2.7
October 3, 2013

No Buddhist Bitches. ~ Ann Nichols

I just never get really angry. Well, almost never.

Not only that; I‘m kind of baffled by people who do. It scares me, seeming both irrational and excessive. When my parents argued, I admired my father’s cool, New England rationality and scorned my mother’s hot-temper.

One of the reasons I found Buddhism appealing was that it discouraged anger. On the rare occasions when I felt that hot, pulsing thing beneath my placid surface I could simply observe it and sit it out without saying the hurtful words or writing the self-righteous message.

In the midst of all this patting myself on the back for my superior calm and control, I hit a major snag. Twice in the past week, I was not only angry but pretty viciously unkind.

In both cases I was on the phone, conducting business for my father. Cancer surgery has affected his speech and his hearing isn’t what it used to be.

First, Ira at the annuity company dropped a bombshell in response to an unrelated inquiry. He said that since my mother died last year, my father would now receive only half of his previous annuity payments.

This was bad news. It’s the money my father lives on.

After I questioned that, Ira put me on hold for 17 minutes to investigate. He came back to say that he now thought Dad would get no further annuity payments. Not even half. But he wasn’t really sure about that. He had turned it over to another department which would send us a letter in 7-10 days. Ira was on speaker phone and I watched my father turn gray across the table.

I felt a kind of whoosh from gut to head and I became…evil. I became the lawyer I was for many years, combined with something unkind, impatient and terrifically un-Buddhist.

Instead of stopping myself and acting on what I profess to believe, I eviscerated Ira. And enjoyed it. I was very calm as I questioned his ability to do his job, schooled him on diplomacy and threatened to publicly dun him and the company for terrifying a sick, elderly customer.

By then, I didn’t just want a resolution. I wanted to win. I wanted to prove that I was right and smarter and stronger. I would not have been surprised to learn that I was growing horns.

Ira put me on hold again and magically discovered a document stating that Dad would continue to receive the full annuity payment, for life.

I won.

I felt like shit.

And then I did it again, to some guy named Robert in Manila who worked at a Comcast call center and had only the slimmest grasp on the English language. When Robert asked my father his name and Social Security number for identification purposes he could not understand Dad’s answer. After the third time he made Dad repeat the same information, I got angry again.

I do not hate foreigners in call centers. I know, intellectually, that poor Robert is some guy earning nothing, sitting in a crowded room reading from a script. It is not Robert’s fault that Comcast outsources customer service and that it’s impossible to reach a human on the phone.

I was really awful to Robert. I was sarcastic, patronizing and slowed my speech waaaaaay down as if he had a learning impairment. I was livid. He had embarrassed my father and then he couldn’t help me anyway. I ground him into a fine powder, like Nancy Grace prosecuting a toddler who spilled his juice. I hung up on him.

I felt like shit.

After Robert from Manila, I felt I had to take a hard look at what was happening to me. I still didn’t feel like a generally angry person but there was clearly some kind of trigger thing going on.

I remembered all the times I had stopped myself from reacting in anger, all the times I had been able to recognize the changes in my body and respond with mindfulness, wisdom and compassion.  That was most of the time.

Then I remembered the last time I had not able to control myself—an episode involving my son being accused of vandalism.  I recalled that same whoosh of dark, red, rage directed at the school “safety officer” when he admitted that he had no proof, but needed names to put on the insurance forms. He explained that based on my son’s track record, he was probably guilty anyway.

I took him apart, in front of my son.

And that was the trigger. I lost control and became an incredible and unrepentant bitch when someone I loved was threatened.

I could, I suppose, tell myself that it’s understandable, even commendable to fight for someone vulnerable. I could tell these stories on Facebook and get 400 people to say “you go, girl!”

It’s okay in this culture to be angry, to express righteous indignation and to garner sympathy as Wronged Little Guy Fighting The Man. It’s awesome to win.

But it’s not okay for a Buddhist. It’s un-mindful and un-compassionate and cruel. I can forgive myself and move on but I’ve got to stop. I refuse to be a hypocrite who carries bugs outside to safety but lashes out at humans because they’re bad at their jobs. Because they’re human.

So I’m working on this and it’s a bitch. I can’t really practice until the trigger gets pulled again and in that moment, I will have to exert enormous control to remember that my charter is not to “win” but to solve a problem.

It’s a bitch but I can’t be.

I chose to walk this spiritual path and I stumble, fall and lose my way when I separate myself and my loved ones from the rest of humanity.

And anger, no matter how infrequent, gratifying or “justified” is a stumble.

There are no Buddhist Bitches.

 

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Assistant Ed: Kristina Peterson/Ed: Bryonie Wise

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