Dear Donagh…, Thank you for your website, I look in it every day and it’s a great help and support. Here’s my question. I'm having a lot of trouble with a neighbour lately. I won't bother you with the details, I just want to make the point that I'm not someone who’s always having trouble with neighbours. This is new to me in fact. In all honesty I'd have to say I hate him, and this bothers me. It’s against my religion, and it’s a constant irritant. I'm afraid it’s making me hard. Have you any practical suggestions? Many thanks. JS

   Dear JS, Thanks for your letter. You have already done a great deal by not accepting the situation as normal; and also by putting it to yourself, and to me, as a question.
    The best thing I know on anger is a book by Thich Nhat Hanh, called simply Anger. He teaches how to take care of it, like a baby. It’s a long time since I read the book, and I don’t have a copy, so I can't claim to be telling you what he wrote. I'm just giving you a useful reference.
    We usually disown our own anger along with the person who is the occasion of it. We disown it even while being swept along by it.
    Treat it as you would any physical ailment - like a sore head. Or better: see your anger as if it were a sick and distressed child. Hold it with tenderness, without judging or interpreting it. If you don’t hold it, it will spill out blindly and damage the human environment. Hold it, the wise man said, and become familiar with it. It is you, or at any rate it is yours, so you don’t need any further reasons for holding it and getting to know it.
    It is very important to isolate the feeling of anger, just as it is: as a feeling. Your feelings are yours - they are your baby. But the story of what triggered them on this occasion - the injustice done you, or the aggression, or the insensitivity - is mainly about the other person. So going over the story again and again will not move you forward at all; it will keep you back, in a cycle of endless repetition. Each time you go over the story, the feelings arise again; and if you don’t give them the specific kind of attention they need they will be there forever, just waiting to be stirred by another repetition of the story. That is a very important distinction: between the story and the feeling.
    If you can accept that feeling and hold it, without repeating the story, it has a chance to show you something of great value.
    We are often told to forgive and forget. When we are told to forgive, without being told how, that is useless. And when we are told to forget, to “put it out of your mind,” that too is useless. It’s an impossible instruction. Perhaps the person who says such things feels better for having given ‘good advice’, but it is not good advice, it’s useless. Memory doesn’t work like that. You cannot choose to forget.
    But there is something you can do. When the story comes into your mind you can choose to use the occasion to be present to the feeling once again. This is how it can become a spiritual practice. There is no spirituality if we do not leave ourselves open and vulnerable. Held in the right way, your anger can lead you to this opening of the heart.
    People often have the impressions that angry feelings are sinful, and they feel guilty for having them. There is nothing wrong with anger as such: Jesus was angry on a couple of occasions (Mark 3:5; 11:15). What matters is what we do with our anger. It’s sinful to keep cooking it, like Tam o’ Shanter’s wife (in Robbie Burns’ poem of that name) who sat at home “nursing her wrath to keep it warm.” That's what we do when we keep going over the story and using it only to aggravate the feeling.
    That’s the best I can do, JS. God bless the work.

Donagh O'Shea
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