I sometimes get angry when I feel I’ve been treated unjustly or when I feel others have been treated that way. I will get angry if I have worked very hard to complete a project, and someone blames me if it doesn’t work or assumes I didn’t try hard. I try to wait for the feeling to wash through me. As empowering as it can be to feel anger sometimes, I find that I invariably regret acting from that feeling. Anger is an incredibly deluding force. It tends to give one tunnel vision and a very limited sense of options.
I try hard to remember the possibility of speaking the truth about unpleasant things, of breaking through complicit silence or denial without getting lost in anger. Many of us are trained to use anger to make sure that things don’t remain unspoken or hidden, but there are other ways to maintain clarity without the personal stress and destructiveness of anger. One reason anger is so painful is that it constructs such a powerful sense of self and other. In this way, anger strongly resembles fear. In the Abhidhamma anger and fear are considered the same mind state, one that involves a feeling of such intense separateness that the possibility for relief or change disappears.
The other thing in Buddhist psychology I find interesting is how anger transmutes into wisdom. Transmutation occurs because anger can involve the same kind of cutting through, not taking things for granted, being willing to speak unwelcome or unpleasant truths as wisdom. Mindfulness is taught as the key to that transmutation.
As a culture we swing from being afraid of anger to romanticizing it. I try to see anger for what it is, in myself, and neither fear it nor idealize it. We might romanticize the idea of being in touch with our anger, but in fact we don’t really enjoy the effects of anger. If we are lost in perpetual guilt, which is anger at ourselves, we don’t celebrate that. If we see someone hurting someone else, abusing them, beating them up, or screaming at them, we don’t rejoice in it; we don’t say, “Oh, wonderful, they’re in touch with their anger!”
There is great potential for us to find a middle path with anger through mindfulness, not adding to our brutal self-judgments because of it, and not acting it out in ways that ultimately leave us isolated and regretful.
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