The Anger Problem
Anger is possibly one of the most virulent and toxic forms of emotion that we experience. All we need to do is look at the news and we are constantly reminded of anger problems in society. While there seem to be many causes of anger, and the issues surrounding it seem complex, much of it boils down to unrealized goals. Unfortunately, not many people know how to control anger, let alone stop it.
Attachment to Outcomes
Attachment to outcomes can fuel anger. We often set goals and get emotionally attached to them. So much so that we can get very frustrated when things don’t happen the way we want them to, especially if it seems that someone or something is blocking us. This plays out daily on our roads and freeways, where people have a destination as their goal. When you throw in time pressure, and the danger inherent in driving, the roads become pressurized conduits that are always ready to burst.
The Jedi Master
Yoda said that fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, and hate leads to suffering. The suffering is that of the person who can not let go of their anger (and often those around them). Let’s take a look at the path that our little green friend laid in front of us.
Fear is everywhere, but mostly formed from attachment. We love something or want something so much, that we either have it and never want to lose it, or we don’t have it and have fear of not getting it. This can be anything, from a simple meal to a new and better yacht then your next wealthiest neighbor. Fear of not attaining something is just as powerful as fear of having something but losing it. Despots often have tremendous power and will destroy entire cultures out of fear of losing that power.
Fear of Loss
Anger manifests from fear. If we look into anger, it’s often a reaction to veiled or blatant fear of loss or non-attainment. If someone cuts us off on the road, we lost our “rightful place” on the road, or “could have” gotten in an accident, and get angry at the other driver. We can then make up stories about the other driver to reinforce our anger and make our egos feel justified. We can appear to get angry at the “arrogance” of the other driver, or the blatant disregard for public safety that the driver just displayed, etc… The bottom line is that we reacted to stimuli that really didn’t harm us, provided that there was no collision or other collateral fallout.
This stimuli triggers fear in us, which then goes on to manifest itself through embedded patterns of thought that we have deep in our psyche. We will experience other times when we’ve felt similar emotions, and the recording will start playing on auto-pilot. It’s the auto-pilot whom we wish to stop if we are to have any chance of beating anger’s hold over us.
Breaking the Patterns
Repeated and entrenched patterns are very difficult to find, let alone alleviate. Mindful practice can begin to make us aware of how our thoughts tend to trigger emotion. We can watch as the emotion starts to play the patterns, and how our bodies react. What is interesting is that some of these patterns are so ingrained that, once triggered, can completely take over our systems. It’s here that we need to become acutely aware of how this occurs if we are to stop it cold. This is why it is important to learn mindfulness.
Anger, if left unresolved, can turn into hate, which is one of the worst states that we have. Hate destroys nations. Hate can destroy a civilization. Hate feeds on hate and is a cycle that’s hard to break. We don’t have to look far to find incidences of it all around us. We see it on the news, we see it spewing from noxious TV and radio personalities, we hear it in music, and in games. We are surrounded by it, but we don’t have to succumb to it.
Succumbing to it leads to suffering. This is the state of some countries right now. It’s sad, and the cycle is hard to break. I’m not going to stand on a pulpit and say that mindfulness is a cure-all, but it can open a door to seeing things in a different perspective, and seeing your thoughts for what they are…just…thoughts…like scenes in a movie. Nothing more.
We need to learn to separate ourselves from our thoughts. We need not identify and become our thoughts. This is something that, with practice, can free us from the bonds of simply living reactive lives, and put us on the path to controlling our own perception. In doing so, we can choose emotion instead of emotion choosing us.
The first step in learning how to control anger is to realize how seductive anger is. When you practice mindful techniques, one of the benefits is that you’ll be able to see anger before it consumes you. You’ll see the spark because you’ll have been training your mind to stay in the present moment. You will see your own patterns. From that perspective, controlling anger will become much easier, and as you go deeper, you’ll find that it also can get more illusive.
Practice makes perfect, just don’t get attached to the idea of perfection