On Tuesday night, I gave a student dharma talk at our Zen sitting group. The topic that I chose was anger, the precept that I have been studying, and struggling with, and turning inside out on a daily basis for the past few months.
I spent several days carefully planning what I would say, trying to balance my own story with a few insights culled from the pages of Buddhist teachers like Robert Aitken and Thich Nhat Hanh and Seung Sahn. It felt pretty reasonable and coherent, on paper.
But when I sat in front of my sangha members, fourteen of them, and began to talk, all sorts of doubts cropped up. As part of my dealings with anger, I chronicled instances from my past when I had lost my cool. In sharing them, speaking them out loud, it seemed they became shocking, startling. It felt as if I was portraying myself as a person who snapped easily and often, a walking time bomb. I grew uneasy as I looked around the circle, trying to read everyone’s faces. Did they think I was a monster?
A piece of me wanted to backtrack, and rewrite the script, to begin making explanations. After a reference to anger with a girlfriend, I longed to say, “I have been in a relationship with Sabrina for six years, and not once in that time have I ever yelled at her, or even raised my voice.”
I scrambled through my memories, thinking of all of the other reactions that come with far greater frequency than my own anger or outward violence: disassociation, depression, fear, self-doubt, nightmares. Those have been my main battle.
But, no. That is not the point. I also have anger. It is there. It is inside me, often buried, but inside me nonetheless. And at times, it does burst out, usually inappropriately. I need to face that in all honesty and courage.
After the talk, a couple of my sangha members thanked me for my honesty. This, too, is something that catches me a little off guard. I appreciate the comment, since I know it is offered genuinely enough. But, there is simply no other way I know how to be. Even when at times it might be better to keep some things more private, out of self protection, I’ve never been very good at drawing that line. Most of my life, I have walked around with no skin. All you need to do is ask. If I know the answer, I will tell you. It’s all here, right on the surface.
The downside to that, of course, is that on the day following such a talk, I feel completely naked in front of the world. And it is only through sitting, and breathing, and writing it down, that I can begin once more to believe that I will be able to walk into that room and face those people without fear. It is a process, one that I undertake over and over again.