In the Thai forest tradition (and some others), there are “extra” practices, beyond the 227 monastic rules for monks and 300+ rules for nuns. These additional practices are not for everyone, but are taken on by practitioners who wish to address their deepest attachments, e.g., food, sleep, or comfort. They are called dhutanga practices and are austerities piled atop the austerities of ordinary monastic life.
For laypeople, an analogy to the dhutanga practices might be to choose a major area of clinging (and hence suffering) in our own hearts and find a way to challenge that clinging. For me, this area is anger, and Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication (NVCC) approach includes some lessons on understanding and dealing with our anger which seem almost impossibly challenging. And yet I see how they could (eventually) uproot anger/aversion/resistance entirely.
NVCC says that we have four options when confronted with a message or behavior that we don’t like:
1) blame ourselves
2) blame others
3) sense our own feelings and needs
4) sense others’ feelings and needs
In a chapter called “Expressing Anger Fully”, Rosenberg says that we need to distinguish the stimulus for our anger from its actual cause; that we are never angry because of what others say or do, but because of the way we think about what others say or do. If we go straight to blame or judgment (as is common), then it’s our own thinking we need to focus on, not what the other person is doing.
We can use anger as a wake-up call. Instead of using the energy of anger for blaming and judging, we can use it to investigate our own unmet needs, as well as the feelings and needs of others. Judgments of others, whether right or wrong, contribute to an unproductive cycle of recriminations and entrenchment of positions.
“Violence comes from the belief that other people cause our pain and therefore deserve punishment.”
The steps Rosenberg recommends for expressing anger fully are:
1. Stop. Breathe. (Does this sound familiar?)
2. Identify our judgmental thoughts.
3. Connect with our needs.
4. Express our feelings and unmet needs.
But wait – before the other person is ready to hear about our unmet needs, we have to attempt to figure out what motivated their action or behavior. If we can empathize with even a fraction of the speaker’s motivation (often some form of fear), we have a chance of making a connection. “The more we hear them, the more they’ll hear us.” We need to hear each others’ pain to come through anger to the other side, which is understanding and compassion.