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Blog: Anger, Meditation, and the Six Rs

January 23, 2021

The topic of anger came up in our sangha gathering last Tuesday. We are in a world where there is too much free-floating resentment and even rage. Often it is companioned by fear, discouragement, or frustration. We talked about various strategies for being with any disruptive state. I had assumed that everyone was actively using the six Rs. Afterward I realized that may not be true. So I want do review them.

As meditators seeking depth, it is helpful to remember to include the six Rs in our practice. They create an inner environment conducive to insight.

Recognize is the first R. We simply see our anger (or other troubling states) inside. In meditation, it’s not so helpful to get involved in the content. That is endless. Content is always in the past (what happened?) or the future (what we might do about it?). Recognize is less about content and more about seeing the processes inside us in this moment (“ah, there’s anger churning”).

Release reinforces the recognition by just letting the anger be without wrestling with it. We let it be as it is in the moment without getting entangled in the stories.

Relax — the third R — is especially important. Inside any disturbance is tension or resistance of some kind — physical, mental, or emotional tightness. In the relax step, we simply see it and allow it to soften. Tension fires up unwholesome states. So relaxing doesn’t stop anger in its tracks. It just deprives it of its fuel so it can run out and quiet down naturally.

In English, “relax” can sound aversive as in “Relax and get rid of those bad qualities.” So I think of the third step as “relax into.” We relax into our anger, into our fear, or into our disturbance.

As the tension subsides, it leaves an open space inside. Uplifted qualities may naturally flow in. But old unwholesome energies may also waltz in. If so, we invite uplift qualities. Often the simplest way to do this is to raise the corners of the mouth — smile gently. This physiologically triggers lighter moods. We call this ”Re-smile ” because we needed an “R.”

Return means return to our meditation home base of sending kindness to ourselves, to a spiritual friend, or to the world. This completes and rounds out a wise response to any hindrance. So we go back to our root practice.

Repeat is the final R. If the anger or other contracted state has deep roots, it may come up again. This happens and doesn’t have to be a problem. It is a chance to use the Rs again. We repeat them patiently as often as needed. Patience and repetition are very helpful.

The six Rs are not a specific solution to a specific problem. Rather they are a way to cultivate an inner environment conducive to insight and clear awareness.

I’m hopeful that with the new Biden administration the tone in our body politic will shift in a gentler direction. But this will take a while. And even in the best of times, this side of enlightenment, hindrances keep arising and clouding awareness. Using the six Rs is a lovely way to allow the clouds to thin out and natural wisdom and heart to shine through, even in difficult times. And this is true even if they have been part of your practice for years.


Copyright 2021 by Doug Kraft

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