What are you really angry about?

I was cross-country skiing yesterday when a family came close to me, a mother, father, and two small kids. I heard the woman saying to the man that she was having trouble with the snow-shoes, finding it hard to walk down a slope. The man berated her for not doing it right, speaking to her very harshly.

A short while later, a woman arrived with two huskies. One of the dogs ran up and licked the snot from my nose as I tightened one of my boots. While I was doing that, the man arrived on the trail behind me while his wife and children came around a corner on an adjacent trail. One of the husky dogs ran up to one of the children and the man yelled at its owner, “Will you take control of your dogs!” The dog owner responded, “They’re gentle.” He said, “I don’t care! You people always say that! You should get your dog under control!” He kept speaking very aggressively to the dog owner, who was apologizing. Then he walked up the hill complaining to one of the kids about dog owners while his wife and the other kid trailed along behind.

I felt really sorry for him because I used to do that kind of thing a lot, and I still do sometimes. He had spoiled his day with his suffering and he had caused suffering to other people. I’m pretty sure that he was not really upset about his wife’s snow-shoeing ability, or about dogs being enthusiastic about kids. There was something else that as bothering him; he was upset about something that he was probably not admitting to himself, let alone his wife. I thought about saying to him, “This isn’t really about the dogs, is it?” But I know from experience that he would have just attacked me. Then, when we later crossed their path, I considered telling him that sometimes things like that upset me too and that I found it’s usually about somethings else, something more important to me.

A bigger shame is that until he acknowledges the deeper truth it will persist, and whatever the material circumstance is in his life that it is connected to will also be more likely to persist; he will not have the emotional resources and clarity to cause things to change to be more in alignment with his wishes.

Build capacity

Yesterday I went from sea level to 10,000 feet and spent several hours cross-country skiing. Even though I was not acclimatized, I did not get altitude sickness or get particularly out of breath or tired, even though I kept falling over and having to get out of deep powder. I was able to do this because I have been going to the gym three times a week for the past year and doing intense weight-training. High up in the snow, I could use the excess capacity in my body to handle the adverse conditions.

It’s a good idea to build capacity so that you can weather difficult circumstances. It’s not just physical capacity that is important: build emotional capacity by practicing equanimity through meditation; build social capacity by nurturing friendships; build financial capacity by generating wealth and the ability to generate wealth; and build intellectual capacity by reading, thinking, and solving difficult problems.