In the Name of God, the Most Kind, the Kindest
بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
Have you seen the meme that says, “I meditate, I light candles, I drink green tea, and still I want to smack some people?” Or, heard Rumi’s famous dictum, “If you are irritated by every rub, how will you be polished?” But how do we (as spiritual aspirants) keep from getting irritated when things are irritating? Are we supposed to be like Ron Weasley and have the emotional range of a teaspoon? Do we aim for a Pollyanna type of existence, or do we embrace our shadow and what comes up: the good, the bad, and the ugly. How do we attune to the better angels of our nature? Interestingly, only a single letter distinguishes the words angel and anger from each other. There is a relationship between opposites that puts everything in sharp relief.
“Being and non-being come out of each other. Difficult and easy are part of each other. Long and short define each other. High and low determine each other. Sharp and flat harmonize each other. Front and back follow each other,” said Lao-Tze in the Tao Te Ching.
We should feel what we are feeling and acknowledge what is happening to us. And as and when necessary, confide in a trusted confidant who can help us better understand, contextualize, and process what’s going on. A good confidant will not spare you, they will attentively listen, but they will not tell you that you are free from error. They will gently point out things you may have overlooked or give you a more charitable perspective. They will acknowledge what is correct and be affectionate. This type of confidant will enable growth, healing, and reconciliation to occur. They will help you listen to your better angels and channel the anger, negativity, pain, and frustration. They will share healthier, more creative vibrations that allow you to confront the problem and express your grievance in a manner that is befitting the situation.
For instance, after giving birth to our first daughter, I experienced intense anger toward specific individuals. Uday’s sister taught me how to catch it and patiently reduce the amount I got angry. That was such a helpful perspective because it allowed me to be mad while encouraging me to reduce it through sincere effort. I’ll never forget her words, “So maybe now you get mad 17 times, then it will be 15, 12, 7, 4, and so forth until it’s not a problem anymore.” Human beings are a hot mess, and there’s plenty of fodder on a given day. We can either let it burn us up and contribute to the existing problems in our world. Or we can recognize that we’re about to explode! It’s worth noting that some fires burn more slowly than others and can smolder for years.
At another time in my life, I again struggled with incredibly volatile emotions triggered by a person’s misplaced anger and mistreatment of our family. One of the things that helped me during this period was Hazrat Inayat Khan’s Copper Rule: My conscientious self, bear no malice against your worst enemy, and Pir Zia’s commentary on it. He gives a practice near the end in which you look into the eyes of your worst enemy and “recognize that the hostility and bitterness that this person manifests are distorted permutations of pure impulses. As Ibn al-‘Arabi says, the origin of every impulse is a movement of love.” His commentary is multivalent.
Another perspective is to consider how something could be worse, especially when our expectations are unfulfilled. Maybe someone made an off-color joke that was offensive to you, and they were oblivious to how hurtful it was. You’re furious and disappointed. Thankfully, this is a person you can speak to directly and share how you feel about the joke. Not only that, but they will sincerely apologize and make amends. Compare that with someone who is unapproachable, unapologetic, and indifferent to your feelings and requests. The former is someone you want in your life because they care, while the latter is safer from a distance.
Sometimes families and companions fight. One way to understand these conflicts, controversies, and contentions is to know that Allah will remove them on the Day of Resurrection. Shaykh ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani (may Allah perfume his resting place) held this view about the battle Imam ‘Ali fought against Talha, Zubair, ‘Aisha, and Mu’awiya (may Allah be well pleased with all of them). He even quotes a Quranic verse to support it: “And We shall strip away whatever rancor may be in their breasts. As brothers [and sisters] they shall be upon couches set face to face” (15:47).
In summary, anger (like other “negative” emotions) indicates something may be seriously wrong, and we need to listen to those feelings and allow them to come up. A good confidant will hear you while remaining objective. They will support you and make you aware of blind spots. There is a flip side to every state, and these opposites help define each other and enable us to grow. Spiritual perspectives and practices can guide us through turbulent times. Work with people who sincerely care. If sincere concern is absent, then maintaining a respectful distance is an act of loving detachment. Some differences are meant to be reconciled on the Day of Resurrection and are “a mercy” and “sign of Divine favor” (Ahadith).
With lots of love ,
PS. “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil” (Ephesians 4:26-27) is excellent marital advice. It reminds us that anger is healthy and natural but shouldn’t be in excess or unduly extended. Sins of the tongue, physical aggression, passive-aggressive behavior that stem from unchecked anger will consume us and the one we love. It’s from the devil and drives the angels away. My mother gave all her children this advice, and it has proven to be most advantageous.
PPS. Sometimes we may not have a confidant whom we can confide in, or our lives are so hurried as to hinder the necessary sharing required to unpack our troubles. In this case, Dr. Chatterjee recommends a five-minute “brain dump” in the morning, in which you dump your thoughts out of your brain by putting them down on paper (c/o Sr. Mariela ).
A reader who wishes to remain anonymous reflects on the impact of last Friday’s newsletter and Productive Wisdom in general.
Salaams dearest, most beautiful Maryam,
Your writing is so poignant, saying what I would like to share in words.
Each week I find you touch a note I thought of, or reminded me of my life in a way which recognises the truth but relates it with compassion, which in itself is healing.