Anger: a definition from The Oxford Dictionary: “The active feeling provoked against the agent; passion, rage; wrath, ire, hot displeasure. (http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/7498?rskey=eCgelq&result=1#eid)
Even writing those words activates the part of me that feels anger. It is an uncomfortable feeling for me – mostly in the “unpleasant” category, even though sometimes there is a swift sort of “high” when the hot energy of anger courses through me
Using the experience of anger, I have been reflecting on how one sits with/observes emotions. In meditation, we are instructed to “watch” mind states arise and to observe those same mind states subsiding or floating away. It has been useful for me to also notice the physical sensations and judgments or evaluations that arise as I observe this particular mind state.
As I notice anger arise, if I let go of judgment and just notice the intense increase in breathing, heart racing, words crowding in my mind that want to explode out, I can then pause and choose to keep breathing and keep noticing and to feel “underneath” those sensations. Often I notice that anger arises because of an underlying fear – that I am being judged or that my sense of myself is being threatened or perhaps even a physical fear of being harmed. If I notice the fear and just name all the thoughts and feelings that arise, I can sometimes let go of anger and include the person(s) or situation inside my heart instead of pushing them away or holding them at a virtual arm’s length.
Recently, in the presence of someone yelling, the above practice brought about a state of calm. I wasn’t conscious of breathing at first, but since I had connected with my heart, I was in a somewhat effortless state of presence in a way that I have not experienced in the past. I felt like a warrior, and I felt peaceful. Strong, gentle, clear, and loving – but not from a place of will or effort or self-consciousness or self-righteousness. Another time, when the accusations were directed straight towards me, calmness did not arise, but continual breathing did, and I was able to hear the pain the other person was in and to let go, again and again, of the accusations, and hold love. Both times I felt the moment of choosing – to breathe, to imagine what the other person was feeling/needed, to know my inner self was safe.
I am grateful for these angry situations, as they are reminding me again that there are really so many more possibilities than we at first realize….and that these possibilities become more apparent when we pause and reconnect to our basic purpose and a sense that there is a much bigger reality than what we can see in front of ourselves. It is painful to have to face that even in relatively benign situations it is often very difficult to choose love instead of anger/reactivity. This experience brought home how regular practice can change us inside and out so that each time we actively choose love we are strengthening our ability to choose it, even when activated by fear or anger. We can set limits, take care of ourselves, and separate from unsafe or difficult dynamics, and this can be done peacefully. This practice – such a great word – will surely arise hundreds of times. I hope that I will continue to lean into the possibility of connection even in very unpleasant circumstances.