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Posts Tagged ‘assertiveness training’

It’s a game—yes life is a game and anger is used as a tool in the game to help people get what they think they want, need, or desire.  In life there are rules and so many rules that it is hard to keep track of them.  When you are young the rules are less and they are easier to remember.  Rule #1 cry or have a temper tantrum when you are hungry or wet or want something that you cannot reach and someone will pay attention to you and give you what you are asking for.  Rule #2 laughing and smiling does not get as quick a response. Rule #3 go back to rule #1.

So this game continues into our youth and adulthood.  We play this game with family members, friends, co-workers, and total strangers.  You’ve seen and heard the game, you’ve played the game.  Sometimes it works in the immediate moment, but afterwards you end up with regrets, broken friendships and relationships, and even lost jobs.

That is not to say that anger or aggressive words or actions are not appropriate in certain situations in life.  When I teach assertiveness training in my classes and workshops I let people know that there are three types of ways you can behave in any situation: passive, aggressive, and assertive.  Depending upon the situation any one of the three may be the effective one and the perfect one at that moment.

Liberation is one of our main goals when sitting and so we need to be liberated to choose, to say “just this,” or to respond in the most aggressive way or the most passive way.  Wonderful examples of inappropriate and appropriate anger are given in Reb Anderson’s book Being Upright (2001). Reb describes a day when his 2-year-old daughter was walking ahead of him and she suddenly turned and started trotting quickly into the street.

 “I immediately shouted with my full voice, “No!” My tone was fierce and aggressive, like a fast moving truck.  She stopped in her tracks and turned back toward the sidewalk. I felt no anger toward my daughter, but there was harshness in my voice.  The strength of my shout surprised me, and I watched her response.  Afterward she seemed calm and happy, so I felt that perhaps it was all right that I had yelled so fiercely (page 180).”[1]

You could call this appropriate anger and from there he moved back into the “gentle way” with his daughter and they both found a “peaceful balance” as they continued their walk through town.  Reb goes on to say, “Peace is realized in entering the flow—meeting and dancing with aggressive energy (page 181).”

To be liberated in this game of life is not to be stuck with rules that are “always” and “only” one way or the other, but that there is latitude to determine when and how to use the rules.  Being angry all the time is not one of them.  Being passive all the time is not one either.  But developing the “middle way” is.  Developing and practicing patience is a great way to find the middle way.  Reb writes:

  “Patience is an antidote to anger and primary condition for enlightenment.  Through practice your vision clears and you see the dependent co-arising pain, frustration, and anger.  Practicing patience does not mean gritting your teeth and ignoring the pain, but developing and expanding your capacity for experiencing pain, opening wide enough to feel the pain without either running away or wallowing in it.  When you practice patience, the path to harmful anger is blocked.  You can face the pain, and relax and breathe with it (page 182)”[2]

This leads to liberation and the use of “appropriate anger” when it is called for and choosing the “middle way” the rest of the time.  It frees you from using “harmful anger” to control and manipulate the people around you.  It will help clear the way for compassion, love, and kindness in the game of life that you are playing.  Today you may be the pawn, the queen, the knight, or the king—one never knows—but when you are liberated you can choose them all or simply choose not to play.

So let’s not act like our baby self above and get caught in the cycle of Rules 1, 2, and 3!

Things to focus on this week:

  •  Step one: Begin simply by giving up inappropriate anger and replacing it with compassion, love, and patience.
  • Step two: Set your intention to think before you speak when you hear one of your anger triggers coming and choose the middle way.
  • Step three: Find a way to be kind even when confronted with the most extreme aggressiveness.
  • Step four: Finally, keep a journal on the precept and make note of how learning to embody truth in all its aspects thoughts, words, and actions is affecting your life. Good luck with that!


[1] Anderson, R. (2001) Being Upright Zen Meditation and the Bodhisattva Precepts. Rodmell Press: Berkeley, CA

[2] Ibid.

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