We all have anger.
It is an inevitable part of or existence.
While the emotion of anger is something we all share in common, the way that emotion plays in our lives has a multiplicity of outcomes.
Anger is something that I have always dealt with. As a teenager I felt as though my anger was justified. I thought that because I was feeling something so powerfully and so acutely at a singular moment then by the sheer intensity of the emotion it was warranted and needed. I was the sole arbiter of its validity.
As I grew older, became married and had children I learned very quickly that my emotions, especially the emotion of anger, would often betray me and lead me down paths that were harmful, unneeded and destructive. I am grateful that I have people around me who took the time to work through these emotions and give me the tools and techniques through which I can understand, control and even harness my anger.
Reaction vs Response
The first principle I had to learn is the idea of reaction vs response. In my youth reaction was my primary mode of anger response. The response usually went something like this: You do something to me or something that I believe is against me or someone I feel the need to defend and I will come back at you with equal or greater force to show you I am in control of the situation. What I did not realize was that by triggering and gauging the level of my reaction on the initial offense of another, I was giving full control of the initiation and escalation of the situation to the other individual. Everything I did was controlled by their first movements.
What I learned later was that I had an option 1. as to whether I would engage with a person or not and 2. as to the level of my actual response. Remember, responses are calculated and are in the control of the person making them. Reactions are not controlled and are based on a principle of counter-attack. When I learned to take a moment, stop and decide if I would respond and then how I wanted to shape the narrative by my response, my anger found a new way of existing in my own body. It was no longer at the mercy of the other but a sensor that would help me be alert to the need for a potential response to a situation where I had some sort of emotional engagement. It became an alert mechanism and in turn stopped being a trigger, the fuel and the delivery mechanism through which I would allow myself to be pulled into situations.
Meditation became an important tool in my life not only in regards to anger but as a whole life practice. Meditation is not only a tool that brings a sense of balance and peace in a moment, but it also has some very important real world implications especially when it comes to anger. I found that in meditation I was having to deal with a lot of emotions, images and memories that I did not realize were still banging around inside my head. These emotional triggers were lying just underneath the surface, just deep enough that they were on my conscious radar but when I would enter into the realm of unconscious anger they would not only appear but would often give fuel and fervor to the thing that was the initial trigger to my anger or sadness. They were often the thing behind the thing I was upset about. In other words, often times, I was really upset about something else but the thing in front of me gave me an excuse and outlet to disperse all of that anger, sadness and disappointment.
Meditation gave those emotions a place to present themselves that was not volatile or directed at another person. Meditation helped me see more clearly beneath the surface, let those emotions rise and allowed me to recognize and deal with them in a much more controlled and healthy environment. Meditation also allowed me to learn to breath. By breathing deeply, filling my body and mind with oxygen and learning to relax myself I also attained a greater control of my whole body, so that when I was in a confrontational situation (which by the way seemed to happen less and less because I was in control of the situation and reactionary to the whims of others) I was able to sense it coming up in my body and use breathing and centering to place my mind and body in a state of receptivity not combat.
Meditation coupled with reflection leads to self-awareness. When someone is working towards self awareness they learn to hold situations, moments and emotions as an object that we can observe, evaluate and make a conscious decision on. Self-awareness is all about perspective, or the ability to gain another, less attached to emotion, perspective. This idea of self awareness is never something that we achieve but rather is something that we must always practice and, like a muscle, grows and gains strength over time.
Finally, I have learned that there are sometimes when anger is needed, but anger cannot be the last emotion or word in a situation. When things are unjust, oppressive, untruthful and harmful to others, anger is warranted. I think most of us can agree on that, the problem is that the majority of us will let anger have the final word in a situation. Anger is a tool, a sensor, a beacon that will tell the conscious mind that something is not right here. It could be that something is not right in the situation or that something is not right in our own mind, self-awareness helps us delineate which of these it actually is. This is good, the problem happens when we decide to stop there and let anger also be the mechanism through which we respond. While anger can give some fuel to our response, it is an extremely volatile fuel, that if not handled properly, can blow up in your face. Healthy responses realize that and minimizes its effect or even its place in the response. Our healthiest forms of response are the ones which cause us to listen, to see other perspectives than our own, to recognize that for the other there is also the thing behind the thing they are upset about. Healthy responses seek to construct, find the root and create resolution, not to overpower, demean or destroy the other. Healthy responses seek to create rather than tear down.