I’ve been a little angry the last few days. Actually, that’s not fully true. I’ve been a lot of angry at some points. As I’ve talked about before, there are people who push my buttons, and there are happenings that create what, I think, is very justified feelings of anger. But, I’m not particularly good at feeling ok about anger. I didn’t really learn how to handle anger constructively in my youth. I don’t come from a family culture where there was calm and easy expression of anger, and the midwest isn’t exactly known for being a great place to be really open about your feelings. So, when I’m angry, I feel really bad and guilty on top of the anger. That’s useful, huh?
Anyhoo, last night and today, I’ve been trying to remind myself that feeling anger isn’t bad in and of itself. It is a natural emotional response, as normal as fear, happiness, sadness, or excitement. The important thing is what we do with the anger. Do we experience it, attempt to understand it, deal with whatever has created it, and move on? Do we hold on to it and let it simmer and roil around inside? Do we lash out at others, spreading negativity?
It seems to me that we don’t always have a choice about the experience of an angry emotional feeling, but we do have a choice about how we respond to that feeling. Responding with calm and compassion and an intent to let go of the anger is far more likely to be productive for everyone involved. The Buddha once said “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.” I believe this to be true, in both psychological and physical ways. Anger not only creates mental stress, but studies have shown that it is bad for our physical bodies.
Letting go of an angry emotion isn’t always easy. The Dalai Lama suggests the following process:
If you are able to recognize the moment when anger arises, you will be able to distinguish the part of your mind that is feeling anger. This will divide your mind in two parts-one part will be feeling anger while the other will be trying to observe. Therefore anger cannot dominate the entire mind. You are able to recognize that anger is harmful and maybe develop an antidote to it. View your anger objectively. Try to see the positive side of the anger-causing person or event.
That last part seems key. It’s so easy to focus on what is hard or bad about something that causes us anger. Finding the positive is difficult, but it’s there. So, today, I’ll be pondering the wonderful things about the people that have been connected with the feelings of anger I’m having. I’ll be considering how the pain of arthritis has lead me to yoga and that’s wonderful. I will be accepting my experience of angry feelings, not chastising myself for having them, and then trying to move on in a positive way.
How about you?