Anger is a huge topic to try to fit in a blog or a 20 minute sermon, so here is what I’d like to say in a really small nutshell: Anger throws off our mind-body-spirit balance and we need to learn to address it in healthy ways. Having said that, let me back up into that.
(For the full audio version, click here.)
In the last few weeks I’ve come to realize that we, as people, like our anger. We don’t want to be told to calm down. We don’t want to consider letting it go. We don’t even want to believe it is rooted in something else. For the most part, what we want is to justify our anger. It gives us energy, albeit negative energy. I get it. But I also know at the heart of my being that anger isn’t the answer.
Yes, feeling anger is a normal part of the human experience. Even the smiley, peace-filled Dalai Lama has admitted to feeling anger. I figure if he’s still dealing with it at times, the rest of us have no hope of banishing it. But that isn’t the point anyway.
Yes, anger can be a useful emotion. Anger can alert us to something that is not right in a relationship or a situation. And it may spur us to get out of that situation. Anger at injustice may motivate us to help change a situation. Or it can point to something that has been triggered within us that needs to be attended to.
But living in anger throws off our equilibrium. That perfectly balanced mobile of mind-body-spirit gets out-of-whack. How can my spirit feel peace if my mind is running in vicious angry circles? How can my body be healthy when it experiences the detrimental effects of the tension and stress anger brings?
So, how do we regain our balance?
The spiritual path is first and foremost a path of self-awareness. Instead of allowing ourselves to run away with our anger, we need to understand it, and then figure out what we need to do with it. Anger is always about a deeper emotion – pain, fear, grief, sadness, longing, loneliness, guilt. To understand our anger, we need to sit with it long enough and with enough gentleness to see what underlying emotion has been triggered. Anger at my daughter’s soccer coach because she is sitting my daughter on the bench may have triggered my own feelings of rejection and not being good enough as a kid. See how that works? It’s tricky that way.
Sometimes I have to walk (really fast), or ride my bike (really hard) or pound on my piano until I’ve calmed my soul enough to address what is really going on with me. Almost always my anger has triggered some fear within me. Dealing with the fear means I’m not lashing out at someone for pushing a button in me they didn’t intend to push.
The other thing we can do is channel anger into a creative outlet. If we’re angry at politics, or the way animals are treated, or domestic violence, then perhaps we should get involved and work for change instead of just ranting and raving.
The medical community is clear about the effects of anger. Chronic, prolonged or repressed anger can result in one of any number of health issues including heart disease, high blood pressure, skin disorders, cancer, chronic pain, fatigue, alcohol and drug abuse.
The Buddha said, “Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”
I know this is much more difficult than it is. I know because I struggle with it, too. But I struggle with it because I don’t like being out of balance. It feels awful. Perhaps together we can work on our anger management.