When my time gets wasted, I get angry. My whole body tenses up. My head gets hot and prickly. I literally feel the nerves tingling as the feeling races up and down my spine, spreading out to my extremities.
My palms start to sweat and my fists clench.
I feel my breath growing more shallow as my chest constricts and my blood pressure rises.
I can feel my blood pressure rising and it feels as though my blood is boiling. My next breath catches in my throat and it feels as though I might just suffocate.
The fight or flight response kicks in and I want to just storm.
In that moment I feel as though I might just explode. It feels as if I will explode if I don’t do something. I. Must. Act.
I. Must. Release.
I’m like a pressure cooker that’s going to blow.
Can you relate? I’m talking about anger.
Anger. The word used to send revulsion through me.
The feeling of anger creeping up my spine, flushing my skin, tensing my muscles as my heart started to pound.
I despised it, I denied it, I did anything to pretend I never felt anger.
It scared me. My emotions were so overpowering as a child, and I didn’t learn how to effectively release and work through them, so I just learned to shove it down and put a lid on it. I wouldn’t admit or acknowledge my emotions which isn’t exactly a healthy way to live.
But not anymore. Now I have learned that we can make friends with anger. We can embrace it with maitri, compassion and humor.Like an errant, wayward child, I have learned to smile upon my anger when it comes up and breathe into it with mindfulness and compassion.
This doesn’t mean that it doesn’t still get the best of me some days. I sure do blow my top occasionally. The difference is that for me, blowing my top is improvement. And while it’s not my ideal behavior it’s a lot better than the denial of anger dance that I used to undertake – a dance that almost killed me.
So yes, I have a long way to go but today I’m okay with that. Each time I handle a challenge with the Zen grace of the Dalai Lama I can celebrate…but you know what else? Each time I have an angry outburst that’s less Dalai Lama and more Exorcist, I can celebrate those too! You know why? Because they’re human and I’m human, and the spiritual path is less about achieving the ideal than it is about the journey and the ride in all of its human messiness.
So celebrate the less than perfect moments of life! Honor yourself and your journey because it’s where the best memories are made. This is not to say I’m not going to continue to strive towards reaching a place where my anger doesn’t get the best of me, because I absolutely will keep practicing with my anger due to the simple fact that I don’t like my emotions having any power of me. I don’t like being a slave to my emotions.
And let’s face it….angry outbursts when not intentional are more childish than anything. So I continue this work and I write this article for those of you who struggle under the weight of the anger issue with me.
What I’ve come to learn about anger
I can just simply do nothing and it will pass…
If you’re anything like I was, this is a mind-blowing concept. I had spent a life being ruled by emotions, acting like a lunatic trying to keep my emotional storms at bay, and the whole time I could have learned to let the storm flow and just observe it?
Anger continues to give me trouble but nothing like it did when I denied it. I denied it for a long time, with the fear that anger would make me unlovable. See, I was identifying with my emotions, letting them define me as though feeling something one minute would put a label of “angry” on me. And I didn’t want that, because I still judged anger as ugly. (I was still labeling, thus I was afraid of being labeled.) I didn’t know that I didn’t have to be identified with my feelings.
On my path, a book found me, as they always do just at the right time. The book was Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames by Thich Nhât Hańh, and it blew my mind wide open.
As I devoured his wisdom on anger, I found myself laughing at myself and how silly I had been in dealing with anger—or not dealing with it, I should say. For the first time in my life I wasn’t berating myself for having anger; I was instead seeing myself with humor and love. It wasn’t the emotion that was detrimental, it was my behavior.
To me it’s a miraculous process that has become a regular practice for me when my anger or other strong emotions rise up, which is why I want to share it with you, dear readers. So that others who suffer as I once did from overwhelming, intense emotions can see that there is hope, even for us “angry” ones.
Here are the practices that helped me to bring my anger to a healthy place:
1. Admit and accept.
The biggest hurdle for me, believe it or not, was actually admitting, “I am angry.” It’s amazing how just saying it out loud relieves so much internal pressure. And guess what? When I admitted it, nothing happened. The world didn’t end. Nobody judged me. Nobody stopped loving me. Thus I was able to see how irrational my fears had been. I finally started getting vulnerable and admitting it, and people loved me more for it. Tough lesson to learn after so long.
Always we must breathe into our most difficult and trying emotions. When we breathe into those that we once ran from, space opens up, and it no longer seems to be this heavy, dark cloud that is never going to leave us. With the breath, I can see that my emotion is not me and I am not my emotion. It’s just an energetic response, and it’s going to pass.
3. Self-talk and affirmations.
I used to constantly have to verbally remind myself, “It’s okay, this will pass. Breathe. It’s okay.” “I am not my anger.” I’ve come to a point now where I don’t have to say them all the time, but occasionally my inner voice reminds me, “It’s okay.” I’ve reprogrammed my mind over time to accept and breathe through whatever is happening. The self-talk creates a cognitive dissonance, which will eventually rewire the brain, if done consistently.
It is so crucial to find quiet time alone to meditate, especially if, like me, you suffer from those intense emotions. Meditation allows us to take a step back from what’s happening inside of us and start to become an observer—rather than a participant against our own will. Pre-meditation practice, I never knew I had a choice in how I responded to life. It provides such a freedom if you are ruled by emotions.
I have long since let go of the idea that I have to be perfect to be loved or to love myself. In practicing humility I allow myself to be human and make mistakes, treating myself with compassionate humor as I journey, fall, trip, go backwards and forwards, and learn. The best thing I ever did for my well-being was to stop taking myself so seriously.
Our egos make everything a drama and a crisis; when we can let go of that, we can laugh at our silliness with love. I have found that in getting my ego to be right-sized, I am able to set boundaries, allowing me to pause and say, “I am angry, I need a moment to cool down.” I can then walk away so that I don’t respond with angry words. When we are in humility we no longer have the need to be right, or to take revenge. This allows us to take space and cool off before finishing a discussion.
I still fall flat on my face plenty of times, as I am always going to still be learning too. Sometimes I have to turn around and say “I’m sorry” because my anger got the best of me and my old sarcasm and snide comments came out. The difference today is that it’s okay.
Each time my anger pops up it has less and less hold on me now that I greet it with mindfulness and love. And the best part? I don’t hold onto it anymore! There’s no more simmering pot of festering resentment underneath my fake ass smile. And this is because I deal with it, I admit it, acknowledge it, and send it on its way. It may not always be pretty but it works, and I’m okay with that!
As long as we are willing to learn from our actions and amend any behaviors that hurt others, then we can cut ourselves a break at the end of the day.
So the next time you’re angry, say it! And before you do anything or speak to anyone, just breathe.
And remember…you’re not alone!
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