“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
As a Buddhist, I “try” to spend at least part of my day, practicing the dharma. That doesn’t mean just reading books and listening to teachings, but actually trying to put into practice, the teachings I’ve learnt in my everyday life. Sometimes, this is quite difficult; actually it’s darn near impossible. Take anger as an example. I’m a Buddhist, I’m not meant to get angry with people, things and situations, but I do, of course I do, I was born into a human life; it comes with the territory.
So I have been thinking A LOT about Anger and how to eradicate it from my life. Suffice, to say, it is apparently virtually impossible to get rid of. Even his holiness, the Dalai Llama can get pretty miffed sometimes and he is the most enlightened person I can think of.
So if I cannot stop myself from getting angry, and I don’t wish to engage an ‘Anger Management’ specialist (Thinking of the show starring Charlie Sheen as the specialist should do the trick), what should I do when anger arises?
In the book, “The Cow in the Parking Lot,” Leonard Scheff explains that Anger is simply an unmet demand. You wanted, expected or hoped something would happen and it didn’t; so you got angry. This could be something as trivial as the traffic light turning red when you’re late for a meeting or a relationship breaking up. Regardless of the demand, the mere fact it wasn’t met, ticked you off.
The remedy to this is unbelievably simple and amazingly obvious – “Lower your expectations!” Seriously, I mean it; dial those expectations, way down. None of us are perfect and our level of expectations differ massively depending on whom we are and our life circumstances. So it’s utterly pointless getting angry just because our ‘precious’ expectations weren’t met.
Fine, I here you say, but what if it’s too late for that, the bar was already set and my anger has been triggered. In those cases, the first thing to do is to simply ‘notice’ that you are angry. Don’t act on it. Just notice it, like an old friend…“Hello there, I know you, you are anger, where did you come from?” Just reflecting on the emotion already lets some of the wind out of its sails and brings you back into the present moment.
Once you have identified your anger and begun to get curious about it, watch it. Ajahn Brahm has this great tip to time your anger. Every time you start to feel the onset of anger, stop and look at your watch. How long can you stay angry for? 5 minutes? 10 minutes? When you begin to practice this, you will see that it’s almost impossible to stay angry for very long. Anger, just like everything else in life passes, it doesn’t last. Think back to a time when you were really angry, I am talking furious here, red faced, and snorting like bulls…..remember? Are you still angry now?
In the moment, it’s easy to get caught up in your emotions, but ask yourself, “Will this be important tomorrow, next week, next month?” Invariably, the answer is usually no. So why get upset about it? To paraphrase Esther Lederer,
“Holding on to anger is like letting someone live rent free in your head.”
99.9% of the time you may be angry but the thing or person you are angry at is impervious. Your boss is usually a good example. So why then would you want to feel lousy when they don’t? When we ‘watch’ our anger unfold, we inevitably come to the same conclusion. This isn’t comfortable at all, this sucks, and I don’t want to feel like this. So, let it go!
Like everything worth doing, controlling your anger takes practice. I would recommend starting with smaller situations that get you mildly angry, such as traffic jams or the queue at the supermarket checkout. Instead of honking your horn or mentally noting how quick the other queues are moving, say hello to your inner anger. Get curious about it, heck play around with it a bit. I like to watch the people in the cars next to me and give them a smile. Yes they may feel all smug right now as their lane moves along faster than yours, but wait 5 minutes and you can give them a friendly wave as you glide on by.
“For every minute you are angry you lose sixty seconds of happiness”- Ralph Waldo Emerson