For several years I have had the source of anger on my mind. Too many times I have found myself enraged over things that did not merit my attention at all, let alone an ire that leaves me furious. So, I asked myself, what really is the source of anger? How can I sum up the problem concisely and find the triggers for it? Until recently, I was perplexed.
Then, about a month ago I finally read a book that has been on my book shelf for over 15 years, Parahamsa Yogananda’s An Autobiography of a Yogi, which as it turns out is the most profound book I have ever read to this day. Only, I didn’t read my copy which is now in storage. I read the copy of it that was the first book to present itself to me when offered reading material before I spent a night in jail. (Now, that’s another story!) In this well-written captivating life story, Yoganada, fearing he had angered his guru, Sri Yukteswar Giri, wrote:
“Master, I must have disappointed you by my abrupt departure from my duties here; I thought you might be angry with me.”
“No, of course not! Wrath springs only from thwarted desires. I do not expect anything from others, so their actions cannot be in opposition to wishes of mine. I would not use you for my own ends; I am happy only in your own true happiness.”
I thought aloud, “Wrath springs only from thwarted desires – wow!”
Yet, I still perceived incompleteness in the seemingly simple statement. Yes, I have gotten angry when a driver ahead of my car drives too slowly and makes me late for an appointment, or perhaps when someone destroys an item I value and only with my additional and undesired labor could I replace it if even possible. Theft of time or energy thrusts me into thwarted desire territory. I realize that I must work on that.
However, I often find myself seething in anger when I witness events from an objective perspective: e.g. a motorist tossing litter or flicking a lit cigarette out of a car window, a stranger being rude to an office clerk, or someone flagrantly displaying bigotry or other mind-blowing ignorance. In these instances, it wasn’t readily apparent to me where my desires come in to play. Why should I care if two people argue? And I can’t be everyone’s mother correcting their behaviors. But, if I am angry and do not direct it outward somewhere, it poisons me. This is a problem.
So, last night in the wee hours of the morning I arose to visit the loo as a man of my age does often throughout the night. Between getting out of bed and closing the bathroom door, for some reason I found myself philosophizing about anger. Before I left the bathroom it just came to me, this righteous flaw of mine. I desire that everyone around me should behave according to my moral code of conduct. That desire equals a potential weakness, a vulnerability just waiting for disappointment.
I think we all hope that others share our perspectives at least as social behavior goes. Invariably though on a daily basis I find myself in situations where this ideal is challenged. And desire is a whole new level of psychological investment. It’s a poor and toxic one when a subtle hope meets the fervor of ego’s demands. Ego, that bastard! Interconnected as we a social species, our egos strive for independence as well as dominance. This is our lot as humans. Yet, we must each come to terms with the relativity in moralism; additionally one must strive to curb ego’s passion and shunt the acute stress response as if the integrity of one’s own moral code is threatened (this is how I have errantly perceived these situations.)
Finally, though, I can accept the aphorism of Sri Yukteswar Giri. In realizing this truth, I am cognitively able to address my reactionary seething to those matters in the future when I needlessly feel that I – or my moral code – is in jeopardy. But, I tell you this – it is going to require practice taking the ego out of the moment!
There are only three desires worthy of anger (if there are any at all): food, shelter, and safety. I shall be angry if I don’t survive. But, I need not be angry if I do not thrive: that is the challenge of being alive – to thrive artfully and gracefully. I sincerely wish that I do not thwart another person’s desires; but as it is bound to happen, so be it. [If this sincere wish of mine be thwarted, I will not be angered as it not a desire!] Meanwhile I promise to work on curbing my desires for the good of all people around me. I will continue to remind myself of a most applicable quote by Giordano Bruno, “what you receive from others is a testimony to their virtue; but all that you do for others is the sign and clear indication of your own.”