Gasp! I was the angry person you were talking about!

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The following is an excerpt from a letter Juliet wrote to Venerable Thubten Chodron after attending a retreat at Sravasti Abbey and reading her book Working with Anger.

In April my husband and I attended a Sharing the Dharma Day at the Abbey. We left the Abbey with inquisitive minds, wanting to explore Buddhism. On the schedule of upcoming retreats, I saw a retreat on forgiveness that sounded interesting. I thought maybe I could talk my son into going because he needed to find forgiveness for a lot of people including me. I never thought I really needed it, but my husband encouraged me to go. I looked at the suggested reading material and was puzzled with the book Working with Anger. I didn’t think of myself as an angry person, but my husband told me he thought I had a lot of anger issues and I would benefit by going. Since I consider my husband to be a wise man I gave in, signed up for the retreat and began reading the book.

I started to read Working with Anger. Imagine my surprise when I saw myself in every scenario you described in the book. I was the person that gossiped at work about others. I was the person that held grudges and resentments. I was the person that couldn’t find forgiveness for others. I was the person that said bad things to others thinking myself better than them. I could go on, but needless to say, I fit into most of the topics you covered.

Woman looking angry.

The retreat was a real eye opener about the way I was choosing to lead my life and respond to others. (Photo by Erin Nekervis)

I was shocked! I had always thought myself to be a nice and kind person and in a lot of ways I am. But in a lot of ways I’m not. The retreat was a real eye opener about the way I was choosing to lead my life and respond to others. I came home with a totally turned around perspective about myself and others. I realized that I was creating all this anger, not the people I was blaming for it. I understand that my anger was messing up my life and I was really hurting myself. Oh my gosh!

The next morning I went to work, a place where I spent a large portion of my day being angry at the doctor I worked for. Constantly blaming the doctor for my anger and unhappiness, I came home and would spend my evenings telling my husband about my terrible day, how badly I had been treated. I expected great amounts of sympathy from him and always expected him to agree with me. I didn’t ever consider changing my behavior, but just complained about others. My husband hated the evenings because he couldn’t solve my problems at work.

I usually joined in on gossip and putting others down at the office. But that Monday morning was different. I went to work thinking how fortunate I was to have a job, how blessed I was to work with such a gifted surgeon who says and does so many great things to help people. And when my coworkers started saying how one of our fellow employees was so awful at her job and a real harlot I found my self saying, “I think Carolyn wants to be happy at her job, just like the rest of us and I am going to try and help her do that.” Well, my friends at work couldn’t believe I would say that, and they wanted to know what was up with me. I told them I didn’t think that I had been very nice, and I felt really bad about the things I had participated in. I told them that my views about what we had all been doing had changed. Now when someone tries to entice me into agreeing with them about how terrible someone else is I just say, “I think they just want to be happy like us.” What a turn around!

I have spent many years of my life involved in politics. For the past several years I would watch all the left wing political shows every evening and get so angry over what I thought about the other side. I spent a large amount of time and energy being angry about what Rush Limbaugh said or did, or about past presidents and present politicians. I would voice my anger to my husband along with all my anger over my job. Sometimes I can’t believe that I did this.

After the retreat, I stopped watching those shows that were so much a part of my everyday life. I no longer wanted to be angry every day about them. I was allowing myself to just be a mess about it. I stopped and haven’t looked back. I am so much calmer now. Wow did I appreciate your Bodhisattva Breakfast Corner talk about Rush Limbaugh! it made me look at him, myself and others in a whole different light.

Another thing that changed after the retreat was that I stopped watching television during dinner. I loved the silence during meals at the Abbey. I had never thought of being mindful and respectful while eating because I was always watching the news during dinner and any other time I was eating and that usually made me angry. Now my husband and I sit at our table eating and having wonderful conversations and enjoying the beautiful setting we are so blessed to have right outside our window.

The things I learned from your book and my time being at the Abbey are rippling through my life and all the people around me like a pebble in a pond. Thank you so much to you and all the people at the Abbey! I am looking forward to the path we are on and can hardly wait to learn more. My husband is also very happy about all this and feels he is discovering so much about what is true happiness. I sometimes can hardly believe I am losing my attachment to anger, but I am.

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