Anger has no power to move us forward. Unleashed, it can only cause damage. Our anger is a natural part of our humanness. It is a neurochemical event, and its function is to protect us. But we must learn how to tame this wild beast.
Anger, like all negative emotions, is a dark lens though which we view a situation. If we think when we are angry we can think only angry thoughts. It’s like searching on the internet – if we search for weeds, Google will not show us flowers.
Ideas and images and memories and understanding are stored in our brain, and when we’re thinking we are searching for and accessing them. If we are in a calm and neutral emotional state, we can search broadly, and find the full range of information that is available. We are in a much better position to find an answer, to make a sound decision.
But strong emotions restrict our access. When we think when we are angry, we can think only angry thoughts. We cannot see clearly the whole truth. These angry thoughts make us even more angry, and we are caught in a loop, getting nowhere and only increasing our suffering. We may ruminate about the event that triggered us, having imaginary conversations in our head with the person, pointing out how wrong they were.
Anger is sticky. It feels important, it feels correct and complete. ‘Ah, now I understand,’ we think. “Now I know how you really feel.’ Someone says something to us in anger, and we believe that statement represents their true position. We feel hurt, and we get angry back. By the way, It is extremely difficult to not respond with anger when someone is expressing anger toward us. It’s almost a reflex – like holding back a sneeze.
Here is where the energy of mindfulness can help is. If we turn our attention to our breath, away from our mind and our thoughts and toward our body and our senses, we can avoid – or at least delay – thinking and speaking through the distorting lens of anger. We can prevent the damage that the storm would have caused. Until a more broad and balanced understanding is available to us. Until we can let go of anger, and it lets go it’s grip on our mind.
In other words, don’t hit ‘send.’ Breathe.
Our anger – if we have the skill to not be swept away by it – can be very valuable. It can illuminate much about our psyche, our vulnerability, our conditioned triggers. Much of these are historic and no longer serve us. When we can observe ourselves without judgment, we can broaden our understanding, and we can learn over time to react differently. We can spare ourselves the pain of what the Buddha called ‘the second arrow.’