Friday in heaven, Friday from hell: radical non-duality in action
Important note. Beginners to mindfulness meditation traditionally start with 20 minutes a day of mindful breathing. To give a sense of scale, I’m going to call that “primary school meditation”. On that scale, some parts of this page are postgraduate-level. I’m not suggesting you leap straight from introductory breath awareness to doing what is on this page on your own. In fact, please don’t do that. This post is an artificial example for explanation purposes. I’ll get to simple practical related self-help meditations very soon.
With that out of the way, I’ll invite you to imagine Friday afternoon in two alternate realities, two parallel universes, Friday from heaven, Friday from hell. I’ll use these scenarios to show you an active-plus-silent, radical meditation approach to anger that’s completely opposite to Buddhism. It’s “radically non-dual”, in the sense that it treats joy and anger exactly the same. It’s a practical, if postgraduate, approach to meditation that many people use and find transformative.
Radically non-dual means: remain the same while moving into opposites. This is what Krishna says in the Gita: In pain or pleasure, be the same; in success or failure, remain the same. Whatsoever happens, let it happen — you remain the same. Instead of life jerking your leash up, down, this way, that way as events unfold you have a centre of integrity, of serenity that you remain in, or quickly recover, as events pass through.
In Buddhism, anger is bad, so bad, and you are basically meant to sit and “watch mindfully” and talk yourself out of it. There are a few thousand details, but that’s about it. What I term radical meditation rests in radical acceptance. Get rid of anger? Why? You are angry; OK, be angry. Sure, be mindful enough not to attack anyone or hurt yourself. But beyond that, on your own in the privacy and safety of your own room, be physically, screamingly, consciously angry. Only then sit in silence. When you trust the magic of consciousness and live your full energy in this way, you will find that the anger dissipates by itself and silent sitting is easy. You actually cannot be both conscious and angry.
You still need understandings around anger such as these. What the body-oriented meditation does in my experience, is to make these understandings much more easy and real and complete to apply. And, it leads you to underlying feelings such as fear or pain which the anger is protecting.
In fact in traditional mindfulness meditation for “anger”, what you are sitting and being mindful of is often not anger. Anger is a body movement – smash, thump, hit, scream, push, yell. The very act of sitting, cuts you off from anger. Instead, often during mindful sitting what you are being mindful of is the process of thinking bitter thoughts, and that is different. Or you are being mindful of the experience of semi-suppressed anger, and again that is different from anger.
What I’m proposing is not as different from conventional mindfulness as it may appear. It is being mindful in the smash-thump-scream actuality of anger in the body, rather than the flattened-out version of sitting with angry seething in the mind.
Two non-dual universes, complete with cat
In one universe, it’s Friday in your best week ever. Your beloved has facedbooked the two of you as an item. Your internet project has got solid new investors, and the software tests are getting fantastic feedback. The funny videos of your cat that you put on Youtube are getting thousands of hits. Life couldn’t be better. All you want to do is dance. You cannot wait to get to a club and DANCE.
In the other universe, it’s Friday in a black, black week. You found out that for six months your beloved has been sleeping with your best friend and business partner (“we didn’t say because we didn’t want to hurt you.”). The confidential software test of your now internet project was disappointing, and some journalist got hold of the story and slagged you off in Wired magazine. (Who told him? Who? Who?) The investors want a crisis meeting – tomorrow. To distract yourself you look at your live cat-cam only to see your cat at home on your bed puking up a hairball on your best jacket. Life has fucked you over and you are ANGRY. You want to KILL.
Here is my proposition. The whole point of meditation is to not judge experiences good or bad. Experiences come, they go, you are the observer. Coleman Barks puts it so beautifully:
This human being is a guest house: every morning, a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness; some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture,
Still, treat each guest honourably.
He may be clearing your out for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
Meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.
Coleman Barks [not Rumi]
So from a perspective of radical non-duality, there is NO difference in these two Fridays. I’ll repeat what Krishna says in the Gita: remain the same while moving into opposites; in pain or pleasure, be the same; in success or failure, remain the same. Whatsoever happens, let it happen — you remain the same. In everyday life that’s not so easy!
As I said at the top of the page, this is an artificial example for explanation purposes. Not many meditators experience such days with effortless non-dual equanimity, certainly not me. But I hope my point is clear. Anger makes you want to punch, joy makes you want to dance. Normally we judge one “bad” and want to get rid of it, and the other “good” and want to have more of it. But then in some real way, you are stepping away from meditation, away from non-duality. Yet with anger, Buddhism as widely understood in the modern age does just that. [Thoughts are physical not mental.] And the other way round, if you suppress both anger and dancing, you become lifeless. Again, Buddhism today often is lifeless.
I will look at bit deeper at how modern Buddhism meets anger.
Buddhist mindfulness meets anger
Our Black Friday protagonist wants to kill someone. Buddhism and NHS cognitive-behavioural mindfulness are pretty similar here. Anger is bad; and they have a lot to say about it. Here’s buddhism.about.com:
If you have a meditation practice, this is the time to put it to work. Sit still with the heat and tension of anger. Quiet the internal chatter of other-blame and self-blame. Acknowledge the anger and enter into it entirely. Embrace your anger with patience and compassion for all beings, including yourself.
Have the people who write this stuff ever tried to do like that on a Black Friday? Really? It is not easy. A few meditators, some gifted and blessed people, can go from a day such as this, sit silently, and achieve true and real peace through sitting meditation. More often not. For some people, their brains boil and they give up even trying to meditate. Others keep going but get no resolution, and blame themselves for being incapable meditators. Others – this is tricky – suppress their anger rather than transcending it. They stuff it down with a mix of Buddhist morality, premature forgiveness and their own self-image as a compassionate person. The anger looks like its gone, but it is only suppressed. Often, in this way people rip themselves off from valid assertion and expression. The peace that results is a kind of lifelessness.
A non-dual, active+silent meditation approach to anger
Recall the the spirit of meditation is a relaxed, friendly awareness of your experience that doesn’t judge any experiences as good, any as bad. Experiences come, they fill you, they go, and you have a serene knowing “I am larger than what comes and goes.”
Also remember, anger is a physical movement: to hit, shout, attack. Joy is a physical movement, often to dance.
It’s Great Friday and you want to dance – so dance. It’s Black Friday and you are angry – be angry. Treat these experiences exactly the same. This is what radical acceptance means. Do not prefer the one and push away the other, say Yes to the dance and No to the anger, live the one and suppress the other. [If at all alarmed by this idea, please see Reassurances and Provisos]
With the anger, I am not saying to attack anyone! And, never, ever hurt yourself. Attack or self-hurt are never meditative. Always you need the basic meditative consciousness to say to yourself, “I feel angry, but I am not going to direct that at someone else and hurt them, or at myself. It’s my anger and I’ll deal with it safely for me and for others.” You alone can provide this first step.
However, you can fully live your anger without attacking anyone, without anyone else even knowing. At its simplest, go in your bedroom in private and and beat the bed for ten minutes, then do your normal meditation exercise. And that’s the idea, to live the anger:
- not interacting with others. (It is powerful to do this in a meditation retreat where others, are doing the same release at the same time; but still each person is doing it on their own, even in a hall with others doing the same around you.)
- physical expression of the anger, with a punchbag or cushions
- in a conscious, mindful way
- sensitive to the moment-by-moment unfolding of different emotions
- which is safe for you and others
- instead of any form of attack on the other person or self-harm to yourself
- followed by coming strongly into the present, for example skipping or running on the spot for an equal length of time that you beat cushions for
- followed by sitting meditation for an equal length of time
The perfected practical format of this, (which is is all-purpose and by no means limited to being merely an anger meditation), is Osho Dynamic Meditation, plus several other Osho Active Meditations. What I am describing on this page is a simplified teaching example, and I am not proposing that you carry out the process on this page on your own. It is not a practical recipe for anger meditation and some important steps are missed out to make the explanation simple. So don’t do this at home, from the explanation in this post.
For the moment, imagine that you are a safe and happy martial arts dojo, with punchbags and things like that. You attack the punchbag for long enough that you start to physically exhaust your anger. Then you skip, with the intention to be fully in the present as you do so. Finally you sit and do silent sitting meditation. In my experience, this will transform anger when sitting meditation alone cannot.
A parallel active+silent meditation process for joy – dance, plus silence
In the joyful universe, it’s the same, with a different emphasis. When we are joyful, we want to dance. OK, in the Friday from Heaven universe, dance. And, for meditation, then be silent.
With anger, everyone already knows you need to sit silently and watch. What the body-oriented radical non-duality understanding adds is, before you sit, meditatively live the anger in radical acceptance. The meditative expression plus the silence make a complete package.
With joy, it is the same but the other way round. Everybody knows that with joy, you dance. What the body-oriented non-duality adds in this case is the notion that you dance, THEN do silent mindful sitting. Here the expression is taken for granted, it’s the silence which is the new idea. But the combined package, expression plus silence, is perfectly the same for both emotions.
Here in Bristol we have many barefoot boogies, that is, no-alcohol, no-drugs dance parties. I went to one at Hamilton House last year that came oh-so-close to being a wonderful meditation; but missed. The final set was an hour of very good progressive trance, un-bombastic, lyrical, uplifting. Normally Bristol is too cool for prog trance so all the more welcome! A couple of hundred dancers bouncing around, hands up at top energy, all of them people who are into meditation or personal development in some way or other. As I imagine my Friday in Heaven universe, this is the atmosphere of celebrating a great day. What would make this flying aliveness into a meditation, would be for the music to come to a crescendo and STOP; and then utter silence as everyone sits in meditation. That didn’t happen that particular night. But is is a wonderful meditation, the harmony of action and silence, the energy flying outwards, outwards in the dance and then inwards, inwards in the silent sitting.
This is radical acceptance, radical non-duality, anger and joy met identically. Friday from hell – you do mindful anger release, you live your anger but with conscious awareness. You are angry, in a spirit of This Too Will Pass, then you sit in silence. Friday from heaven – you live the joy, you live your dance, also in a spirit of This Too Will Pass. This expression of dance equally invites silent sitting. You havn’t rejected as unwelcome any of the gifts that life has given you. You havn’t said “anger bad, joy good” and so made a non-dual choice. You havn’t said “anger bad, joy also bad” and lived in monastic suppression. Instead, you’re arrived at meditation saying Yes to everything. This is radical meditation.