I am having a very hard time processing feelings of anger and disgust toward a fellow devotee. I have been in the company of this person for many years due to unchangeable circumstances and have witnessed them verbally abusing, insulting, harshly criticizing and speaking in very confronting and disturbing ways. These actions have caused many devotees to leave my association (as I am in the vicinity to this person) and some have perhaps even given up their spiritual practices due to this behavior. I have always kept my distance from this person and never entered into close association with them due to my feelings toward them. At times this has made my life quite challenging and I have lost a lot of devotee association due to it.
A few years ago, after losing the association of some close devotee friends (again, partly due to this behavior), I decided to confront this person directly (I had done it on other occasions and it was not taken well – usually resulting in very heated arguments and me becoming the subject of insult). This time I did this along with my husband and a trusted friend of ours. The person in question took it well and acknowledged all that we said, and has since made strong efforts to rectify the worst of it. However, by nature this person is domineering, over-confident and sharply critical, so even without the major offensive behavior, I still find them very difficult to be around. At times I find it almost unbearable to be around this person. All I have to do is remember one instance and my mind is triggered off on a rampage of disgust and anger, and I find it impossible to reign it in. I am in a small community of devotees and there is no possibility of leaving this person’s presence fully due to other obligations I have. And upon honest reflection, I don’t think that is the best approach either. My question is: how can I cultivate some tolerance? How can I stop my mind from entering into these rampages, or how can I reign it in once it has started? It seems apparent to me that this is a matter of my karma and that I must change my own attitude somewhat in order to deal with this, but I am currently finding it very difficult. I try very hard not to ‘fan the flames’ of my anger by keeping my distance, but sometimes I am provoked by even a tiny trigger and my mind cascades down into tama-guna. Then my sadhana and natural enthusiasm for spiritual life become nil and I become very depressed.
It is very good that this situation has caused you to become aware of your emotions. You also made an astute observation about the nature of the mind, and how difficult it is to control when it becomes disturbed. That takes humility, honesty, and sincerity to admit these things and ask for help. You have already taken a very important first step – especially for anyone who aspires to maintain a healthy, peaceful mind. The majority of people are not aware of their emotions at all. In fact, they do not acknowledge their feelings, which causes them to come forth uncontrollably sometimes. In the case of anger, it can be expressed explosively, or it can be turned inward and cause physical or mental disease such as heart problems, or depression. As you mentioned that sometimes when you get triggered, you become very depressed and your, “natural enthusiasm for spiritual life becomes nil.” That means that on these occasions you have let the thing that disturbs you take your mind away from Krishna. In these instances, your mind has gone to its lower nature, which is to have dislike, and then become angry.
Therefore, just acknowledging your feelings is not enough to control the volatile mind, which is why you still have experienced your mind going on a rampage at times even when you recognized the emotions. The mind cannot be controlled without using the buddhi, your intelligence, which requires understanding of how the unconscious mind works in order to take control. Once you have this understanding, you will be able to apply this wisdom, using it as the reigns to control the wild mind.
Using the Jiva Vedic Psychology approach, we search for the root cause of the problem, which is never what it seems to be at first glance. In other words, the root cause of your problem is not this disturbing devotee with whom you are in association. The root cause of your problem is two fold:
First, the mental disturbance lies inside of you, inside of your chitta (unconscious mind). In fact, the problem has been there a lot longer than this devotee has been in your life. Your chitta is the storehouse of all of your past experiences—filed away as memories, with the corresponding emotions attached. Our memories that were created in the first 10 years of our life are generally the most emotionally potent ones, as we did not have the buddhi power to comprehend many situations that were painful. So, the memories lie there in our chitta, with those painful undigested feelings attached to them, and then they get triggered in adulthood. In your case, when you are feeling angry at the devote, the anger is actually originating from painful feelings from the past. These feelings come flooding back and overwhelm us. The confusing part is because these memories and associated emotions are in our unconscious mind, we are completely unaware of them. We have no idea that is what is happening to us when it happens. That is why we blame the person who is disturbing us.
It is like if we didn’t know of the concept of a mirror, and then we looked in the mirror and saw some food stuck on our face, and we got upset at the mirror and tried to get the food off of the mirror instead of off our face. This is similar to what happens when we get angry at another person. So another way you can view this devotee who is disturbing your mind, is perhaps as a window into your chitta, which you would not otherwise be able to see what is lying in your unconscious mind so clearly. It is only when a person experiences emotional discomfort that maybe—just maybe—they are willing to finally look inside themselves. So you have come across a good fortune if you are willing to take it in that way.
Second, your mind is not fixed on Krishna. If your mind was fixed on Krishna, then it does not have any space for anything else other than love for Him. As Krishna states in the Bhagavad Gita, “Fix your mind on Me, become My devotee, worship Me, and offer obeisance’s to Me. Uniting the self with Me in this manner and being intently devoted to Me, you will attain me alone.” (9.34). In thinking about Krishna’s words, He has made it clear how to attain Him. It is also said that whatever you are thinking of at the time of death, you will attain that. So, it is good to remember this each time you let your thoughts slip to this devotee who angers you. One thing for sure is that if you would like to see this devotee again and again, lifetime after lifetime, then you should keep becoming disturbed and angry with him because this will ensure continued relation and karma with this person. If you would like to be united with Krishna eternally, then meditate on His words.
We know, however, that fixing your mind on Krishna is not so easy, otherwise, we all would have done it by now. Here are some steps you can take to help clear and calm your mind so it can be easier to fix it on Sri Krishna.
Identify Your Feelings. The first step is what you have already successfully done—recognizing your feelings and specifically identifying what feelings are there. You had mentioned anger and disgust. Write those feelings down, and then try to describe what about that person makes you feel those feelings. In this specific case, it seems that when the person criticizes others and speaks in harsh ways, you find it intolerable. In your writing, elaborate on these feelings.
Try to Find a Match from Childhood Experience. Realizing that the problem does not have to do with the other person, but what is inside your chitta, try to find what the current person that is troubling you has in common with some people in your childhood (usually authority figures—mom, dad, older brother, teacher), and how they treated you and made you feel. For example, was your father critical of you, domineering, overly-confident, or harsh to you in some way as a child? Continue to dig and ask yourself, what is the root of this feeling of anger and disgust? It is important to understand that if you did not have a childhood experience of the feelings similar to the feelings triggered by how this devotee is treating you, then you would not be so disturbed by this devotee.
Take Responsibility for your Emotions, Don’t Blame Others and Try to Get Them to Change. Once you realize the samskara (memory) that has been activated by this current situation with the critical devotee, then you have to take responsibility for it completely. This means that you do not ask the devotee to change, just to make your mind feel less disturbed. That only works short-term. As you can see from your own example, your mind is still disturbed, even though you asked the devotee to change and he did change somewhat. Actually, even if the devotee changed completely just for your sake, your problem would not go away. What will happen if another new devotee comes into your association whom you can’t escape, who is even more domineering, and critical? You will never gain control over your emotions if you try to get others to change. You will only feel exhausted, frustrated, irritated, and depressed.
PROCESS YOUR FEELINGS
Acknowledge these old feelings from childhood and let yourself cry, scream, or whatever you need to do to express and process those feelings that have been pent up inside of you. You may need to speak with a psychotherapist who is skilled and can help you to process these old feelings.
Use your Awareness. The next time you start having those feelings of anger and disgust about this devotee, catch yourself at the very onset of the feelings. Tell yourself that 90% of the intense feelings you are feeling now have nothing to do with this devotee, and everything to do with the childhood samskara that got triggered. Tell yourself that you are not going to let an old painful memory overwhelm you and control your mind.
Direct your mind back to Sri Krishna. Tell yourself that you have the choice to fix your heart on Him or on the devotee who disturbs your mind. You can control your mind and you can make a wise decision. If your anger is too strong, and you are not able to fix your mind on Krishna, then at least share your heart with Krishna. Tell Him what is bothering you. Ask for His advice and for Him to stay close to you during this turbulent time. Don’t only come to Him when you think you are perfect. Show Him your blemishes too. In true love you share everything. Share it all with Him. You can also ask yourself one question: Why would you choose to fix your mind away from Krishna? For each time you let the anger control your mind, you are turning your back to the source of eternal love.