When most of us think of anger, we tend to consider it a negative emotion; an emotion best left alone because of its tendencies to create harmful results when engaged. Without mindfulness and awareness, it is true that anger will more often than not cause harm when expressed.
But anger is also power. Anger stirs our inner self when we are poked or confronted with issues that are contrary to our values and beliefs. In this way, anger arising can be a very useful teacher. Anger can point us to what we think and feel, and if we are willing, then we have the chance to explore more deeply those values and beliefs that are important to us; perhaps even discover that they do not need to be so important!
My key to working with anger has been developing the ability to hit the “pause” button when I am triggered. Meditation practice develops our awareness; when we are aware we notice that emotions or thoughts are arising as they arise, so we have the chance to choose our response. The “pause” button, as I like to call it, is what I use when I notice that I’ve been triggered by something and that anger is arising. I notice this, and then “hit the pause button.” Not the “stop” button, mind you; the “pause.” Because stopping cuts me off from any further opportunity for insight and wisdom. But “pause” brings my awareness to being very careful of my very next words and actions. It allows me the time to breathe, and analyze if this anger arising is a friend or foe in that moment. If it’s a friend and I can quickly move to recognizing that so that my next words and actions are kind, then I can hit the “play” button again. If it’s a foe, then I can make the choice to walk away from the situation until I am able to contemplate the appropriate response.
It’s really important to not hit the “delete” button with anger ;-). Keeping it on “pause” so we have time to work through what’s happening is a healthy way to make sure we respond with kindness and compassion. And respond we must. “Delete” will more often than not, just stuff that anger somewhere in your body (like your liver) and it will surface later in a less gentle way, often with physical distress in addition to the emotional and mental distress that arose in the moment.
I read this very good article in Lion’s Roar magazine this morning about anger. I highly recommend it for your morning coffee read. It’s filled with deep insights about aggression versus anger, the benefits of anger to motivate us to action, and wisdom for working with anger to develop compassion and kindness.
“When anger is released from its service to ego,
it ceases to be aggression and simply becomes energy.
The pure energy of anger has wisdom and power. It can even be enlightened.” ~ Melvin McLeod author of the article in Lion's Roar