“The truth will set you free but first it will piss you off” ~ Gloria Steinem
Its a Wal-Mart Christmas war zone. Grandma is searching for a parking spot while humming Christmas carols to the radio. Noticing one near the entrance she signals and patiently waits for the Honda to load up their colourful shopping bags. As the Honda begins to pull out some jerk swoops in like Robin Hood and steals her spot.
Grandma suddenly morphs from a sweet, little old lady into an enraged purse throwing incredible hulk. There are some situations that cause even the calmest, nicest people to become angry, frustrated and furious; whatever you call it, we all know the feeling.
What is anger? Anger is an emotion, emotions are created through your thoughts; and your thoughts are a result of your interpretation of a situation or person. Through your lens of experience and mental conditioning you draw conclusions: good or bad, right or wrong, fair or unfair, deserved and undeserved.
Regardless of the scenario anger arises when your interpretation of a situation or person is unpleasant. Your mind gets rattled and although you may not burst into an enraged green giant, anger still isn’t pretty, typical physical signs: Holding your breath with red faces, shaking clenched fists and racing hearts.
In Buddhism there are three poisonous states of mind, anger is one of them. If you check – anger is always in defence of our ego. A situation or person is getting in the way of what you want for the ‘self’. For example: Dark rain clouds appear on your golf day; damn weather never co-operates. Your husband forgot your anniversary; WOW, what a jerk!
The emotion of anger isn’t the dangerous part, but what happens next is: The stage of retaliation. During this phase the sole intent is to harm the object of your displeasure. Try to remember a time when you experienced a heated fight with a loved one, when you stopped foaming at the mouth and the fog of anger lifted you may have wondered what possessed you to behave in such an evil manner. Like the hulk as much as you try to resist the urge to slam your opponent floor to ceiling, anger can make you feel like you’re at the mercy of an unpredictable and unstoppable powerful emotion.
You might catch yourself saying, I wasn’t in my right mind. The secret is that we don’t have to be at its mercy any longer.
The truth is: Anger is not caused by outer circumstances, people or things. Anger is a state of mind and therefore only you can make yourself angry. You have the power to control your state of mind.
I know what you’re thinking; this is absurd, of course there are situations that warrant anger; the boys behind you in the movie theatre are talking loudly and kicking your seat. I know this makes me angry, how can they be so rude?
So the question is not do we ever get angry, because we all do, even the most peaceful Zen Masters, but the real question is: How can we control our anger? My Buddhist teacher has encouraged three simple steps to controlling the onset of anger.
HOW TO CONTROL ANGER IN UNDER 1 MINUTE:
1. Recognize your emotions
When you find yourself in a testing situation; tell yourself, even say it out loud, my mind is experiencing unpleasantness. This will create an awareness of the emotion. This awareness will then give you the separation to gain control and reinforce that this state of mind is temporary, like everything else it too shall pass. Just by simple acknowledgement you will take its power away.
When someone cuts me off in traffic, you will find me in my car saying, ‘my mind is experiencing unpleasantness’, and its amazing how the anger floats away with this one simple phrase.
2. Ask yourself – Can I solve the problem?
If you can not solve the problem, what is the point of getting angry? I ask this question all the time. If I’m in a hurry in a slow grocery store line up, I ask myself, “Can I fix this problem?” if the answer is no, getting upset isn’t going to change the outcome. Becoming mentally agitated is only going to cause suffering to myself, the grocery store line isn’t going to move any faster. This mental game works wonders.
When you experience anger, take 10 deep breaths. It’s impossible for anger to escalate when you are breathing deeply. I use all sorts of opportunities to practice this form of meditation; using the example of the grocery store line up again, once I realize that I can’t solve my problem, I enter a stage of acceptance. Instead of getting angry I use the extra time to mentally focus, breathe and experience clarity. Every moment is an opportunity for spiritual advancement.
That’s it! 3 easy, quick steps to prevent anger from escalating in less than one minute.
The emotion of anger can run much deeper than simple day-to-day annoyances such as traffic or the weather. We most definitely have situations such as social injustices, school shooters, disease and death where controlling our anger is going to be a lengthy process full of psychological counselling on mindfulness, meditation and reflection.
These three simple techniques listed above have a place in our everyday life for controlling anger outbursts and they can most definitely help to begin the mindful awareness of deeper anger issues, however being fascinated by the emotion of anger check out my recent article: Why You Need to Forgive, Even if It’s Hard where we take a deeper look into the tricky anger. Should you feel angry at the murderer of a loved one? Should you feel angry is someone harms your child? How should you handle these types of anger?
In our modern world we have a lot of research that says that righteous anger can be a healthy release but Buddhism teaches that there are no good examples of anger. It is a destructive emotion that only brings you confusion and misery rather than peace. The mind of anger is a dangerous, destructive mind
“The ghosts of the past which follow us into the present also belong to the present moment, to observe them deeply, recognize their nature and transform them, is to transform the past.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh
As Buddha would say there is no justified anger there is only anger. Do you agree with this statement? Or do you feel some anger is healthy and even justified?
“Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned. “~ Buddha