I'M A Reader...
A few weeks ago a very good friend of mine sent me a couple of books in the mail. It's so awesome having a friend that works at a bookstore. Anyway, for reasons I don't fully understand she sent me a book entitled, "The Cow in the Parking Lot: A Zen Approach to Overcoming Anger."
Oh shit! Do I have an anger problem? Am I completely ignorant of this? And, is it so apparent to others that a very close friend decided that I needed a book on how to over come it? After my near existential melt down I just decided to chalk up my package to being just a very kind gift without any deeper meaning. But...I could be wrong.
I will admit that I am known in certain small circles for my temper. But, I've always seen most of my angry outbursts as being justified. Yes, I get angry when people are rude. Yes, I get angry when my roommates are messy. Yes, I get angry when I am hassled by campus police when I am at work. Everyone gets angry! But...is anger ever justified? Enter....the book!
I didn't know what to expect when I started reading this book while on a recent trip to NYC. I don't consider myself a spiritual person by any means so I've never bothered to read a book about Buddhism or let alone Buddhist approaches to dealing with anger issues. However, besides a brief mention of Zen meditation in an early chapter there was very little "spirituality". Spiritual teachings weren't the purpose of the book! Instead, the "The Cow in the Parking Lot" was more of an exercise in finding the true cause of anger, the cost of either choosing to act out (with an explosion of expletives), or the benefits of trying to understand the many facets of anger itself.
Think of it this way. The book begins with a scenario. You're rushed, you're trying to find a parking space in a busy lot, and then all of a sudden some jerk driving a type of car that you hate pulls in and takes the parking spot you were patiently waiting for. Are you angry? You bet you are! But, look at it this way. What if, instead of some jerk in a Hummer it was a wandering cow that walked into the parking spot and sat down. Are you mad now? Most likely not. Now you're just in a funny and absurd situation and will have a good story for later.
Now, of course this is a simplification of things. Cows most likely mean no harm which may be the exact opposite of the idiot that took your parking spot. But...was he/she truly being malicious? Were they really out to ruin your day? Did they even see you sitting there waiting patiently? How do you know what they were thinking? The point is...you don't. So why assume that the person was out to offend you? It isn't worth your time and, to make matters worse, the stress you are now feeling because of a lost parking spot damages your health. So, now you are allowing someone to actually harm you without making physical contact. Why bother?
Anger is simply having a current need going unfulfilled. That's really all it is. So, is losing a parking spot worth the angry outburst and high blood pressure. Probably not.
Now, the book gives great advice as to how to deal with situations that may cause anger and I'm not going to go into them here. This post is long enough. But, I'll end here with a few notable quotes. True, they don't have much to do with anger but this book touched on a wide variety of subjects that all are rooted in finding true happiness and peace.
We refuse to take the risk of changing jobs or relationships because we cling to these things when we are emotionally upset. By being unwilling to disturb the habitual order of our lives or to endure emotional pain, we allow ourselves to stay stuck in a situation where our demands are not met on an ongoing basis, leading to anger.
The fact that we "think" we know what will make us happy leaves us with a closed mind, pursuing our mythology rather than being content with where we are right now.
All things in the Universe are deeply interconnected in a complex web of cause and effect. This means that everything that has ever happened and is happening anywhere in the universe affects the present moment. Everything, extending from the big bang through the first amoeba dog-paddling across the slime, the dinosaurs, the extintion of the dinosaurs, Columbus (or whoever) discovering America to what you did yesterday and in the last minute plus the butterfly's wings flapping in Brazil, the first drops of dew settling on Mars, and what your adversary's great-great-grandfather did centuries ago are all interacting to create the present moment. So, when we judge the hand we've been dealt as unfair or unacceptable, we are, in effect, taking on the whole Universe. The odds of our winning this battle are not good.