I have been practicing for some time and in general have spiritual awareness during much of the day. However, with some regularity (maybe a few times a month) something really pushes my buttons, and when it does I start getting frustrated and upset and it snowballs into an anger attack in which I beat up on myself and others. The next day I’m usually back on track, but in the meantime I’ve exhausted myself and those close to me. Can you help me?
What you experience is not uncommon. The hardest thing in walking the path is being aware when our ego-mind, our thinking mind, arises. Because without being aware, we have no chance of stopping it. That requires awareness 24/7 which most of us, myself included, are not blessed with. And the ego-mind is so sneaky that it will arise precisely at those moments when it senses that our defenses are down and we are not aware.
So the answer to your question is in two parts. The first is how to increase your periods of awareness throughout the day. The second is, if you are aware of your ego-mind arising, what do you do?
The first part is addressed in my recent post, “Being Present is the Key to Peace and Contentment.” Basically, being present is the precondition to all of the other steps on the path because if you aren’t present you cannot be free of thought, and if you’re not free of thought you cannot make any real progress because your thinking mind will not allow you to.
As to how you increase the amount of time during the day that you are present free of thought, try purposefully stopping whatever you’re doing or thinking frequently during the day and focus on your breathing. And recite the mantra I’ve noted in previous posts:
“Breathing in, I’m aware I’m breathing in. Breathing out, I’m aware I’m breathing out. Here there is no yesterday, no tomorrow, no today ... only the present moment. This is the only reality. All else is thought.”
Of course the catch here is that you have to be aware enough to stop. So, in the beginning, it will be helpful if you schedule your stopping, perhaps every hour on the hour or whatever feels comfortable to you, using an alarm if necessary. This may feel silly at first or very artificial, but we get so caught up in our days and with our thinking mind, that unless we set aside a time to stop, just like we do in the morning when we meditate, it just won’t happen. For more on this, see my post, “Beyond Awareness.”
As your practice of being present free of thought deepens, you’ll find that you won’t need to check your watch, and you will as a natural thing stop periodically throughout the day to focus on your breathing and be present.
As to what to do when you become aware of your ego-mind arising, that too is dealt with in a previous post, “Not Engaging Your Thought.” As explained in that post, don’t try to white-knuckle it, don’t just say no, but instead acknowledge the thought and have compassion for where it’s coming from while firmly saying that you are taking your guidance from your true Buddha nature now and have faith that if you live each moment well, the future will take care of itself.
If you find yourself unable to respond to your ego-mind arising as suggested, you have to ask yourself a tough question ... are you truly ready to be free of whatever craving or feeling is causing you such frustration and anger. What happens quite frequently is that although we are committed to walking the path and do very well regarding most aspects of our lives, there are certain core issues that continue to prey upon us because we are not truly ready to be free of those cravings or feelings. For whatever reason we hold on to them.
Obviously, if one is not ready to be free of the things that cause our suffering, then we can’t expect progress in that area. For more on this, see my post, “Do You Really Want to Be at Peace and Content?” My post on Step #8 “Were Entirely Ready to Have Our True Buddha Nature Free Us from Our Cravings.” is also relevant.
If you are committed to ending your suffering and finding peace and contentment, then the course of action necessary is clear. You can’t have your cake and eat it too.