April 11, 2011

A Buddhist Approach to Dealing with Anger. ~ Andrew Weston

Photo: traveling.lunas

Meditation shows us the path through anger.

Dealing with anger is something all of us must experience at one time or another.

Anger can be all-encompassing, destructive, hateful, and a hindrance to true practice. We all try to be anger-free. We yearn for things like goodness, peace, justice, and truth. We try and make places in our lives for spirituality, compassion with our friends and neighbors, and peaceful being.

But when we are confronted with a problem in our lives, sometimes our first reaction is repulsion—jealousy, arrogance, bitterness—a nagging feeling that something just isn’t right; that despite our best efforts there is just something beyond our control.

Anger can be one of the most frustrating emotions we experience. When we are spiritually healthy our emotions range: at times we are happy, at times somewhat sad. Sometimes we are agitated, and sometimes we are at peace. Most of these emotions are quite normal, and ebb and flow quite naturally like the rest of the world around us. However, sometimes, when we least want it to, the strong emotion of anger seems to take control of our very being and strangle us with its negative grip.

What can we do? Anger can come when it is least expected—sickness, a friend’s not coming through when promised, our own shortcomings, something unwanted in our personal or professional life. All these things can be a source of anger. And all these things can be immense sources of suffering—even to the most enlightened of us.

There are several steps I have found we can take. The first is that one should come to the realization when faced with anger in his or her life is that anger is a perfectly natural emotion. It is a part of our human existence on this Earth. Everyone feels anger from time to time; there is nothing “wrong” with someone who is angry. It is just how that person feels at a particular moment in time. It is how one interprets whatever happens to be in one’s own reality.

It is unpleasant, but natural. As the Buddha’s First Noble Truth states, life is suffering. The key to unlocking this truth, however, is in what we choose to do with that suffering that allows us to experience peace and freedom in our daily lives. And anger is an excellent example.

Photo: gromgull

When one is angry, one often does not know the cause. One may think it is due to negative events in one’s life—like criticism from a loved one, bad news or too much to do at work, or even one’s own feelings that one is not fully suited to meet challenges in one’s life. Or you may just feel angry and not know why.

This is normal too. I have a good friend whose mother was shot and killed at a young age by a gang member one day in a downtown area for no reason. This obviously hurt my friend a great deal, who at the age of fifteen was forced to move in with her adoptive grandparents. Many years afterward my friend was very honest with me about the anger she felt for so long, and talking with her I felt I had a better conception of what it is like to deal with excessive hurt and anger; and my own experience with Dharma practice and spirituality helped me to help her even more come to terms with her feelings and what she truly wanted and expected out of life. But this kind of realization is not always immediate.

And it helps to know and have a plan for when anger may arise and what we can do about our deep-seated anxieties. In my experience, I have learned that the best thing to do when anger arises is to ask oneself, “Why am I angry?” This simple question can help us see just what it is we are truly angry about, and will help us make decisions that are not based on the hurt of anger, but that are more rooted in our true selves.

For when we make decisions based on anger, we risk hurting others with our anger. And this, in turn, comes back to hurt ourselves. We are not immune to the effects of bad karma. We must at each moment strive to make wise decisions that positively affect both our futures and the futures of those around us. So, asking “Why am I angry?” helps us take the first step toward realizing that potential.

Sometimes when we ask ourselves “Why are we angry?” we realize immediately the cause and know what it takes to take wise action from that point and stop this cyclical nature of anger. We realize what not to do, like lash out or focus on the anger itself, and are therefore enlightened as to what to do. We may wish to understand another person’s point of view that made us angry to begin with, accepting it or, if need be, confronting it. We may realize, if, say, someone is sick, that we have to act with loving kindness so as to not make a bad situation worse. We may find we need to take a break from certain activities, or not do them at all. We may find we need to change the way we do business. All these actions can lead to a more positive outlook and a greater feeling of peace in our day to day lives.

Some people may say to me at this point, Andrew, this is all well and good, but my anger is more deep-seated. I find myself getting angry at little things for apparently no reason. I don’t know what to do about it. I try to act out of compassion and kindness, but I still get angry. What do I do?

This is a difficult situation, but it is not impossible. If this sounds like something you might be feeling, you may wish to take the topic of anger into your personal meditations. It may not be enough to simply ask yourself in the spur of the moment, “Why am I angry?” and expect to therefore know an immediate way out of your anger. But meditation is a powerful tool. If your hurt is bad, you may additionally wish to consult a private therapist, but I believe a lot of benefit can be derived simply with right meditation.

To deal with anger more permanently, ask yourself when you begin meditating, “Why am I angry?” Use this as your koan. Allow your mind to relate to itself all the anger you have felt and may continue to feel. Let these thoughts and feelings flow. Don’t expect a concrete answer all at once, but let the different influences and meanings of your anger come to your mind gradually, and in their own time. You may find you latch on to one particular reason for your anger as being for sure the root cause. And it may be.

But do not focus on this finding as a source of true realization. Instead, allow the freedom you feel from knowing your anger to dissipate over your mind—dissolving your negative feelings and their cause. Allow the cause to gradually cease to exist in your mind, being replaced with joy and calm. You may find a feeling of relief comes over you. You may find that this feeling occurs immediately; or you may find that it takes a little time. Relax. Allow your mind to feel whole on its own and in its own time, for knowing the real cause of your anger is one important step in the equation.

The next step is to find a course of action to prevent you from becoming angry over the same set of circumstances again. You may have found that you are angry if someone expects too much, or too little from you. You may have found that you have no control over destructive practices in others close to you. You may have found that you blame others for your own suffering.

In any case, you need to take what you learn from your meditation and apply it to the situation. You need to find it in your heart; in your abiding; in the peace you share, to make wise decisions. I have found it wise to shift one’s meditation in these circumstances to a focus on love. Love overcomes anger. For some, it may be a need to love oneself. Or it may be a need to love others. A strong meditation on love can make one focused and grounded, able to make better decisions once one has abolished the root of the anger. Love makes all things better in time.

So in dealing with anger in your life, it is important to remember two things. One is that anger is suffering and is inevitable, and two is that there is a path out of anger. No one likes to feel angry, and no one likes to deal with angry people. So take what feels right in your life for yourself and for others, and apply it to your daily living. Anger is not always dealt with overnight, but it can be successfully dealt with and replaced in time with love. May happiness be yours in all of your undertakings.


Andrew Weston founded and was the executive director of The Conservation Trust for five years.  His first novel, “This Bluer Reality”, should be published soon, and he is working hard on his second, “The Home Fire”, as we speak. Find him on Twitter @AndrewRWeston.

Read 8 Comments and Reply

Read 8 comments and reply

Top Contributors Latest

Elephant journal  |  Contribution: 1,375,490