Before I share the best way to manage anger, let’s start with the worst way: holding on to it.
According to the Buddha:
Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.
Actually, the Buddha didn’t say that – his quote was related to picking up a piece of hot coal with the intention of throwing it at someone else – you’re the one who gets burned. Nonetheless, the point is the same.
We get angry whenever we feel some boundary of ours has been violated. Think of the last time you were angry – perhaps someone did or said something you didn’t like. You felt that strong emotional and qualifiably justified response: anger.
But here’s the secret behind anger: we don’t really get angry. We choose to be angry.
That is such an important point that I want to reiterate it. Anger is not something that is thrust upon us, rather it is an emotion we choose.
Why do we choose to be angry?
The mis-attributed Buddha quote gives us a clue: we want to punish the other person. Subconsciously we believe that anger guides our wrath where it can remedy – or at least more equitably balance – the now skewed scale of injustice.
If you know I’m angry, then perhaps you’ll feel guilty for what you did. Or, even if you don’t, at least my friends will relate to my seething and join me in my judgmental assault on you.
But there’s an even more subtle, deeply unconscious reason why we choose to be angry. We want to be angry.
Anger allows us to point an accusing finger at someone (or something) else and blame them (it) for our suffering. This highly-effective ego ploy convinces us that the source of our unhappiness is something out there in the world – be it other people, situations, or our own bodies. And if we can blame someone (something) for our misery, then we must be innocent victims.
Beware the temptation to perceive yourself unfairly treated. In this view, you seek to find an innocence that is not Theirs but yours alone, and at the cost of someone else’s guilt. (T-26.X.4)
And in so believing, we never for a moment question that the source of all suffering, the source of all unhappiness has nothing to do with anything in the world (including our bodies) but rather has to do with our choice for the ego thought system.
No one can be angry at a fact. It is always an interpretation that gives rise to negative emotions, regardless of their seeming justification by what appears as facts. (M-17.4)
Which brings us to the best way to manage anger.
Step 1: Feel the anger. We can’t skip the step of feeling mistreated. Otherwise, we are deluding ourselves into a false sense of transcendence. Acknowledge that this feels awful.
Step 2: But as quickly as possible, realize that we’re making this choice to feel awful. Sure, the other person may have done something totally inappropriate, but we have complete control over our emotions.
Step 3: Make a different choice. Choose against the ego thought system that perpetuates fear, guilt, and attack – and instead choose the thought system of oneness. From such a perspective, we realize, “Every loving thought is true. Everything else is an appeal for healing and help, regardless of the form it takes.” (T-12.I.3).
That paragraph continues with the following powerful lines:
Can anyone be justified in responding with anger to a brother’s plea for help? No response can be appropriate except the willingness to give it to him, for this and only this is what he is asking for.
When we choose the thought system of oneness – truly seeing no separation between us and everyone else – then all anger instantly evaporates leaving us with an experience of total joy and bliss.
Join us in Monday’s class where we’ll further explore the nature of anger and the process of true transcendence. I look forward to seeing you then.