The Wisdom of Anger

During a recent video call with a group of professional and trainee Authentic Self Empowerment (ASE) and Transpersonal coaches, we exchanged some ideas about anger.

One of us was honest enough to describe what most of us often experience: raw reflexive anger, triggered by someone in our life.

Anger is one of those incredibly powerful negative emotions that ignite instantaneously inside us, flaring up into our bodies and our thoughts, taking control of our behaviours, burning from the inside out, and smouldering even long after the initial incident is over. If this sounds like an unconscious trigger, it is.

It’s no surprise that one of the best role models for compassion, the Dalai Lama, has things to say about anger. What he says though, may surprise you.
In a nutshell, he recognizes that anger is as being human is, inevitable. It’s what we do with it that counts. Suppressing it makes it worse, resistance is persistence, attempting to overcome it by force or will power alone feeds it. But neither does getting lost in it take us anywhere good or resourceful.

So we should move toward anger, not away from it, roll out the red carpet for it, but engage with it attentively and constructively, and with kindness to our self and compassion.

“Anger or hatred is like a fisherman’s hook,” the Dalai Lama says, “it is very important for us to ensure that we are not caught by it.”

And then he continues with something profound:

“Through anger we lose one of the best human qualities—the power of judgement. We have a good brain, allowing us to judge what is right and what is wrong, not only in terms of today’s concerns but considering ten, twenty, or even a hundred years into the future.
Without any precognition, we can use our normal common sense to determine if something is right or wrong. We can decide that if we do such and such, it will lead to such an such effect.
However, once the mind is occupied by anger, we lose this power of judgment. Once lost, it is very sad—physically you are a human being but mentally you are not complete. Given that we have this physical human form, we must safeguard our mental capacity for judgment.”

In coaching terms, this is like saying you’re in tunnel vision, you sever off your capacity for good judgement, you limit the choices at your disposal in any given situation. And you damage yourself in the process.

And this: “Feelings of anger and hatred arise from a mind that is troubled by dissatisfaction and discontent. You can prepare ahead of time by constantly working toward building inner contentment and cultivating kindness and compassion. This brings about a certain calmness of mind that can help prevent anger from arising in the first place.
And then when a situation does arise that makes you angry, you should directly confront your anger and analyse it. Investigate what factors have given rise to that particular instance of anger or hatred. Then, analyse further, seeing whether it is an appropriate response and especially whether it is constructive or destructive. And you make an effort to exert a certain inner discipline and restraint, actively combating it by applying the antidotes: counteracting these negative emotions with thoughts of patience and tolerance.”

Nice words, you might be thinking, but so what, the anger’s still there, waiting to erupt.
From a practical point of view, if the Dalai Lama were an ASE coach, he might have added this advice:

  • applied mindful awareness of the anger is more resourceful than suppressing it or fighting it – an OPEN AWARENESS makes this possible
  • while in the overview state of seeing the wider picture that comes with Open Awareness, we can integrate anger, making it a powerful force of change, growth, and learning – reframe it, change its meaning
  • with practice, you can do it in the moment in the face of the trigger or person that ignites your anger BUT…
  • sometimes you can’t in the moment, because that emotion is just too overwhelming. But you can do it retrospectively, when things have calmed down, to get the learning
  • the learning comes from asking things like:
    “what else am I other than that anger over there?”,
    “what is the deeper intent behind the anger, what does the anger want to achieve?”,
    “why, really, am I angry?”,
    or even “Dear Anger, who are you, what do you want, how can I help you?”

Notice how the work to be done is on the inside, not on the object of your anger.

If the anger persists, it may have a deeper root cause, or something that gives it unjustified power to cling to your way of thinking and being.
The processes of Authentic Self Empowerment (ASE) and Open Awareness (OA) that we do with clients and teach at our courses, are designed to deal with exactly these types of scenarios in a holistic, gentle and effective way.

Ultimately, they make anger a tool for integration and compassion.

My hero, the Dalai Lama:  “Anger is often just suffering that has not met with compassion. If someone is annoying you or making you angry, you can use that as an opportunity to counter your own anger with the cultivation of compassion.”

Yours in Anger,

Hennie

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