For much of the day today I had to work rather than attend the rohatsu retreat. Such is life. At one point during the day, however, I found myself getting quite angry after reading an email on which I had been copied from a firm that is providing some services for a client for whom I am providing other services. I resisted the initial impulse to immediately write a sharply-worded rebuttal message, and instead went to the zendo for a short, evening sit.
The anger sat in my belly like a little fire. While in meditation, I searched for the reason for my anger - not what triggered it (the email), but what caused me to react the way that I did - and saw that I was concerned that something that I might acquire in the future but don't actually have now (a lucrative contract with the client) might have been jeopardized or somehow taken away from me. More specifically, my reaction was due to a feeling that I hadn't received the proper respect or recognition that my ego felt was warranted, and I further imagined the presumed lack of recognition might ultimately lead to not being awarded the potential contract.
Our tendency is to grasp at things we want, and to possessively cling to what we come to think of as "mine." This tendency leads to anger when we feel what we're clinging to might somehow be taken away from us, and the anger manifests itself as harsh words, mean-spiritedness, and betrayal. We can see this on all levels of human behavior, from interpersonal relationships to the conduct of nations.
When I got home and re-read the offending email message, but with the reflexive anger held in check (although still not completely absent, to be sure), I found that it could just as easily be interpreted that the author was not trying to take anything away from anybody, but was merely attempting to be of assistance, to be helpful. My reflexive, defensive reaction had earlier perceived this offer of assistance as a replacement of me altogether, and had blinded me to other interpretations of the offer. We can never be completely sure of the intentions of others (or of ourselves much of the time), yet we so often run off to one extreme or the other with those kinds of assumptions in mind.
I wrote what I hope will be received as a cooperative and helpful reply to the message. I corrected what I thought was a technical error in the original email and provided them with the reasons for my thinking. How this all plays out in the end depends on how my reply is received - as I hope and intend or as misinterpreted by their reflexive reactions - but I'm thankful for my practice which allowed me the opportunity to step back, look at the situation from a different perspective, and hopefully behave in a wiser and less egocentric way.