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Anger

I had a great realization inspired by Lesson 22 (“What I see is a form of vengeance”) the other day and I feel compelled to write it down.I started out this life a pretty angry person. I have been in recovery literally since about age 12, when I found that my anger got me into a lot of messes. People who know me now are surprised to hear that I used to have a hot temper; I have become an easygoing person. However, the anger is still there, just at a lower intensity. And it stems from the same source it always did. No matter where I look, I feel keenly aware that things are not as they should be. And while my anger has dramatically lessened, I still feel a distinct displeasure and regret (OK, anger) at everything being so imperfect and at everyone being so attacking. In the face of this crazy, attacking world, anger seems to be the only logical reaction. Anything else seems like empty-headed denial. Given this, some sort of anger-even if it only feels like slight displeasure-seems inevitable and very hard to shake.

(You may find yourself wondering about my strange malady, but bear in mind that the Course says that we are all in this boat: all of us are angry all the time, and this anger is actually the foundation of our whole perception of the world. We are just so uncomfortable with this anger that we don’t admit to it, and will readily use anything-including the Course-to support this denial.)

Lesson 22, however, combined with other teachings in the Course, has given me a radically different view. In this view, my anger is not a reasonable reaction to an insane world and what it is doing to me. Rather, my anger actually came first. I have carried an aggression within me since before the world began, and not because it was in any way provoked. Rather, it was a free choice on my part. Why? Because through aggression, I get a certain pleasure. I get the rush of (appearing to) elevate myself by destroying others.

But who wants to admit to such a thing? Therefore, to maintain this inexcusable habit, I had to manufacture a good excuse. We can see ourselves doing this sort of thing all the time. If we have an unhealthy habit, we subtly manufacture excuses that magically “require” us to feed the habit. Then feeding it becomes not our choice but something we have to do. “I have to light up this cigarette to calm my nerves. I have to light it up in order to fit in.”

The excuse we made for our aggression, however, was on a much grander scale. We made an entire world as an excuse. We made it by projecting our anger outward, with the result that we see a world full of angry, attacking forms. Now we find ourselves surrounded by a world that is constantly assaulting us. It is therefore a world that requires us to exercise our aggression. We have to defend ourselves with attack; we have to acknowledge the injustice of things with anger.

And that gets me back to where I started this entry-surrounded by a world that “forces” me to be angry, that leaves me with no choice. The reality, though, is that I have simply made up a massive excuse to feed my habit. I am not surrounded by objective causes of anger and the world didn’t attack first. I have simply done what we all do when we want to attack-I’ve made up a story in which I was attacked first, a story in which my own attack has been honestly provoked. And that story is the world I live in.

This idea has given me a remarkably new perspective on all the things that “provoke” my anger. Now I can remember that this irritating situation as I see it is simply a manufactured excuse, an excuse I arranged in order to feed my habit. It is not a real provocation. It is a perceptual illusion conjured up by my aggression so that it had “reason” to attack. On some very deep level, I conjured up the actual attacking forms. And then on a more conscious level, I am conjuring up the interpretation in which those forms really do threaten me and really do deserve my angry response.

What this simple idea does is to convert my anger back into what it really is: a free, unprovoked choice, a baseless choice that causes me enormous guilt. Now I am not forced to be angry. It is a choice, something I don’t have to do and don’t want to do.

This basic idea-that all the “causes” of my anger are actually just excuses manufactured to feed an ancient addiction-totally captivated me. I therefore made it the focus of my practice yesterday (using Lesson 23, “I can escape from the world I see by giving up attack thoughts”). This realization felt so important that it actually kept my practice frequent throughout the day in spite of not having a meditation that morning, and in spite of my topsy-turvy household right now (which slowly is getting more right-side-up). It felt very freeing. I felt like a calmer, saner person. Even when I wasn’t aware of feeling anger, repeating the lesson made me feel immediately different, implying that in fact I had been angry without knowing it.

I felt different enough that I wondered if it was really “me” to not be angry. Might this “no-anger” thing be inauthentic? Something alien to my nature? But then I had another thought: I have always been deeply uncomfortable with my anger. I have spent most of my life trying to get away from it. Maybe, then, moving towards having no anger is really a move toward being more myself. In the end, might not the calmer, saner, non-angry me be more authentic?