Does it Ever Pay to be Angry?

Via Ed & Deb Shapiro
on Aug 13, 2013
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We rarely enjoy getting angry, it’s like drinking poison or being stuck in glue, it can arise out of nowhere and often out-stays its welcome.

Anger can make enemies out of friends or family, and depression is often its bedfellow. Our physical body gets tight, breath shortens, while mind and emotions get twisted. Anger is an unwanted guest that moves into our house leaving us unable to carry on with life as normal, constantly appearing and reappearing in our heads.

Anger is a single match that can burn an entire forest. It hurts, causes pain and anguish, it can leave people feeling like they’ve been run over by a truck. It creates an immediate separation, as egos pull back and rear their heads like cobras. Even justified anger is full of venom.

So how do we deal with this intruder, this thief in the night that steals our sanity? How do we let anger know that this is not the way we want to live, that enough is enough?

It’s not as if we can just stop anger, it’s usually way too powerful and arises quickly, in a flash, out of nowhere. There’s no point in repressing or denying it as it’ll just make itself known in another way and will gain strength. There are occasional times when anger can be used consciously, without the accompanying emotional turmoil. As Sri Swami Satchidananda says: “Keep your emotions in your pocket and use them when appropriate.” But such times are rare. More often it is a reaction of the ego-mind demanding immediate release.

If expressing anger causes all this angst then is it possible to turn it around? Can we say hello to anger, hello my friend, what are you here to teach me? Can we invite it in for a cup of tea? Can we turn shit into gold, or grow roses out of the roiling mud?

Perhaps the best way is by staying fully present and aware of whatever is being felt. This means seeing it, naming it, breathing into it, while keeping the heart open and the belly soft. Repeat: soft belly, soft belly, soft belly. Pay attention and see if the anger is actually a cry for help or love, and keep breathing.

Through meditation we learn to just watch and not react.

Mindfulness invites us to make friends with the whole of ourselves just as we are, which includes witnessing and knowing anger. It grounds us in basic sanity so we can be aware of our feelings and not get swept away by them. There is a half way place between expressing anger and repressing it, a place where we can rest in awareness and mindfulness. That way, we make friends with any arising feelings and have a breath’s pause before the urgent need to express them also arises.

When we lose connectedness with each other there is a deep longing to reconnect, to come back to our meeting place, whether we are aware of it or not. This is important, as the alternative is being overcome with rejection, grief, or loneliness. But the reconnection needed is really to ourselves, to the truth of who we are, and to our heart.

For us, there’s no more appropriate way to initiate this awareness than with the exquisiteness of meditation, where we sit quietly, breathe, and are aware of feelings, stories, and justifications, followed by a deepening quiet and stillness.

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Ed: Sara Crolick


About Ed & Deb Shapiro

Ed & Deb Shapiro are the authors of new The Unexpected Power of Mindfulness & Meditation. Deb is the author of Your Body Speaks Your Mind, now in 19 languages. They have six meditation CDs. See more at their website.


7 Responses to “Does it Ever Pay to be Angry?”

  1. Frances Wellington says:

    About 2 months ago, I was challenged to start "enjoying" the expression of justifiable anger > "Is this possible?" I asked myself. "Who knows?"… so I decided to experiment with it. My experiences have been quite enlightening… I am more clear minded, I can get my point across more succinctly, I have found a new level of persuasion. To do it successfully one needs to be subtle, by not make it obvious by projecting "neutrality" towards the other party. I discovered more often than not it creates a humorous ending. Lotsa fun! Give it a try I say.

  2. oz_ says:

    Much misunderstanding has arisen in the Buddhist community because the Pali word that has been translated as 'anger' (as the Dalai Lama has pointed out) would actually better be translated as 'hatred.

    Anger serves at least two absolutely crucial psychological functions:

    1. It is the organically arising emotion when our personal boundaries are violated. Thus, it alerts us to a situation where we need to stand up for ourselves. The refusal to heed this alert is why many Buddhist turn into doormats in their personal lives. I've seen this and it isn't pretty.

    2. It is the organically arising emotion when we perceive injustice occurring – perhaps when we see police harassing a black youth, or when we hear about banks foreclosing illegally on poor homeowners, or when we see a person abusing a dog, or a child. Thus, it alerts us to a situation where we need to stand up for others in our community. A refusal to heed this alert turns us into atomized individuals with no responsibility to our fellows. This is even less pretty.

    As such, I'd argue that this article's focus is misplaced and not particularly helpful. It misrepresents anger, and our relationship to it, as static and unchanging, e.g.:

    "There are occasional times when anger can be used consciously, without the accompanying emotional turmoil. As Sri Swami Satchidananda says: “Keep your emotions in your pocket and use them when appropriate.” But such times are rare. "

    Anger isn't a constant – if one works with one's anger, then 'occasional' and 'rare' becomes 'frequent' and 'common'. This is what the Swami was presuming – that we'd done the work necessary to make anger, like any other emotion, biddable.

    The notion that we have to simply rest in and breathe through anger impoverishes us. Like any strong emotion, it's there for good reason, and our challenge is not merely to learn how not to misuse it, but how to effectively use it, for our own benefit and for that of others.

  3. Padma Kadag says:

    Oz…your take on the Buddhist misunderstanding of how one should conduct one's self in the face of hatred or anger is right on. Though Shantideva warns that one moment of anger can burn away kalpas of merit and he goes on to say in the face of anger to "act as a piece of wood"(paraphrasing of course.) This doesn't diminish your point. We must remember that these great beings taught as if we are children. It is the entire teaching and the methods when all stirred together allows us to react in a more positive way. There is little benefit in saying, " hello anger, my friend, what have you come to teach me today?"

  4. oz_ The way I read the article, it includes the aspects you view as missing. The writer says to ask what the anger is telling you – is it calling for help or love, for instance. From my perspective, he is pointing out the difference between reacting in our anger (which is often destructive) and responding to our anger (which is often constructive). The former causes separation and violence to ourselves and others, while the latter serves the "crucial psychological functions" you mentioned, resulting in self-care and active love for humanity. The resting and breathing help us transition from reactivity to responsiveness so that we can be more effective for good in this world. That's how I see it anyway. 🙂 I loved the article and will be sharing and pinning!

  5. BBolder says:

    I was going to make a similar point.

    Anger is a biological process, and like all natural functions, it developed for good reasons. The article did not describe these reasons but you did.

    The major caution is that while these reasons are rapidly disappearing – physical threats to our existence – our anger response has not disappeared in turn, thus leaving us very prone to an angry response when none is appropriate or required.

  6. Ashley says:

    great addition to the article. Anger Is a Gift.

  7. katymarie says:

    Amazing article! I have many anger issues that I am working on and have dealt with my whole life, most of the time without even realizing it. Within the last year Mindfulness has become a big part of my life as well. I was introduced by one of my therapists and felt changes immediately. Meditation and Mindfulness are 2 practices you have to keep up and are not just something that come to you, but I am a big advocate and it has helped me a great deal with my anger. Thank you so much for this article.