I think there’s a big difference between ‘feeling anger’ and ‘being angry’. If we feel anger, it’s probably putting us in a bad mood and making our day worse. But when we are BEING angry, it is dominating our thoughts and feelings, ruining our day, and making it hard to think about anything else. Feeling anger is unpleasant. Being angry is overwhelming. Feeling anger is probably unavoidable. We are all human, although having a better understanding of our feelings is certainly helpful in dealing with our anger. Being angry is the real problem. When we are overwhelmed by our anger it makes us unhappy and leads to nothing but bad decisions. This is what we need to learn to avoid, and it is possible if we just practice mindfulness of our thoughts and feelings.
In a Buddhist context, compassion isn’t limited to a feeling toward others. Compassion toward oneself is important as well. Sometimes it’s more important. Now, you might think that of course we are compassionate toward ourselves. We may not act in our best interest all the time, but we certainly have a wish to avoid pain and to experience pleasure as much as possible and it can be very easy to feel sorry for ourselves when we are suffering. But, can it be said that we are always acting out of compassion for ourselves? We can definitely judge ourselves to harshly sometimes. While it may seem like we already have compassion toward ourselves, we often don’t act in our own self interest. We sometimes do things that we know are bad for us. That’s because we aren’t giving ourselves the right amount of compassion. We should do what’s best for ourselves as much as possible. Also, giving into anger and lashing out is a way of not giving ourselves compassion.
The best thing to do when something happens that causes us pain is to react with compassion. By that I mean compassion for yourself. If I feel compassion for myself, I won’t want to cause myself greater suffering by amplifying an already bad situation. I will want to try to resolve the situation, or at least try to get through it as painlessly as possible. That’s certainly not easy, but if we can just get into that mindset it is helpful. When something happens to upset us, we can take some deep breaths and say to ourselves, “Treat yourself with compassion.”
“You will not be punished for your anger. You will be punished by your anger.”
Anger happens to all of us. Even the greatest among experience anger sometimes. Regardless of how much we have cultivated love and compassion, we are still human.
In Buddhism, anger is one of the three poisons, along with greed and ignorance. The three poisons are the primary cause of our suffering. Striving to overcome our anger is essential to Buddhist practice. In Buddhism we don’t really think of anger as ‘righteous’ or ‘justifiable’. It’s important to remember that our anger hurts us as much as it hurts whoever the target of our anger is, if not more. Anger is nothing more than an impediment to our inner peace. We might think, “this person deserves to be faced with my anger.” But that shouldn’t be our line of thinking. Instead, we should be thinking, “Is our anger helpful?”
So, we can strive to overcome our anger, but of course we will get angry sometimes, everyone does and we shouldn’t feel bad for it.
But how do we deal with our anger?
First, admit you’re angry. Admit that your anger is clouding your judgment and impacting your ability to deal with whatever situation is occurring. Anger can only get in the way and escalate situations. It never helps. Buddhism teaches mindfulness. Being mindful of our own emotions is part of mindfulness. We don’t suppress negative emotions or deny them. Instead we acknowledge it and try to recognize that it isn’t helpful and let it go.
It’s also important to understand that our anger is created by ourselves. Anger doesn’t happen to us, our minds create it. We tend to think that someone else causes us to get angry, but it’s our own mind that makes us angry. We do have some control over how we respond to situations.
As Buddhists, our practice is to cultivate kindness and compassion for all beings that is free from attachment. “All beings” includes individuals who make us angry.
For this reason, when we experience anger, we should take care not to act on it to hurt others and ourselves. We also must take care not to cling to our anger. If we hold onto our anger over time, it is only more damaging to us.
So, how do we let our anger go?
One thing we can do it cultivate patience. We can sit still with our anger and try to release it. Our meditation practice helps us strengthen our patience for this purpose.
It’s hard not to act on our anger sometimes.
It takes strength to acknowledge that anger is not helpful and it takes discipline to let it go.
The Buddha said, “Holding onto anger is like picking up a hot coal to throw at someone.” Even if you succeed at hurting the other person, you are hurting yourself as well. Is it worth it?