It is so much easier to hate than to understand; so much easier to project than to introspect; so much easier to blame than to take stock and take control. I was all set this week to write some “therapeutic” bit about how I hate diabetes, and how hating diabetes is our right, and on down that road. And that’s all true — it IS our right to hate diabetes, and it deserves our hate sometimes.
But then I started getting a little perspective, and I started thinking back to my days as a therapist. And I remembered a truism that I encountered over and over and over. What is that truism? We “hate” things because it’s easier to do that than it is to face our own pain and anger. We hate things because it’s easier to blame the world around us than it is to own up to what it is WE’RE doing to create the situation we’re in. When we’re looking OUT, we don’t need to look IN. We get to avoid the pain, AND we get to avoid looking at our own actions.
It happens on large scales, too. We cultivate prejudice from fear — fear that we may NOT be sufficient, whole, or truly worthy. But instead of looking in, we look out — we make “them” all of the things we secretly fear about ourselves, and in so doing turn the focus away from that tender internal space that just keeps drowning in pain. And in order to reinforce this delusion, we find others who can agree with us about the inferiority of “them,” pushing the pain further and further “out there.”
Now back to diabetes. My numbers haven’t been great lately. I was sick for a while, and then got over it, expecting my numbers to come back to normal. But they haven’t. They’ve been shaky. My insulin ratio is still UP. I’m getting frustrated, angry, and last night I was fuming. I was up at 3 AM because I was waiting for my blood sugar to come down, so that I could monitor, and then possibly take a little sugar if I’d compensated too MUCH, and then FINALLY…go to bed! Oh, I was hating diabetes! Tonight, again, my numbers weren’t where they ought to be. I wasn’t terribly high, but that’s only because I upped my ratio after seeing my blood sugar spike last night. And still it could have been 20 points lower.
And that’s when I WAS going to sit down and write my angry column — my “screw you, diabetes!” manifesto! But then I talked to my wife, and what started as a conversation about how pissed off I am that “Diabetes isn’t acting the way IT should” turned into a conversation about how disappointed I am in myself for the lack of good choices I’m making. I don’t mean I’m downing platefuls of sugar without taking insulin, but I’m NOT doing the things that I know help my system really get itself balanced. I’m NOT eating oatmeal in the mornings; I’m eating bagels. I’m not exercising; I’m spending another hour on the couch watching cable. I’m not meditating; I’m running on adrenaline and fueling my up-and-down mood with emotional responses. I’m not limiting my caloric intake to help lose weight to help increase my body’s efficient use of insulin; I’m eating pizza.
As I talked about all of this, I realized something. By focusing so completely on how much I hate diabetes, this “thing” outside myself, I’ve been ignoring the much more painful truth that is resting underneath — I’m not living up to my end of the bargain! And because of that I have no real right to be blaming diabetes! And that leads me to my final point. When we don’t examine ourselves internally, legitimate anger (sometimes called “righteous anger”) comingles with this mixture of pain, shame, and regret, and we do exactly what I’ve been talking about — we become overwhelmed, and instead of addressing the problem at its root, we focus our anger at whatever external target is easiest. And diabetes is an easy target. But not only is this not helpful, it buries our access to that RIGHTEOUS anger that we really ARE entitled to.
Diabetes is frustrating under the best of circumstances. And it deserves some of our anger. It deserves our righteous anger; our EXAMINED anger. But it doesn’t deserve our “I don’t want to examine my OWN stuff” anger. Throwing THAT anger into the world only hurts us and poisons the world around us. It CLOUDS the issues, blurs the lines, and dulls our perceptions. It mixes our anger together with all of our pain, all of our shame, until we end up with an unidentifiable stew that can do nothing with but hurl at our target. But righteous anger is clear, direct, and sharp — not hysterical, not even emotional. It is insightful, and to the point. It can, in fact, be a source of great wisdom.
One of the Bodhisattvas in Mahayana Buddhism (a Bodhisattva might be thought of similarly to an angelic figure in western religion, akin to the angel Gabriel), Mañjuśrī, is said to carry in his right hand a flaming sword. This sword represents transcendent wisdom, and it cuts through delusion and duality. It doesn’t ignore delusion; it doesn’t turn away from injustice. It quickly, sharply, and skillfully cuts through it like a hot knife through butter. It is skillful, always focused, never excessive, and always directed only where it needs to go. My righteous anger can be the spark that I need to not let diabetes control me; it can be the insight I need to take control of my situation. But if I’m using anger as a veil to cover up the ways I’m AVOIDING taking responsibility, no one is served.
So, I hope this might resonate with some of you who find yourselves stuck in the same kind of dead-end anger that I’ve been in for the past week. We all need to know the difference between unexamined anger and righteous anger, particularly living with something as serious and frequently maddening as diabetes! Here’s to righteous anger! It’s your right; use it, feel it, own it. The other stuff — let’s just scrap it.