Can Anger be Love?

hidden bench

 Cliffside, Barre, MA, photo by Celia

 “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?'”

“Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend.”

All quotes, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.


Dear friends,

On the eve of Martin Luther King Day, we collectively celebrate the life that included a fierce commitment to compassion and dignity for all people. We also recognize that Dr. King was leading people to a social revolution in a society unwilling to recognize justice and equality. Dr. King brought the eyes of the world to see the unlivable reality of being black in a white world. He did this without firing a single bullet, but through non-violent action which removes hatred from our hearts. That was the teaching of love Dr. King brought to an America incapable of receiving his message without fear. His murder and death are part of the American legacy of violence, continued fear, and discrimination against people of color. This Monday we have a collective reminder of the promise of the beloved community, where all people are considered, and an opportunity to mourn Dr. King’s dream that is still beyond the reach of our American reality.

Dr. King understood that aggression and violence lead to more violence. Violence may serve as a justification to oppressors to continue their domination and persecutions and violence and aggression continue the fire of hatred. This is the fire that can only be quenched through a radically different approach. We’ve seen the power dynamics of warring countries. Conflicts can last for generations with one side oppressing the other, then shifting power so the other becomes the oppressor. This is a continuous cycle of ignorance and violence without end.

The Buddha’s words always categorize anger as unwholesome, consistently associated with hatred and ill-will and always an obstacle to spiritual progress. Bhikkhu Bhodi told me that anger is a “wrong motivation” and Buddhist teacher and activist Donald Rothberg states when anger and hatred are at the base of intention, the resulting action and kamma will be harmful to self and others. We know from our own experience that when we act in anger—we are at a deficit and the best part of our brain is unavailable due to the increased amount of cortisol and adrenalin, starving off the full engagement of our prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that is responsible for compassion, wisdom, and can discern consequence.

While unchecked anger is without question dangerous to our relationships and clear thinking, anger does have a place in our emotional life. This single interpretation of anger as a vehicle for actions rooted in hatred, vengeance, and the desire to harm another may not be the whole story. The Dalai Lama and Donald Rothberg consider the terms “afflictive emotions,” “ill will or hatred,” to be more accurate translations for the Pali word “kodha” which is commonly listed as anger. An action rooted in hatred is always harmful–but anger can serve us.

When we understand the usefulness of anger, we can see it as energy and information. The Western view of anger is more nuanced, ranging from outright retaliatory rage to a feeling of moral grievance at the ill-treatment of the weak. Rothberg writes that anger in the ancient Greek world and in the West is seen “as an appropriate response to what is socially inappropriate, immoral, or unjust.” Anger can be used as the fuel for action in social justice actions. In the struggle for India’s independence, the US Civil Rights movement, and Catholic worker movement, anger does not result in ill-will but catalyzed marginalized groups to act with non-violence and seek to liberate both the oppressors and the oppressed.

Anger sends the clear message that something is wrong and needs our attention and can be the sustenance to create an organization that uses civil disobedience to save lives. Anger at injustice may be what love feels like. Looking at the intention beneath the action there is the desire to protect and defend life and to change what is intolerable to live with. When we know how to be with anger, not to allow it to bring us into hatred, or cause pain, but when we can hold our anger with care and understanding, we can use it as the fuel for change.

In the Dhammapada, a poetic interpretation of the Buddha’s teaching from Francis Story reads, “Not by hating hatred ceases. In this world of tooth and claw; Love alone from hate releases —This is the Eternal Law.” (Dhp Verse 5). This same idea is expressed by Dr. King when he said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” It was the commitment to love without exception that made revolutionaries like the Buddha, Dr. King, Mahatma Gandhi, and Nelson Mandela create revolutions that change not only the power structure but also free the oppressors from the continuous damage of perpetuating hate and discrimination. Guided by wisdom and non-preferential love, we can make wise choices towards loving others—even those who perpetuate the cycle of abuse and hatred. Treating our anger with respect and consideration, we can use the information to act with fierce compassion, just as Dr. King taught—because we are not free until all of us are free.

May we all trust our light,


one buddha is not enough








Opening the Channels to Life

buddha cliff

Buddha Cliff, Photo by Celia

 “If I were to tell you that your life is already perfect, whole, and complete just as it is, you would think I was crazy. Nobody believes his or her life is perfect. And yet there is something within each of us that basically knows we are boundless, limitless.”

“As long as you’re capable of becoming annoyed, you can be sure something will annoy you.”

“Enlightenment is not something you achieve. It is the absence of something. All your life you have been going forward after something, pursuing some goal. Enlightenment is dropping all that.”

 ~ All quotes from Charlotte Joko Beck, Zen Master

Dear Friends,

Happy New Year. I wish you much delight and ease as you continue caring for yourselves and others in 2019. For the past four years, I’ve taken time off from my life during the busyness of the holidays to disengage from the pattern of my regular life and spend time on retreat in silence, listening to myself.

Retreat is a precious gift we can give to ourselves, a time of giving permission to slow down and to pay attention to things we normally don’t notice. We can take our time to chew each mouthful off food and reflect on our great good fortune to have food, especially when it is made with care and skill. During retreat, we can let go of plans and allow ourselves to be surprised and delighted by the weather since we have nowhere to go and nothing to do. And we do not have to have an opinion about the weather.

This time away, I had the opportunity to re-connect with the beauty of the forest, the green starbursts of mosses and streams flowing under thin glazings of ice. What I noticed was that my attention became wider. I could sit and listen to the rain and the wind, or go outside at night and look at the stars. In stillness and quiet, with an unhurried mind, the gifts of the universe are available to us.

Thinking about the sensitivity and receptivity while on retreat contrasted with daily worldly life, the difference is clear. On retreat, we are invested in being and in the world we are invested in doing. To my mind, it’s like a sea sponge—a filter feeder whose pores are open to all the nutrient-rich content of the ocean. At our most still, we are the same as the filter feeders, all channels open to experience without discrimination. As we return to our working lives where we have projects, responsibilities, and deadlines we close off some of our attention from what is unimportant to achieving our goals. Gradually without awareness, we can close all channels of attention until there is only one channel we are filtering all experience through, the story of me and mine. To each sensation, each sound, taste, and sight, we constantly ask—how is this for me; how does this affect my bottom line; is this helping me with my agenda? We become like a sea sponge with only one aperture unable to be adequately nourished, unable to take in what won’t benefit our status or wellbeing. We forget to enjoy the life that is constantly swirling around us and we forget that we too are part of this flow of arising and passing.

Sound meditation is a wonderful way to create a bigger mind and experience the constant arising and passing of phenomena. Noticing the beginning of sounds, the ending, the way sounds overlap creating interplay and texture is a sure way to access some of our closed channels of attention and nourish the reality of Interbeing. What is also wonderful about sound meditation, is that it includes everything, the traffic, the neighbors’ loud TV, or your colleague typing in the next room. Sound meditation is portable and makes room for all the experiences that are happening right now—and it can soothe the judging mind that uses the label “irritating.”

If you like, right now, stop and listen without grasping onto the sounds, just allowing them to come to you without preference. Notice how the body reacts to listening. Do the shoulders get tighter with certain sounds, or soften and release with different sounds? There is no right way to hear—it is solely your unique human privilege right now. If your hearing is compromised—you can use your eyes—soften the focus and notice color or form, use the sense door of contact and direct your attention to the experience of contact on the skin. How does the skin on the hands feel in contact with the air, or the skin of the arms covered with clothing?

This week you may like to use your sense doors to nourish yourself in ways often overlooked. Taking in the uniqueness of this moment—knowing that there will never be another moment just like this one we can fully receive the gift of the present moment.

May we all trust our light,