The Zen Approach To Overcoming Anger

Anger is a normal human emotion. Everyone gets angry. We cannot rid of anger completely. However we can create a space between becoming angry and expressing that anger.

When we get angry, usually there is a stimulus. This stimulus makes us angry and we then express that anger. When we express that anger, what usually happens is that our anger increases. This makes the other person also more angry and he takes out that anger on another person. We feel that we have more power when we get angry but when we look at the events that follow, we will find that the power we wield is hollow. It may create fear but never love. We also think that the other person has done something intentionally and cite a particular reason for their action and your anger. But mostly we are wrong. We have become angry because of an immediate and irrational reaction based on a notion we have in our heads.

We create our reality and our anger with our minds. A man shudders with horror when he steps on a serpent, but laughs when he looks down and sees that it is only a rope. As the Buddha says: We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world. If we can observe without judging or interpreting: brown, round, curved thing on the ground- if it hisses, it is a snake, otherwise we just look and see it is a rope- then we have developed the ability of bare attention or noting and are aware and mindful and non-judgmental.

There are certain hypotheses I ask you to consider regarding anger:

  1. Anger is a destructive emotion.
  2. The first person damaged by anger is you.
  3. When you act out of anger, you will act irrationally.
  4. You can, if you choose, reduce the amount of anger in your life.
  5. As you reduce anger in your life, you will be happier and more effective.

Very often, when we are angry we suppress it or show it on some third-party. But this does no good to ourselves or others. We are not perfect and that is okay. But is there an alternative to feeling and expressing anger. Let us explore.

1. We can become angry with trivial things as well as serious things. No matter what, when we are angry we do not feel well. On the other hand it feels good when we are happy. When anger arises, it is because of what we think and how we view reality. The way we view reality depends on our assumptions and beliefs and previous conditioning. Suggestions and expectation also affect our reality. But the foundation of all this is very flimsy. What we observe in the moment is what we know. The rest is all interpretation based on a filter of past experiences that may or may not have any relevance to it. So we all have the power to choose in each moment and not be controlled by our previous conditioning or our past expectations. Just pause and ask: Hey, what is really happening here?

2. The cause of our anger is an unmet demand. These may be of various kinds but the basic principle and fact is that we get angry when our demands are not met. Whenever you feel angry, just pause to consider what your demand or need or expectation is… this will go a long way toward changing it. There are many types of demands:

  • The important and reasonable demand: you want your husband to love you
  • The reasonable but unimportant demand: you want to eat Indian, she want to eat Chinese
  • The irrational demand: you are angry about traffic jams, or you want respect from a stranger
  • The impossible demand: I want people to accept everything I say.
  • The unspoken demand: Not letting others know what our demands are.

3. We pay a huge cost when we get angry in many ways:

  • It does not feel good to be angry. The effects we feel are not for a short time only, but also for a long time as the effects linger on. 
  • It affects our relationships. It causes fear and rifts in relationships. We sometimes think that anger can force someone to do something. It can, but under fear and duress, and it does nothing to change behaviour in the long run.
  • It makes us act stupidly. In anger, we do not use our reason and react emotionally.
  • When we become angry, others get angry also at us and others and the world we live in becomes unpleasant.

4. We have to become aware of our anger. Not only anger but also when we are irritated, offended or impatient as these are all indirect anger. One important question to ask when we feel angry is: What is my demand here? The other thing we can do to become aware of anger is to practice bare attention or mindfulness without any judgment or interpretation.

5. We all have triggers that make us angry. What are your triggers? Is it pride, respect, jealousy, approval, independence or honor? Once you become aware of your triggers, think what use anger is when somebody pushes those triggers. Becoming aware of your triggers and being calm when the trigger is pushed can decrease anger. The other important trigger that makes you angry is hate. Get rid of hating anything. Also learn to recognize the other person’s triggers; this will make you compassionate.

6. No man is an island. We live in an interdependent world. Therefore there is no use in clinging. Give and receive….everything gifts, love, help, etc.. this will make you more calm and less angry.

7. We think we know what will make us happy and what will make us unhappy. In reality we do not know. It is we who give meaning to these things. You can change the meaning if you want. Abandon your fantasies of what will give you happiness. Understand you do not know how an event will turn out. Live in the present moment without preconceptions of what is good for us. The true treasure to have is equanimity and to have the mind of “don’t know” in the midst of the apparent joys and disasters of life. If you can live like this, anger will be gone forever.

8. Even if we are not angry, others may be angry with us. Look at the situation calmly…allow the anger to pass like a breeze through you, look at the issues behind that anger and see if those can be tackled in a calm manner.

9. Remember that you have a choice of whether to be angry or not angry. What has happened has happened. It cannot be changed. However, we can choose how to react. The choices we use to create misery can be used to create our happiness.

10. Finally, we need to transform our anger to compassion. To do this, we can do the following:

  • Look at the intention behind and understand that there may be a reason for that kind of behaviour.
  • Count your blessings.
  • Then view that act with compassion understanding that he is like you. Tolerate, be insightful or forgive.

Mind is what creates anger
Mind is what creates serenity.
Anger creates anger.
Loving-kindness dissolves anger.
This law is ancient and eternal.

– reflections from the book ” The Cow in the Parking Lot” by Leonard Scheff.

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