I grew up in the Midwest region of the United States. Feelings were pretty much just a bad thing. It’s not that we did not have feelings. We just did not admit to having them. Let’s take that a step further. We denied having them – especially anger. So we got angry and did not know we were angry. We did not know how to recognize, accept and deal with our feelings. That means they could get really out of control. And they could do a lot of internal and external damage.
Now, at almost 66 years of age, after losing the benefit of too many conflicts to unrecognized and poorly managed anger, I think I am beginning to learn. Note that I said, “losing the benefit.” The joy of the good fight is the transformation that can come in fighting it.
There are fights worth fighting. And there are ways to fight them. There will be feelings involved. The key is to recognize these feelings without allowing them to take charge. Pema Chodron uses the Tibetan term shenpa. She says that it is often translated to mean attachment, and that certainly is part of the reality. We get attached to our feelings and it becomes impossible to distinguish ourselves from them.
But Chodron says a more accurate definition for shenpa is the idea of getting hooked. A feeling surges up and hooks us. Or we hook onto it. Either way, it is painful, it is powerful, and it is hard to get free of it.
When we get hooked by our anger, we leave and lose the fight. We leave, because our energy becomes consumed by our anger and we have turned our attention from the fight to the overwhelming urge to satisfy our anger. We also become attached to an outcome rather than a process. We want only to defeat our enemy, not to stay with a creative process to an undetermined but perhaps mutually satisfactory conclusion – the real benefit of the fight. Everyone loses, because our anger is the only thing our enemy can see in us. Any merit in our case has left the building.
As humans, we will experience shenpa. We will get hooked. The trick is to recognize when it happens, to hold ourselves with compassion and to not let the hook take control of our actions.
In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna urges the reluctant Arjuna forward into battle with his relatives. Arjuna balks and laments. This is his family. And yet the fight needs to happen. Wrong needs to be confronted. Issues in relationship need to be resolved.
Loving our enemy does not equate to being nice to our enemy at all costs or abandoning the engagement. True love for our enemy treats the other with compassionate understanding while never shying from truth, to the extent that it has been shown to us.
That stance requires openness. We must pursue the cause valiantly without the shenpa of becoming hooked to a specific outcome. We must engage with full energy, even as we remain humble and open to new revelation and the change that comes from truly engaged relationship.
Life under the Tree of Life is not passive. Neither is it aggressive. Rather, it seeks transformation, not destruction. And it is open to the surprise of self-transformation, change that is larger than we can imagine, the transformation that comes from full, open and compassionate engagement.
© Jerry S Kennell, Two Trees in the Garden. Feel free to quote, as useful, with proper reference.
Jerry Kennell provides spiritual direction in person and by Skype at Two Trees Center for Spiritual Development. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone or text to (970) 217-6078. Click FOLLOW to be notified of future posts.