She is yelling angry words into her smart phone, screaming a tirade of expletives toward an unseen acquaintance. Her movements are chaotic like she is uncomfortable in her skin, tugging at her clothes and slamming items to the ground. She alternately stands and sits at a table situated in the corner of an atrium in the middle of a downtown commercial building. Her temporary ‘camp’ includes a cart with containing many of her possessions.
I am on the other side of the atrium having tea with a friend and get to witness the woman’s apparent challenges. My heart aches and I go over to her table and ask if I can be of any help. She says, “Just leave me alone.” I continue, “I wanted to let you know I am holding you in my heart and sending prayers and good wishes.” She seems uncomfortable by my presence saying, “I don’t need your prayers. They don’t help,”
I want to run away, feeling helpless to help. And yet, I sense a break in her anger, a light peeking through the veil of her mental illness. I ask her about her story and tell her I can see her good heart. She momentarily softens and we have a better, although still convoluted conversation. I learn she had a husband who abandoned her and she relates some other cryptic details of her life leading to her suffering.
This beautiful woman has a lot of self awareness but not the ability to release anger. I light-heartedly tell her she would make a good Buddhist. She replies, “I would have to go to another country and learn things.” Our exchange eventually ends. Nothing really changes, but I hope she feels seen by at least this one person today.
In the Wheel of Life, a symbolic depiction of the human condition, anger is considered the realm of ”hell beings.” This woman appears to be living as one of those beings. Whenever any of us feel we cannot let go of anger, we are stuck in the hell realm and have to metaphorically “go to another country and learn things”. Hopefully, we meet the Dharma or something that helps liberate us from the boundaries of our hell.
I now have a metallic taste in my mouth, left from the smell of this tormented and unwashed being wandering in her own hell. What is the flavor of the hell realm? What does it taste like? This woman has given me a gift, cracked open my heart, and offered me a deeper glimpse into the realm of my own anger. She pulled me out of that isolation we develop through limited conceptual ideas about Dharma into a visceral understanding.
May this woman and all beings boiling in the hell of anger discover a buddha teaching inside—and experience self-refreshing awareness. May we also support the organizations and all the caregivers out there who have the inclination and skill to help the many beings wandering in the hell realms.