Fall Harvest Moon
I wrote about the middot (character trait, soul trait) kavod—honor, dignity, respect—a few posts below. With two evenings focused on it, Wednesday at the MVP group, mussar vaad practice group, and the Thursday night Tikkun Middot Havurah, and my preparation for the Wednesday night presentation, I’m ready for the practice.
After considering the trait in group, we then choose a practice for the coming month that will encourage to integrate the trait into our daily lives. As Marilyn said Thursday night, mussar is not self-help since its focus is on relationships with others, of being of service to others. Rabbi Jamie says, “learning how to bear the burden of the other.”
This is not Jewish power of positive thinking, or dress your mind for success. It’s about real change, in your own character, change that makes you better able to be present to the other, the other made in the image of God just as you are.
Practice involves a focus phrase, in my case, Your Honor, and a particular way of inserting kavod into my day-to-day experience. We commit to each other for a practice. I said I’d try—no, not try, I will—each time I read something in the paper that pisses me off politically, which happens a lot, I’ll focus on honoring the humanity of my opponent, or enemy.
Rabbi Jamie thankfully talked me off that precipice. “That may be too much. Try honoring the anger.”
That sort of whipped my head around. Say what? Honor the anger? I agreed with him that trying to honor the humanity of the Trump/Pence/Tillerson/Sessions/Pruitt crowd might be too difficult. But honoring anger? It seems so un-middle class. I mean, we’re supposed to swallow our anger, aren’t we? At least be ashamed of it. So… Honor it? Still, he’s an insightful guy, who has gotten to know me over the course a year plus now, and I trust him. I agreed.
Although I’m only a day into the practice, I’m already very surprised by it. I chose to go with honoring my anger in all situations, not just when reading the blankety-blank news. That means when the guy cuts in front of me and slows down, I honor the anger. “What the hell? You son-of-a-bitch!” Like that.
That last was not a hypothetical. It happened yesterday. I reacted. Hotly. But instead of going into the usual physical demonstration of my feelings, I honored the anger. What made me mad? His behavior put my life at risk and Kate’s life. He violated simple rules, both legal and commonsense ones, for a momentary, unnecessary advantage.
I realized my anger was referented. But in the moment it took to honor my anger, I also allowed a gap between my anger and my reaction. I got to choose how I reacted. That was different than letting the anger surface and take control of me. It put a small pause between a justified reaction and a response. I didn’t have to honk my horn, wave my middle finger, I could recognize the anger, own it, respect it and choose to act, or not.
When I did do the same while reading the news, in one for instance the NRA’s cynical admission that maybe bump stocks for creating automatic weapons require regulation, I noticed again that my anger was referented. Why do they think admitting that one egregious gun modification is too much means anything in the poisonous environment they have created? Why do they insist on adding more and more guns into our social mix? How dare they threaten me and mine with their medieval (sorry for the disrespect middle ages) attitudes rooted in fear?
But. Again, I didn’t have to let the referented anger boil over. It didn’t have to come to invective. To an emotional charge that might raise my blood pressure and not have any effect at all on the gun issue. Calm down and honor your anger. Seems like a good practice for the month