We don’t actually become angry from a state of non-anger. We allow circumstances to show how angry we are. Since none of us will ever be able to control what happens in our lives, or how other people will behave, the only way we can be certain to feel less anger in our lives is to have less anger in our hearts.
“At the moment you become angry, you tend to believe that another person has created your misery. You blame him or her for all your suffering. But by looking deeply, you may realize that the seed of anger in you is the main cause of your suffering. Many other people, confronted with the same situation, would not get angry like you. They hear the same words, they see the same situation, and yet they are able to stay calm and not be carried away. Why do you get angry so easily? You may get angry very easily because your seed of anger is too strong. And because you have not practiced the methods for taking good care of your anger, the seed of anger has been watered too often in the past.
All of us have a seed of anger in the depth of our consciousness. But in some of us that seed of anger is bigger than our other seeds– Like love or compassion. The seed of anger may be bigger because we have not practiced in the past. When we begin to cultivate the energy of mindfulness, a First insight we have is that the main cause of our suffering, of our misery, is not the other person – it is the seed of anger in us. Then we will stop blaming the other person for causing all our suffering. We realize she or he is only a secondary cause.”
– THICK NHAT HANH, from the book, ANGER - Wisdom for cooling the flames
Too often, when words or actions spark and up swelling of anger, we are quick to look outside of ourselves for the cause. We may blame a life situation, such as a flat tire, an injury caused by an accident, or an unmet expectation for our own performance, such as not earning as much as we had hoped or not having a certain number of friends. But more often than not, we turn our attention towards those around us and lay the blame for our anger on others, even those we hold close.
Without realizing it, we jump to the conclusion that other people, often through very ordinary acts, can control our emotions, as if we were puppets dangling from strings attached to their evil fingers.
What most people fail to recognize, is that their anger rests inside, like a reservoir waiting to be tapped. Those who have a great deal of anger will find that it is expressed more easily and more often then those who have cared for and released their anger through conscious practice.
The more anger you have, the more anger you show.
How can someone who shows up late cause another person to become angry? Anger in this case is the product of an unmet expectation, “They should be here by now.” and egocentric judgment. “They don’t respect me enough to show up on-time.” You don’t get angry because someone is not where you are; you simply use that situation as a reason to express the anger you already have. The situation is the trigger that fires the gun. But what if the gun could be emptied?
Trying to reduce your anger by managing what happens in your life is an attempt to control the uncontrollable. Turning yourself into a victim by blaming other people, or life circumstances, for your anger, will likely only add to the reservoir of pain you keep on hand.
The first step in reducing the amount of anger you feel when things don’t go the way you want them to, is to admit that you have anger–and that it is yours to care for.
One way to get to know your own anger is to observe your self talk and listen to the types of stories that you tell yourself–and other people. Listen to your complaints and grievances then trace your words back to the feelings. These feelings are yours and no one else’s. Find the feeling. Let it express. Let it be OK.
Get to know your own anger. Then, do not try to push it away, shove it down, or stomp it out like a fire. Instead, hold it close to your heart and do your best to listen to what it has to say. Treat it like you would an injured friend, with compassion and love. You may find that this practice will diminish the feelings of anger you carry with you.
Over time, when you are experiencing an undesirable situation or an unmet expectation, whether it involves another person or not, you may find that you do not become as angry as you used to. The reason being, there is not as much anger within you as there was previously. There is no bullet in the gun.
Many people who rarely get angry are not in denial or are unaware of their circumstances, they simply do not have the inner anger to let out. Anger plays a smaller role in the way they express themselves.
Your practice includes discovering where you hold your own anger, identifying past traumas, and doing the necessary work to heal those traumas through acceptance, forgiveness, compassion, and love–for yourself and others.
This is something you can do starting right now, no matter where you are–no matter your life situation. Nothing outside of yourself, no person, no situation, can prevent you from doing this work. You may begin making progress right now.
Artwork by Cameron Grey, used with permission
This podcast includes music by Azam Ali, Greg Ellis, and Lynne Redmond, used with permission.