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Introduction to The Cow in The Parking Lot
by Leonard Scheff
Most people, if asked, would agree that we would be better off without anger. Yet anger seems to be a growth industry, which, unfortunately of late, has entered a new phase of destructiveness.
Today, we live in a society marked by road rage, spousal abuse, professionally angry TV and radio commentators, teenagers who go on deadly rampages, and an "us" versus "them" mentality.
Today we live in fear of super vandals who are willing to kill thousands to vent their anger.
The question is, why does anger not only persist but increase?
First, anger is a normal human emotion. Everyone gets angry. Someone once asked the Dalai Lama what he thought of people who study the teachings of Buddhism and then use that knowledge to make money. His response was temperate at first. But as he went on, his face became flushed and he became obviously angry as he went on.
The object of this book is not to eliminate anger -- that could not be done with such a basic human emotion -- but to place anger and our expression of it in a different context.
The second reason for the persistence of anger is that there is no obvious alternative. This book will offer a different way of experiencing anger.
It is based on Buddhist teachings, but it does not require any specific religious belief. Hopefully it will make a Christian a better Christian, a Hindu, a better Hindu, an atheist, a better person and so on.
Nor is it psychotherapy except as Gestalt therapist Fritz Perls once described it: "Awareness is therapy per se."
A fair summary of this book is:
You're hitting your hand with a hammer. If you stop you'll feel better.
We have been conditioned in many ways to use anger as a tool for obtaining our ends. Most people do not question this practice and are almost completely oblivious to its costs. My experience in teaching my workshop on "Transforming Anger" is that once people realize there is an alternative, their anger begins to dissipate.
The third reason for the persistence of anger is that it is addictive. There is a physical and emotional high that comes with feeling anger even when the anger is not expressed. The physical sensation is set off by the release of adrenaline with its resulting increase in blood pressure. A satisfying release occurs when the anger is acted out. This anger "high" becomes addictive much as smoking or drinking does. Like other addictions, anger has its price, which can include heart attack, stroke, and other health problems.
I have heard people say, "I only feel really alive when I am angry." That is like saying that you only feel really alive when you are smoking. Both are examples of how far wrong we can go when living in what Buddhism calls the maya, the world of illusion created by our thoughts.
The conventional addictions, smoking and drinking, are difficult to give up in part because if you are successful, you may feel like hell for weeks, months, or even years. Recovering alcoholics often say, "There isn’t a waking hour that goes by, that I don’t want to have a drink."
The good news about reducing or giving up anger is that from the very first time you choose not to be angry or not to act out your anger, you feel better. In fact, it’s possible to create what might be described as a beneficial addiction because giving up anger creates an immediate feeling of contentment or happiness. Once you’ve felt the difference, you will not want to return to that habit.
Some people may argue that anger is necessary and serves useful purposes. True, when we become angry, it may be an indication that something is wrong with the way we are relating to our environment. Anger can also galvanize us to act on something we believe is morally wrong. When you see someone abusing a child, a form of anger that may be called moral indignation arises.
But if your remedy is pursued in hot-headedness, it may well worsen the situation. If you see a mother repeatedly slapping a child, you may want to interfere physically, perhaps even by hitting the mother. That may interrupt the abuse for the moment, but the mother may well add that provocation to her reasons for continuing to abuse the child at a later time.
On the other hand, if you look at the options available with a cooler head, you may find a way to intervene that does not heighten the conflict between mother and child. Sitting next to them in such a way that the mother is embarrassed to continue the abuse may provide a temporary solution, and may lead to a beneficial conversation without promoting further anger against the child.
To act out of moral indignation demands that we pause to consider the best options for putting the situation right. When we act solely out of anger, with little regard for consequences, we are not pursuing what we consider the greater good but only assuaging our own emotional distress. And the result may well make the situation worse rather than better. Certain disciplines, in particular the martial arts, teach that when you act out of anger you lose.
Many people believe that they can’t help acting on their angry feelings. They see no space between becoming angry and expressing that anger. They believe that they have no control over and no choice about the anger they feel.
One of the lessons of this book is that we can consciously create a space between the arising of anger and the actions we take as a result of that anger. There is scientific evidence that the life span of any particular emotion is only one-and-a-half minutes. If you can pause for just that amount of time, even the emotion of anger will pass and your rational brain will return.
When you apply the techniques offered here with ongoing success, you are more than likely to feel an increase in self-esteem. No longer does your anger control you -- you control your anger.
It is quite possible -- and even reasonable -- that you may greet the foregoing ideas with skepticism. The notion that you can give up anger may seem contrary to your conditioning, as it did to mine when I attended the teachings of the Dalai Lama.
This book is meant to challenge your beliefs about anger and cast doubt on the value of using anger as a way of getting what you want. The effects of reading this material may not be immediate, but as those beliefs, slowly erode, your perspective will change and you will never be able to think of anger, or be angry, in the same way again. And the very first time you make a choice not to be angry; you will find yourself on a more pleasurable path.
The transformation that began for me after hearing the teachings of the Dalai Lama is available to everyone. I hope that by reading this book and practicing its teachings in your life, you will find the contentment that comes from the absence of anger, and that its companion emotions of jealously, resentment, and insecurity will also be reduced. If you are comfortable with and use the concepts offered here, I believe that profound changes in your life and your relationships will follow.
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