This is an excerpt from Breathing Love: Meditation in Action by Jennie Lee © 2018. Used by permission from Llewellyn Worldwide, Ltd.
Consider how upset most of us get when we do not get what we want. Anger is powerful and if left uncontrolled, it can consume us like wildfire. More often than not, anger is fueled by the grasping small self and expressed negatively to defend our position and prove our point. It is an energy that relies upon a self-righteous need to be validated, seen, heard, and given to, in the ways we feel we should be.
Underneath all anger seethes thwarted desire. We want things to be different than they are. As a result, resentment festers within us, affecting the quality of our thought, sleep, and productivity, as well as our ability to be in healthy relationships. When we are angry, we behave irritably toward most everyone around us, and this becomes infectious, making others resentful too.
Sometimes we may even want the intensity of anger in order to feel more deeply. It can feel good to be indignant or right. There are moments when anger arises that we may notice a sense of power that might lead us to be hurtful, or maybe even to want to be hurtful. This is the dark side of anger.
On the lighter side, anger can be an activating energy for making positive change. Used wisely, we can learn to transform it through love. To do this, the first thing we must do is to acknowledge the presence of anger but refuse to feed its story or impulses. Instead we can move into compassionate witnessing mode. If we notice that we want to hurt someone because of our anger, we need to look at our belief about how we think things “should” be. This examination will show us how our ego is attached to the situation through desire because again, what triggers anger is usually unmet desire.
Like any emotion, anger is multi-leveled and ever-changing. We must accept all our feelings, positive and negative, and hold compassion for why they sprang into existence. It is unhealthy to disown or suppress feelings, and this is particularly true for anger. If it is held back too long, anger inhibits our ability to see clearly and can easily become a habit as we replay uncomfortable feelings and the story of being wronged or we numb our feelings by escaping into avoidant behaviors. It is equally unhealthy, however, to thoughtlessly spew our anger without regard for its effect. Getting what we want or being right is never worth losing the connection to love in our hearts.
Being able to control the energy of anger is a valuable step toward loving with more intention. The only way we can respond from love is if we do not allow the reactive trigger of anger to fire in our hearts. To prevent this, we need the ability to catch our tongues before they lash out.
What We Feed Grows Stronger
We can practice being with anger energetically, observing it rising like a volcano, and remembering that love and inner peace are more important. Then we can withdraw our attention from the anger, allowing it to dissipate through conscious breathing rather than letting it explode. By focusing on the breath, and taking a walk or sitting for a meditation, we control our energy and lessen the power of the angry thought. Rather than asserting outer power, we claim inner power by transmuting the sensory experience of anger through meditation, thereby returning to an openhearted place from which we can respond with love.
Uncontrolled anger is really the ego’s useless expenditure of energy. If we can quiet the aggravation of the moment and act as if we were feeling love, we will do the right thing. And if we can remember the omnipresence of love, we will feel no obstruction and no lack.
If we hope to channel anger in a way that will not block the flow of love (often for and from the very people who mean the most to us), we must cultivate self-control. This learned skill is an internal muscle built incrementally, day by day through meditation. It takes daily self-discipline to sit still and watch the emotional energy flowing through our minds and our bodies. By limiting our expression of angry thoughts and committing to practices that transform anger into awareness, we begin loving anger out of our systems.
Ultimately, the complete transformation of anger can only come when we want to be free of that energy more than we want to be right, validated, or supported. To do this, we must make our highest desire that which brings us closer to love. We can ask for the gift of grace through prayer and intention. “I no longer want this rage within me.” Then we can move beyond strategies of defense and protection, into compassion for ourselves and everyone else involved.
An Exercise in Anger Management
Think of something you have been angry or resentful about for a long time. Notice what is beneath the anger, what desire is unfulfilled? Imagine what it would it feel like if you could let the anger go. Generate the feeling of peace for a moment, just as an experiment. Then if you are ready to be free, drop into your heart and release the unsatisfied desire. Transform it into a higher desire for peace, freedom, or understanding. Practice controlled deep breathing for ten minutes.
Jennie Lee is the author of two books: Breathing Love: Meditation in Action and True Yoga: Practicing with the Yoga Sutras for Happiness and Spiritual Fulfillment. A certified Yoga Therapist, Jennie has shared the healing benefits of classical yoga and meditation with clients for over two decades, helping them conquer anxiety, depression, grief, and stress, and to live in greater joy. She coaches by phone and Skype internationally.