Anger is an important, extremely unpleasant, powerful, and often destructive energy. Personally, any time I feel it, I immediately know that something I’m deeply attached to is at stake. When I feel antagonized or emotionally chafed I know that I’m clinging to some opinion or idea I hold dear in the moment. When I find myself boiling with resentment, that uncomfortable roiling around my heart prompts me to identify my personal boundaries and tells me I expect they’re about to be crossed. This kind of informative clarity might be called anger’s upside.
Cooling Down Indignant Feelings
On the downside, when I feel vexed, I feel compellingly solid, inflexible, threatened, and vulnerable. When I feel threatened and vulnerable, I’m libel to say things that are too hot, too cutting, too hard hitting. When I say things in anger, I nearly always regret those words as soon as I speak, or soon thereafter. That’s because when I’m mad my voice gets too loud and too hard, my face twists intensely; I become inconsiderate, too insensitive to really care that others can’t hear.
In that moment, I’m all caught up in trying to hide my felt sense of vulnerability. But I can hear my own suffering in what I’m saying, and this surge of energy makes me feel simultaneously sweetly powerful, self righteous, queazy, and even more sullen. Interestingly enough, unlike anger’s upside, vexation’s downside, that is, acting on or out of vexation’s energy, engenders confusion, chaos, and only more suffering.
Anger, as we all know, is deeply unpleasant for everyone in its grip, receiver and sender alike. Personally, whenever I have acted or spoken out of a deep sense of irritation, the consequences have been unhelpful and, more often then not, the words I’ve spoken and my tone of voice has been wounding and counterproductive. Healing from angry words spoken can take years, if healing comes at all.
Understanding the Other is Understanding the Self
Thich Nhat Hanh has thought deeply about how to work with our inner suffering and violence so we can avoid afflicting our irritation on ourselves and on others. He writes,
When we get angry, we suffer. If you really understand that, you also will be able to understand that when the other person is angry, it means that she is suffering. When someone insults you or behaves violently towards you, you have to be intelligent enough to see that the person suffers from his own violence and anger. But we tend to forget. We think that we are the only one that suffers, and the other person is our oppressor.
This is enough to make anger arise, and to strengthen our desire to punish. We want to punish the other person because we suffer. Then, we have anger in us; we have violence in us, just as they do. When we see that our suffering and anger are no different from their suffering and anger, we will behave more compassionately. So understanding the other is understanding yourself, and understanding yourself is understanding the other person. Everything must begin with you.
― Thich Nhat Hanh,
I create and face angry and uncomfortable feelings in me. Only I can cool off these offended feelings. I can develop the habit of acting out of compassion for the other person rather than out of fear for myself. This is Dharma practice at the edge of growth, so to speak, and I fail at times; very often I can do better.
Practicing With Hostile Feelings
Here is a quote from a valuable article at Lions Roar. The quote is from a section of Gavin Harrison’s book In The Lap of the Buddha. It’s all about working with our annoyance and vexation in our meditation practice and in life.
It is most desirable to recognize anger right when it arises, before it evolves into a raging monster. When we notice that anger has arisen, we simply acknowledge it, name it, and feel it. We may say softly to ourselves: “Anger, anger.” The mental label keeps us in place so that we can feel the emotion clearly and steadily. As we do so, we observe the relationship of anger to other emotions, such as fear, desire, shame and boredom. The clouds of the mind are rarely simple! With resolution we open to the anger, again and again and again. Over time, slowly and gradually, the full energy of anger emerges into the open, to be befriended, respected, and made workable.~~Gavin Harrison
Here’s the link: lionsroar.com/working-with-anger/
In these angry times, we can use all the thoughtful and practiced guidance we can get on working with ireful feelings, or at least I can.
Here’s a link to more posts here at our website: sweepingheartzen.org/basic-goodness-friendship/
Have a wonderful week!