Read an Excerpt
Anger, Chapter One
We all need to know how to handle and take care of our anger. To do this, we must pay more attention to the biochemical aspect of anger, because anger has its roots in our body as well as our mind. When we analyze our anger, we can see its physiological elements. We have to look deeply at how we eat, how we drink, how we consume, and how we handle our body in our daily life.
Anger Is Not Strictly a
In the teaching of the Buddha, we learn that our body and mind are not separate. Our body is our mind, and, at the same time, our mind is also our body. Anger is not only a mental reality because the physical and the mental are linked to each other, and we cannot separate them. In Buddhism we call the body/mind formation namarupa. Namarupa is the psyche-soma, the mind-body as one entity. The same reality sometimes appears as mind, and sometimes appears as body.
Looking deeply into the nature of an elementary particle, scientists have discovered that sometimes it manifests as a wave, and sometimes as a particle. A wave is quite different from a particle. A wave can be only a wave. It cannot be a particle. A particle can be only a particle, it cannot be a wave. But the wave and the particle are the same thing. So instead of calling it a wave or a particle, they call it a "wavicle," combining the words wave and particle. This is the name scientists have given the elementary particle.
The same thing is true with mind and body. Our dualistic view tells us that mind cannot be body, and body cannot be mind. But looking deeply, we see that body is mind, mind is body. If we can overcome the duality that sees the mind and body as entirely separate, we come very close to the truth.
Many people are beginning to realize that what happens to the body also happens to the mind, and vice versa. Modern medicine is aware that the sickness of the body may be a result of sickness in the mind. And sickness in our minds may be connected to sickness in our bodies. Body and mind are not two separate entities-they are one. We have to take very good care of our body if we want to master our anger. The way we eat, the way we consume, is very important.
We Are What We Eat
Our anger, our frustration, our despair, have much to do with our body and the food we eat. We must work out a strategy of eating, of consuming to protect ourselves from anger and violence. Eating is an aspect of civilization. The way we grow our food, the kind of food we eat, and the way we eat it has much to do with civilization because the choices we make can bring about peace and relieve suffering.
The food that we eat can play a very important role in our anger. Our food may contain anger. When we eat the flesh of an animal with mad cow disease, anger is there in the meat. But we must also look at the other kinds of food that we eat. When we eat an egg or a chicken, we know that the egg or chicken can also contain a lot of anger. We are eating anger, and therefore we express anger.
Nowadays, chickens are raised in large-scale modern farms where they cannot walk, run, or seek food in the soil. They are fed solely by humans. They are kept in small cages and cannot move at all. Day and night they have to stand. Imagine that you have no right to walk or to run. Imagine that you have to stay day and night in just one place. You would become mad. So the chickens become mad.
In order for the chickens to produce more eggs, the farmers create artificial days and nights. They use indoor lighting to create a shorter day and a shorter night so that the chickens believe that twenty-four hours have passed, and then they produce more eggs. There is a lot of anger, a lot of frustration, and much suffering in the chickens. They express their anger and frustration by attacking the chickens next to them. They use their beaks to peck and wound each other. They cause each other to bleed, to suffer, and to die. That is why farmers now cut the beaks off all the chickens, to prevent them from attacking each other out of frustration.
So when you eat the flesh or egg of such a chicken, you are eating anger and frustration. So be aware. Be careful what you eat. If you eat anger, you will become and express anger. If you eat despair, you will express despair. If you eat frustration, you will express frustration.
We have to eat happy eggs from happy chickens. We have to drink milk that does not come from angry cows. We should drink organic milk that comes from cows that are raised naturally. We have to make an effort to support farmers to raise these animals in a more humane way. We also have to buy vegetables that are grown organically. It is more expensive, but, to compensate, we can eat less. We can learn to eat less.
Consuming Anger Through Other Senses
Not only do we nourish our anger with edible food, but also through what we consume with our eyes, ears, and consciousness. The consumption of cultural items is also linked to anger. Therefore, developing a strategy for consuming is very important.
What we read in magazines, what we view on television, can also be toxic. It may also contain anger and frustration. A film is like a piece of beefsteak. It can contain anger. If you consume it, you are eating anger, you are eating frustration. Newspaper articles, and even conversations, can contain a lot of anger.
You may feel lonely sometimes and want to talk to someone. In one hour of conversation, the other person's words may poison you with a lot of toxins. You may ingest a lot of anger, which you will express later on. That is why mindful consumption is very important. When you listen to the news, when you read a newspaper article, when you discuss something with others, are you ingesting the same kind of toxins that you ingest when you eat unmindfully?
Eating Well, Eating Less
There are those who take refuge in eating to forget their sorrow and their depression. Overeating can create difficulties for the digestive system, contributing to the arising of anger. It can also produce too much energy. If you do not know how to handle this energy, it can become the energy of anger, of sex, and of violence.
When we eat well, we can eat less. We need only half the amount of food that we eat every day. To eat well, we should chew our food about fifty times before we swallow. When we eat very slowly, and make the food in our mouth into a kind of liquid, we will absorb much more nutrition through our intestines. If we eat well, and chew our food carefully, we get more nutrition than if we eat a lot but don't digest it well.
Eating is a deep practice. When I eat, I enjoy every morsel of my food. I am aware of the food, aware that I am eating. We can practice mindfulness of eating-we know what we are chewing. We chew our food very carefully and with a lot of joy. From time to time, we stop chewing and get in touch with the friends, family, or sangha-community of practitioners-around us. We appreciate that it is wonderful to be sitting here chewing like this, not worrying about anything. When we eat mindfully, we are not eating or chewing our anger, our anxiety, or our projects. We are chewing the food, prepared lovingly by others. It is very pleasant.
When the food in your mouth becomes almost liquefied, you experience its flavor more intensely and the food tastes very, very good. You may want to try chewing like this today. Be aware of each movement of your mouth. You will discover that the food tastes so delicious. It may only be bread. Without any butter or jelly at all. But it's wonderful. Perhaps you will also have some milk. I never drink milk. I chew milk. When I put a piece of bread into my mouth, I chew for a while in mindfulness, and then I take a spoonful of milk. I put it in my mouth, and I continue to chew with awareness. You don't know how delicious it can be just chewing some milk and some bread.
When the food has become liquid, mixed with your saliva, it is half digested already. So when it arrives in your stomach and intestines, the digestion becomes extremely easy. Much of the nutrients in the bread and milk will be absorbed into our body. You get a lot of joy and freedom during the time you chew. When you eat like this, you will naturally eat less.
When you serve yourself, be aware of your eyes. Don't trust them. It is your eyes that push you to take too much food. You don't need so much. If you know how to eat mindfully and joyfully, you become aware that you need only half the amount that your eyes tell you to take. Please try. Just chewing something very simple like zucchini, carrots, bread, and milk may turn out to be the best meal of your life. It's wonderful.
Many of us in Plum Village, our practice center in France, have experienced this kind of eating, chewing very mindfully, very slowly. Try eating like this. It can help you to feel much better in your body and, therefore, in your spirit, in your consciousness.
Our eyes are bigger than our stomach. We have to empower our eyes with the energy of mindfulness so that we know exactly what amount of food we really need. The Chinese term for the alms bowl used by a monk or nun means "the instrument for appropriate measure." We use this kind of bowl to protect us from being deceived by our eyes. If the food comes to the top of the bowl, we know that it is largely sufficient. We take only that amount of food. If you can eat like that, you can afford to buy less. When you buy less food, you can afford to buy organically grown food. This is something that we can do, alone or in our families. It will be a tremendous support for farmers who want to make a living growing organic food.
The Fifth Mindfulness Training
All of us need a diet based on our willingness to love and to serve. A diet based on our intelligence. The Five Mindfulness Trainings are the way out of suffering, for the world and for each of us as individuals (see full text in Appendix A). Looking deeply at the way we consume is the practice of the Fifth Mindfulness Training.
This mindfulness training concerns the practice of mindful consumption, of following a diet that can liberate us and liberate our society. Because we are aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, we make the commitment:
. . . to cultivate good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming. I vow to ingest only items that preserve peace, well-being, and joy in my body, in my consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family and society. I am determined not to use alcohol or any other intoxicant or to ingest food or other items that contain toxins, such as certain TV programs, magazines, books, films, and conversations. . . ."
If you want to take care of your anger, your frustration, and your despair, you might consider living according to this mindfulness training. If you drink alcohol mindfully, you can see that it creates suffering. The intake of alcohol causes disease to the body and the mind, and deaths on the road. The making of alcohol also involves creating suffering. The use of the grains in its production is linked to the lack of food in the world. Mindfulness of eating and drinking can bring us this liberating insight.
Discuss a strategy of mindful consumption with the people you love, with members of your family, even if they are still young. Children can understand this, so they should participate in such discussions. Together you can make decisions about what to eat, what to drink, what television programs to watch, what to read, and what kind of conversations to have. This strategy is for your own protection.
We cannot speak about anger, and how to handle our anger, without paying attention to all the things that we consume, because anger is not separate from these things. Talk to your community about a strategy of mindful consuming. In Plum Village, we try our best to protect ourselves. We try not to consume things that nurture our anger, frustration, and fear. To consume more mindfully, we need to regularly discuss what we eat, how we eat, how to buy less, and how to have higher-quality food, both edible and the food we consume through our senses.
From Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames by Thich Nhat Hanh, (c) September 2001, Riverhead Books, a division of Penguin Putnam, used by permission.