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Mindful Living

The Gift of Anger

March 27, 2017

We live in a world where anger is viewed as a negative emotion that should be avoided because anger can damage others and ourselves. Anger is an emotion in our culture that is to be “managed,” thus the growth of anger management classes. We tend to think of anger as destructive, negative emotion, but research finds that anger also has its positive side.

Anger usually leaves a wake of varied feelings such as guilt, fear, remorse and shame. Anger can be very destructive or our anger can be a tool to heal and explore your inner self. This powerful emotion has a purpose and can create wondrous change.

Anger can have these positive effects on your life.

  1. Insight. Anger can give you insight into your inner self by providing you information about your scars, wounds, and fears. Reflect on your anger with awareness of where you are getting angry, why you are getting angry and what are the situations when you are angered.
  2. Motivation. When you are able to observe your anger there is the ability to allow it to motivate you to change.  If you get angry on your daily commute you can use this powerful emotion to help you change your attitude toward your commute.  You may choose to use your commute as a special time for you to learn a new language, listen to your favorite motivational speaker or listen to your favorite music.
  3. Relationships. The anger you display in your various relationships can gift you with healing, hope, and forgiveness of yourself and others. Are you getting angry with your spouse, children, coworkers or members of your original family?  You may become aware of this powerful emotion in your different relationships and ask why you are experiencing this with whom. Try to discuss your frustration or anger with this other person and you may even need to gain the insight and guidance of a counselor.

I have been a student of the wise and illustrious monk Thich Nhat Hanh. He offers loving, kind, and healing advice on dealing with our anger. I will finish this article on anger with the wisdom of my kind teacher Thich Nhat Hanh taken from his book, “Taming the Tiger Within.”

Recognizing, Embracing, Relieving the Suffering of Anger

Thich Nhat Hanh, Taming the Tiger Within

The first function of mindfulness is to recognize, not to fight. “Breathing in, I know that anger has manifested in me. Hello, my little anger.” And breathing out, “I will take good care of you.” Once we have recognized our anger, we embrace it. This is the second function of mindfulness and it is a very pleasant practice. Instead of fighting, we are taking good care of our emotion. If you know how to embrace your anger, something will change. It is like cooking potatoes. You cover the pot and then the water will begin to boil. You must keep the stove on for at least twenty minutes for the potatoes to cook. Your anger is a kind of potato and you cannot eat a raw potato. Mindfulness is like the fire cooking the potatoes of anger. The first few minutes of recognizing and embracing your anger with tenderness can bring results. You get some relief. Anger is still there, but you do not suffer so much anymore, because you know how to take care of your baby. So the third function of mindfulness is soothing, relieving. Anger is there, but it is being taken care of. The situation is no longer in chaos, with the crying baby left all alone. The mother is there to take care of the baby and the situation is under control.

We practice taking care of our anger in the same way. Mindfulness recognizes anger, is aware of its presence, accepts and allows it to be there. Mindfulness is like a big brother who does not suppress his younger brother’s suffering. He simply says, “Dear brother, I’m here for you.” You take your younger brother in your arms and you comfort him. This is exactly our practice.

Imagine a mother getting angry with her baby and hitting him when he cries. That mother does not know that she and her baby are one. We are mothers of our anger and we have to help our baby, our anger, not fight and destroy it. Our anger is us and our compassion is also us. To meditate does not mean to fight. In Buddhism, the practice of meditation should be the practice of embracing and transforming, not of fighting.

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