Anger is one of my life challenges. One of the most important realisations that I’ve gained from Buddhism is the awareness that I have a choice with regard to how I act on my feelings of anger and that these feelings do not control me. This realisation was an enormous relief because I carry a lot of anger and during periods of my life I’ve felt at the mercy of my rage. I knew that my behaviour was only putting me in danger, as well as making me feel ashamed and even more miserable, not to mention causing pain to my friends and family, but I didn’t know how to stop myself.
I still struggle with anger. Some mornings I wake up angry and find myself arguing with people in my imagination while taking a shower, or walking to work, which is not a good way to start the day. I can almost always catch myself before I do anything harmful (either to myself or others) in response to these feelings, but addressing my anger is an ongoing work in progress.
Recently I’ve found a couple of posts from Buddhist blogs helpful.
Petteri Sulonen’s post The Truth of Anger at Come to think of it points out that the injunction of “just let go” of anger isn’t always possible to follow and opens you to the danger of repressing the anger and pretending it’s not there, which may lead it to fester and erupt again. As someone with a basic underlying anger that tends to attach itself to whatever happens to trigger it, I can recognise this problem. I really liked his point that anger is kamma maturing and as such is an opportunity to resolve the bad stuff and get over it.
Following on from that I also liked Jaye Seiho Morris’s post at DigitalZENDO, Before the Anger ,where he quotes a friend who pointed out that anger is often a secondary emotion, something we flip to because it’s easier than feeling other more painful emotions. My partner and I were talking the other night about how anger makes us feel powerful when we’re actually feeling frightened and vulnerable (we both burst into tears as soon as we admitted this, so it really touched a nerve). He then goes on to talk about a teaching Pema Chodran gave about the feeling before the anger, the ‘in-between spark’. She suggests that we make the effort to answer the question “What was the feeling, just before the anger?”
The feelings that are, before the anger may offer some valuable openings in how we are connected or in some instances disconnected from ourselves, including some old tapes, that we may not be aware that we’re carrying around in our head.
Since my father’s death almost two weeks ago I’ve been assaulted by feelings of rage and have found this teaching very helpful. There is always a feeling before the anger and so far I’ve noticed hurt, rejection, envy, failure and fear, all of which seem to have their source in the ‘old tape’ of my insecurity. This old tape, one I thought I’d all but got rid of, has come back to haunt me now that I’m feeling vulnerable after my father’s death (aside from my partner he was my main source of practical and emotional support). My insecurity is old, it dates back to my doing poorly at school and being bullied, resulting in deep feelings of failure and inadequacy. Recently I’ve been feeling over-sensitive and even a bit paranoid that people are getting at me, ignoring me, rejecting me, using me, looking down on me, seeing me as a failure and so forth. There’s been a lot of “me, me, me”, and a lot of “should” going on and it all seems to flip into rage because that makes me feel more powerful than the other feelings. In order to defuse the anger I have to get up close and personal with the feelings of insecurity, which is pretty uncomfortable at times, but I think I may be on the way to resolving something.
Another short and sweet article, Train your mind: Liberate yourself by examining and analyzing