Skillful Thinking: Letting Go of Ill-Will: Dealing with Anger

Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness (pp. 70-74)

Anger is the main obstacle to generating Loving Kindness.

Why does anger arise?

Note the wording.  It is not “Why do we get angry?”  As noted in the second Noble Truth, dissatisfaction such as anger arises when life is not the way we want it to be.  Anger can be very subtle such as arising as impatience.

If we look more closely, we can see that the anger process has three components:

  1. The objective situation
  2. The interpretation (spin) our mind adds
  3. The behavioral strategy we adopt

The objective situation is what we encounter (what is).  However, if the situation is not to our liking, our mind makes interpretations and judgments that can cause our behavioral strategy to react in unskillful ways.  Being aware of this process can help us to deal with it mindfully.

Behavioral Strategies

When we encounter a situation that seemingly causes anger to arise, we can react in different ways:

Reacting In our mind:

  • Justify.  Our mind says that it’s ok to cling to anger because we have every right to feel that way.  In addition, anger can create a feeling of power that helps to offset our real feeling of powerlessness or no control.
  • Suppress.  If our mind says that it’s not ok to be angry, we suppress it.  We are still holding on to our anger as much as if we felt that it was ok.

Reacting in our actions:

  • Express.  Our mind has said that anger is ok and we adopt the behavioral strategy of taking verbal action such as lashing out or taking a physical action such as having a tantrum.
  • Withdraw.  Our mind had said that anger is not ok so we withdraw and become passive aggressive.

All of the ways that we react in our mind and actions is avoiding the true experience of anger.  Each is a form of attachment to the memory of anger that obscures the real experience.

As with ill-will, anger hurts you more than with whom you are angry.  It can lead to Ill-health and can destroy relationships.

How do we work with anger?

Regard anger as your path to awakening:

  • Note that anger is a selfless thought – anger arises not “I am angry” or “_____makes me angry”
  • Practice restraint – Ezra Bayda in Being Zen advocates the Practice of Non-expression.  This is not suppression.  It is mindfully not reacting with action to the arising of anger.
  • Reflect.   Recreate your anger in meditation and note the bodily sensations that arise.  It will be easier to identify them when they come up in the future.
  • Have patience.  Know that nothing is permanent and that the anger will fall away.
  • Reflect on the role of blaming and how it can be an unskillful practice.
  • Practice Loving Friendliness.  Whether the anger is directed at someone else or inward (to yourself), wish happiness and peacefulness as a part of your metta practice.  “As we practice loving-kindness on a regular basis, it is no longer a meditation exercise,  It becomes a part of our being, our natural response to life.”  (Bayda)

Assignment

  • Notice when anger arises and your response to it.
  • Practice non-expression of anger for one day or even a few hours.  What do you find?

Next: Skillful Thinking: Compassion
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