February 24, 2012

Meditation Month, Day 24: Anger and Email

keyboardHave you ever written an email or text message or blog comment in a moment of anger and regretted it later? Well, duh! Of course.

It can be incredibly satisfying to luxuriate in crafting the words, to savor the nastiness of the barbs and brilliantly biting turns of phrase. But the satisfaction doesn't last. It sours into discontent and often, regret—and not just because we later think of a better, more insulting phrase we forgot to use!

I have something of a trick for the bad habit of writing nasty emails. When I find myself writing an email with an angry mindset (and it's a good habit to check your intentions whenever writing an email, as Gwen Bell reminds us) I force myself to reread it and rewrite it at least three times. I find that by the third re-reading and re-writing, I have come to my senses, such as they are, and removed a lot of the vitriol. I was in this situation this morning, on Day 24 of this meditation challenge. I think I rewrote the email about eight times. But I'm very happy that I didn't send that first draft. Are we hardwired to write angry emails? I have to say I find the discussion of what we're hardwired to do unhelpful. We all know what we're capable of doing when we try to do better. Scientific theories won't help, but our direct experience can.

Today's Daily Dharma reads:

The work of Buddhism is to awaken, to come out of the sleepy dreams and notions of reality that we hold to be true and replace them with a direct experience of what is more accurately occurring. To awaken in this way, we need to become conscious of what’s actually going on at the very depths of our experience.

Get meditation advice in our Meditation e-book, free to Supporting and Sustainign Members of the Tricycle Community, and from the Meditation Doctor, Zen teacher Brad Warner.

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Philip Ryan's picture

Thank you everyone, for your comments! I don't think much of the whole idea of "hardwiring." Does the fact that we're hardwired mean we're not responsible? It's pretty clear that sexual desire, for example, is hardwired into the brain as a way to perpetuate the species, but I don't think that excuses or justifies bad behavior. So whether we're hardwired to be compassionate, as recent headlines would have us believe, or to write angry emails, we all know, or should know what's right, and it has little to do with our wiring.

Dominic Gomez's picture

Hard-wiring is a result of evolution. Hopefully we are in the midst of evolving to become bodhisattvas.

vgwatson's picture

I don't think we're hardwired to write angry e-mails at all. However, I do think that angry e-mails are much easier to write than angry handwritten letters. We tend to get caught up in both the immediacy of e-mail and the sense of disconnectedness that we feel from other humans... when we send or receive e-mails, we don't have that ritual of putting our handwriting down on paper, of the sensory experiences associated with hand writing something (the feel of the paper, feel of the pen, smell of the ink, sound of the pen against paper, etc), and nor does the recipient have something tangible of us, when they get that e-mail.

Aside from that, hand writing something, in a sense, forces us to be more thoughtful, simply because it can take longer to write something out, rather than to type it.

Anyway, I think your three-draft rule is excellent. I might try to implement that on non-angry e-mails.

Dominic Gomez's picture

Easy to do. We are human and embody the ten worlds, from hell, hunger, animality to bodhisattva, buddhahood. The choice is always ours. Fortunately, most of us press a button and send a string of text bits. Others can press a button and send a drone mistakenly aimed at a non-combatant's home.

ewt7ewt7's picture

Dear Philip,

Your words are heartening. I have learned to take it one step further, and just not hit the send button!
That way i get the feelings out and then maybe save it as a draft to read the next day. or just delete. --
it's the equivalent of burning a piece of paper and the vitriol with it.

i don't think we are hardwired to hate -- it's a learned response. i believe we are hardwired in compassion; it's a Part that is wounded, that has been broken off, often in childhood -- it's a missing, wounded part that is crying out for healing so it can come back and make us whole. My class in shamanistic psychology is giving me so many satoris -- like
Our jobs as partners is to press each other's buttons, to bring attention to the wounded parts and start the healing process. -- When I look through the eyes of love, when I change my perception one-tenth of one degree, my worldview changes; suddenly i am free!

i have been meditating more regularly, since i stopped blogging daily -- i felt it was an expectation. Now i go to the pillow because i want to concentrate on the space behind my third eye -- to witness and have compassion for myself and the world. -- Compassion for getting angry when my blood sugar is low and using unkind words to my husbander.

when i was married, i used to remind all 3 of us, when in a family snit, to check that we were well-rested, well-fed and well-hydrated; if not, we needed to attend to those things before saying another word. Lo and behold, the change was beautiful!

Now i am in a family of 2. when we quarrel it is always around mealtimes!
Meditation holds my feet to the fire and i forgive myself each day. Mindful self-compassion, i have learned, is the best starting point for me -- i cannot make myself or anyone else happy,
if i myself am not.

Blessed Be.