Angry mother shouting at young son

In our weekly Psychological & Spiritual Therapy column, therapist Jack Surguy is offering professional advice to The Mindful Word readers for all those questions and problems you have wanted to discuss with someone qualified and caring.

If you would like Jack to assist you in any areas of your life and relationships, fill out this form. He will respond to your questions through this column, normally published every Tuesday.

QUESTION

Hi Jack,

I was just thinking of seriously chanting a mantra of my choice and slowly making a habit of saying it within me 24/7. Previously, I used to weigh different mantras in my mind, wondering which one was better, but I’ve decided to stick to one mantra now: the Mrityunjaya mantra.

I have lots of thoughts and sometimes I feel very devotional. I have great sorrow due to my own anger and my husband is also a very angry person at times. My 12-year-old son has been observing our fights.

I’m concerned about losing my temper with my husband, my inability to guide my son and my regret that I’ve failed to give him a peaceful life. It’s my fear that he’ll turn out like us. This is my main worry, that kids are what parents are and now he’ll be the same. So I thought of starting some chant for myself and passing it on to my son and others silently, for their benefit. I hope this’ll also ward away the negative energy surrounding me and my house.

I need your guidance. Am I doing the right thing? In short, I have lot of guilt and regret within me and this stops my spiritual progress, too. Please help!

Pushpa, 40, Australia

ANSWER

Hello Pushpa,

Thank you for your question. It appears that you’re struggling with three different concerns:

  1. your anger;
  2. guilt and regret within you/impeding spiritual progress; and
  3. concern that your anger has had a negative impact on your son.

I believe there are some practices that can aid you in your struggle with these issues.

Maha Mrityunjaya

First, I do like your idea of meditating on the Mrityunjaya mantra, which is considered a powerful ancient Sanskrit mantra.

Maha Mrityunjaya is a practice of purifying the karmas of the soul at a profound level. It’s also beneficial for mental, emotional and physical health. Research supports the belief that the more we focus on developing peace within us and being a source of peace for those around us, the more peaceful we actually become.

However, I’d suggest a more feasible start with the practice. Instead of trying to make it a 24/7 practice, which will likely lead to disappointment and frustration, try to start out with a short morning practice, perhaps an afternoon practice and then an evening practice.

If you’re just starting serious mantra practice in general, I’d suggest spending 10 minutes on each session and slowly adding a few minutes to the sessions each week.

Don’t force transformation

A very important concept to remember is that transformation is a timely process that can’t be forced.

Consider a cooking metaphor: A person intends to have a nice baked potato for lunch. This person selects the potato, washes it, perhaps wraps it in cooking foil, heats the oven to around 425 degrees Fahrenheit (about 218 degrees Celsius) and then places the potato in the oven for 30 to 40 minutes. After this time has passed, the person removes the potato from the oven and enjoys a soft, fully baked potato.

However, let’s say a person doesn’t have 30 to 40 minutes to wait for the potato to bake. To remedy this situation, the person decides to set the oven to its highest setting. For the sake of this example, let’s say they have an oven that can be set at 850 degrees Fahrenheit (double the original 425 degrees). Their hope is that by doubling the temperature, they’ll cut the baking time in half, to around 15 to 20 minutes.

Of course, the outcome of this experiment will be a disaster. This person will very quickly learn that instead of enjoying a fully baked potato in half the time, they’ll instead produce a heavily burnt, hardened potato not fit for eating.

To enjoy a fully baked, soft potato requires 1) optimal temperatures (the right environment) and 2) time. In the same way, to truly transform your personal afflictions, both practice and time are required.

Trying to turn your mantra practice up to 24/7 will likely result in “burnt” results, so it’s best to start out with a shorter time period and slowly, over time, add more time to the practice.

Now, I fully understand and appreciate your desire to ward away negative energy within you and your home. When something is causing us or our loved ones pain, suffering or discomfort, our natural response is to try and get rid of that something.

However, it sounds like you’ve been unsuccessful in trying to rid yourself of this negative energy. As such, I’m leery about trying to deal with these issues in the same manner you’ve obviously used time and again, throughout your life, with little success. Perhaps a new approach and new perspective can help you provide the home environment you desire for your family.

Embrace your demons

It would seem that your approach so far has involved trying to fight against this anger; to control it, muzzle it and make it go away.

What if, instead of declaring yet another war on these issues. using the Maha Mrityunjaya as the weapon of choice, and engaging in a battle to overcome these forces of opposition, you invited them in, welcomed them and treated them with compassion and kindness?

Instead of your mind becoming yet another battlefield, what if you tried to make it a sanctuary, a place of safety and rest for your anger?

In many spiritual practices, our anger, fear, hatred and shame—our demons—are actually overcome by embracing them and transformation is achieved through our acceptance of them. The energy of opposition or resistance can actually fuel that which we’re trying to overcome.

In embracing our demons, a space can actually be created that allows us to step outside of our normal, often harmful reactions. The act of accepting our anger in a calm, nurturing manner allows us to actually examine it more thoughtfully, to look at it mindfully and begin to see its roots.

Embracing your demons means cultivating mindful awareness and acceptance of the thoughts and emotions associated with them, as opposed to actually being involved with or acting on them.

I’ve previously written on ways and methods to embrace our negative and difficult emotions. The Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh has also written on this subject and some of these writings are online. A search for Hanh’s Fear: Essential Wisdom for Getting Through the Storm and Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames will give you access to some of them. So instead of focusing on this issue, there are a couple of other issues I’d like to address, which I believe are also very important.

One of the easiest mistakes to make as a clinician in psychology is to assume that when a client says they have a certain issue, like an anger problem, you must proceed as if they actually have an anger problem.

What must first be ascertained is whether the person is angrily responding to situations that wouldn’t provoke that response in most people, or whether they’re actually responding with anger to situations that most people would be angered by.

As such, I hesitate to assume that your anger is, in fact, a “problem,” and proceed to provide guidance in lessening an angry response that maybe shouldn’t be lessened. The question then, and only you can honestly answer this, is if you’re enduring things that should make you angry.

Again, one way to try and answer this is to ask yourself if most people would likely experience anger in a similar situation. If it turns out that you are, in fact, in a situation that should make you angry, then ignoring that anger and the situation is, in my opinion, more harmful to both you and your son than getting angry. If, however, you’re responding in an angry manner to situations that most people wouldn’t respond that way to, then I highly suggest reading the articles mentioned above.

Tell them when you’re struggling

Finally, I’d like to comment on your concern regarding the influence you may be having on your son. I really like the idea of passing the mantra on to him.

However, I believe there’s something much more important that you can pass on to him and that’s you and your experience. If you’re like me and most other parents, you strive to be the best parent you can be and as you stated, try to ensure that your children don’t struggle with the same issues you do.

In reality, though, we’re all flawed people trying to do the best we can. My guess is that your son doesn’t expect or even want perfection from you, so that’s not even a concern.

So, what experience can you pass on to your son? If we assume that you’re truly having problems with anger, then go to both him and your husband, tell them that you know you’re struggling, but also tell them that they’re important enough to you that you’ll try and address the issue. Whenever you’re struggling, be honest and say so before you lash out in anger.

Be a model to your son of how a regular, flawed human being admits when they overreacted and removes themselves before they lash out. Show him that a person can truly learn to relax and focus on the things that matter, and allow grace and flexibility in the areas that aren’t as important.

If possible, make both your husband and son a part of this transformation. Allow them to celebrate your victories with you, because they’re their victories as well.

In doing this, you give your son an invaluable three-part gift: the gift of being able to admit to being wrong, the ability to ask for help when necessary and the courage needed to be vulnerable with our weaknesses. These gifts, which can only be given in a true, authentic relationship, are the most valuable gifts a parent can ever give their child.

image by Dmitry Ryzhkov via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

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