Two years ago, I watched the Champions League in India with four Buddhist monks.
One of the monks slammed the table when the opposing team scored. The monk standing next to him slapped him on his arm and said, “Anger, man, anger.”
The angry monk went up to his room, then came back down smiling after a few minutes, as if nothing had happened.
It was enlightening for me to watch what happened that day. At a time when I thought that Buddhist monks were nearly perfect, it turns out that they too have to deal with emotions.
What’s fascinating about Buddhism is that it identifies suffering. However, Buddhists don’t imply that we shouldn’t experience this; they ascertain that there is a way to eradicate it.
Let’s go through what happened that day again:
>>The monk went through a moment of torment—anger.
>> The monk next to him helped him become aware of it.
>> He went to his room and solved it.
>> He came back down a happy person.
We are like this monk in many ways. If we have an anger issue, we also have the choice to eradicate it. Anger is a problematic issue, and it can’t be eliminated overnight. Nonetheless, with willingness and practice, we can decrease our anger levels until we’re ready to eliminate it entirely.
To start off, we need to understand what anger is. Anger is a reaction that is identified as an energy that flows in the body as a response to a certain action. We feel it toward others or even ourselves. Its origin comes from our ego. When the “I” feels threatened, it feeds the energy in the body that later develops into a reaction.
Buddhism understands that anger is an inward reaction. Thus, we have to work on it from the inside out. Sometimes, there is nothing to change outside—most of the changes lie within us. Even when there’s something to change outside ourselves, or when there’s an action that we must take, anger is not the right way to accomplish the endeavor.
In my “Introduction to Buddhism” course, the monk taught us to examine ourselves when we are angry. We should take note of where and how the anger starts. What is the stimulus of our anger?
Notice how one’s body changes when the stimuli arises (as when someone criticizes us, when we hear bad news, when someone doesn’t agree with us, when things don’t go our way, and so on). Watch how the heart rate increases and how our breathing becomes faster. Feel the burn in the chest that forces us to furiously vent.
At this point, it’s valuable to refine our awareness. Start dealing with anger as it arises. This is one of the most brilliant lessons I learned in my Vipassana course. They taught us to watch the reaction taking place in our body before it leaves our system. Diligently watching the reaction (the energy) without feeding it with thoughts and judgment allows the reaction to vanish inside our system.
You can put it to the test the next time something upsets you. Suppose someone is honking, and you get upset by the noise. Watch how your body starts responding (the heart rate, the breathing, the leg shaking, and so on).
When you feel like furiously venting, hold it for a few seconds. Instead of letting the reaction out, just watch it without judging it. Don’t analyze the noise, when it will stop, or why it took place. Wait a few minutes, and you will see that the reaction in your body will decrease—and, at the same time, the honking will have stopped.
Having said that, we get to another important Buddhist notion: Why get angry over something that won’t make sense in a few minutes, hours, or months?
If we recall situations that have upset us in the past, we might have a hard time relating to them again now. It’s because they don’t matter all that much anymore. Anger, after some time, transforms to compassion. Although we might find it difficult to transform in the moment, it’s not impossible.
Practice being compassionate instead of angry with whoever upsets you today. You can still get your message out there, and you can still take necessary action, but do so in a compassionate way that’s not harmful.
Remember, how we approach people defines the outcome. If you approach others with anger, they will likely respond with more anger. And when we respond calmly to angry people, chances are that they will also calm down.
We will feel proud of ourselves when we see positive changes. Even if we still get angry, we shouldn’t give ourselves a hard time. We must be patient and willing.
The next time you get angry, ask yourself the following:
>> Why did I get angry?
>> Have I changed anything with my anger?
>> How did I affect the people around me with my anger?
>> How do I feel about myself when I get angry?
>> Am I aware that anger is hurting me physically and mentally?
And the most important question of all is:
>> Am I willing to change and replace anger with love?
Author: Elyane Youssef
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina
Copy editor: Travis May
Social editor: Callie Rushton