may not hurt the other person but rather, you have spoiled your own life. These kind of negative thoughts and responses sap away your energy. They destroy your bloodstream. Every time you get a fit of anger you lose hundreds and thousands of red corpuscles. The blood becomes anemic.
So, when you feel yourself getting angry, you can question yourself, “What effect will all this anger have on my body? What about on my mind? What good effect does my anger produce? Does it make people want to help me? Does it help me get what I wanted? Does it solve the problem I am facing? Does it help me come up with successful remedies for the problem? In what way does the anger benefit me?” And I would ask this: “In what way does holding on to the anger help me over the long-term?” Don’t we know many people who start off being a little angry about some disappointment and then that builds into anger and frustration, and that leads to depression? In what way do these reactions help you in your life? Every thought that would affect your mind and heart will affect your health also. Hatred, rage, resentment, fear, and worry are all unhealthy emotions.
By analyzing your anger and your reactions in this way, you begin to gain better clarity of the root cause of the problem. Then you can calmly and coolly begin to work on solutions to the problem. “How could I have followed up better with Sue? Maybe she or another supervisor will help me strategize for another promotion” and so on. You can take all the negative energy and turn it into positive action steps. Otherwise, you wind up just blaming others or allowing the initial emotions to turn into toxic emotions. When this happens, you are the one who gets hurt more. So, you are hurting yourself and instead, you can learn how to help yourself. It is all in your hands.
When you get some disappointment or frustration in life, you also have the opportunity to develop gratitude, contentment, and compassion rather than to allow your mind to be filled anger and resentment. You can take the opportunity to think about the good in your life and to feel grateful for all you have. A person might have helped you over a number of years. One day that person refused, for some good reason, to help you. But, you simply forget all the good days and dwell on the one time they didn’t help you. You might even begin to hate that person! The Thirukkural, a South Indian scripture says, “If you are a good person and if somebody helps you a little—in even a minute way—you should take it as a great gift that you got from that person.” The Thirukkural also teaches that, “It’s never good to forget someone’s good deed and it is the best thing if you forget someone’s bad deed.” Then the whole world will be your friend. You will have no reason for resentment or anger.
And what about all the violence and hatred in the world that we read about constantly in the newspapers or see on the television? Isn’t that a good reason to get angry and upset? No, you should not let that affect your mind. A balanced mind is what is needed in the world. With a disturbed mind, in what way can you help? Or in what way can you be a useful citizen? There are hateful people, violent people in the world. But if you get upset and sad about it you will become a sad person. Then what is the difference between you and the other people. You are sad, they are violent. Neither of you are going to help the world. So, at least we can make the world a little better by not getting depressed. Keep your mind balanced and serene.
When you see hatred or violence, when you see undesirable things happening, think, “In what way can I do something to better the situation?” See the situation and what you can do without yourself becoming depressed or despondent.
Your first duty is to maintain your equanimity under any condition. The minute you lose your equanimity you are in no condition to help others. On the other hand, you are adding more to the problem. So, see the situation from a neutral perspective and ask yourself, “Is there anything that I could do to make the situation a little better, to alleviate the problem?” Do that without losing your peace. You may have every reason to become sad or upset because of some problem or crisis but that’s not a good idea. If you want to be helpful, if you want to be useful, never let an external situation negatively affect you. Whatever the situation is, you should keep your cool. Never, never, never allow your mind to get so disturbed that you become unfit. Stay put in your center and then give you can think of better solutions and be of more useful service.