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Does Anger Ever Work?

Published on 27/02/14
by randy

My seven year old grandson periodically has difficult moments when anger rises up within him. As children, sometimes the urge to grow our anger seems uncontrollable. There’s a restlessness that seems to well up, an unpleasant thought about something not going the way we expected, etc., and we end up acting on our anger, making a mess of things. My grandson will raise his voice, use unpleasant words, and sometimes wish unpleasant events to those in his presence. I recently asked him if he thought anger ever worked. He couldn’t think of a time and he acknowledged how it always makes things worse.

So can we stop anger? That would be as silly as thinking we could stop thought. Anger comes up and what we do with it determines the quality of our life. There’s an old story called “Solomon’s Wisdom” where three critical pieces of wisdom are handed out. The last is “save your anger for another day”. The story stresses the need to not act on our anger, humbled to the truth that we never have all the information. We’re advised to look at the anger, in patience see how it changes. In most instances, over time, the anger diminishes and new emotions/thoughts arise. My grandson said that sometimes the anger is still there the next day. I told him that we can continue to watch it, and if we can’t stop feeding it we may need to address the problem, but best to do it with the help of a third, neutral party. Our work is to see how the anger grows when we feed it with negative thoughts and how it diminishes when we return to gratitude for the present moment. I told him that this is some of the hardest work we have to do as humans. It’s so natural to feed our unsatisfactoriness, to fuel complaint, and grow our negative emotions. But it never sustains our joy and most often makes a big mess of things.

Noticing anger doesn’t make a mess of things. It’s how we act with this anger that results in complicated lives lacking the joy that’s possible. The strength to not act with intention to harm comes from spiritual security. It’s the basis of the Christian command to love our enemy, the basic premise that we aim to cause no harm since we are each other. The strength and courage to do this comes from the authority of the heart. While the head concocts all the reasons to act on our anger, the heart knows how to move from a sense of equanimity and peace. The heart leads us through difficult situations with the skill of a surgeon’s trained hands. It’s very delicate work, but when we pause, listen to the heart, and move forward with care, we avoid making a disaster of things.

Anger has momentum similar to fire. This is why awareness training is critical to a joyful life. Once we start feeding negative emotion and/thought, the momentum builds just as a fire grows from adding fuel. Awareness helps us identify what’s happening so we can let the negative go and return to balance and harmony, just as putting out a fire from withholding fuel. For my grandson, once the momentum has reached a certain point there’s no way to put out the fire except to remove him from the situation with a ‘time out’. Many of us need a ‘time out’. I work with men at a prison who experience a big time out. Over the years they come to see how acting from anger made a huge mess of their lives. They’ve come to see how they would have done things differently given the information they now have. Had they ‘saved their anger for another day’ they would have discovered new information coming to light. Had they developed an awareness training practice, they would have better caught the negative thought/emotion before it gained the momentum that led to their destructive action.

It seems that we’re here to hold our balance, help one another, and at the least, avoid hurting one another. The natural human condition of restlessness clearly shows how we’re all involved in pushing things away or grasping for things, providing the fuel for our negative thoughts/emotions. Our hope comes in knowing we can catch these early before momentum has its way with us. With awareness, we can catch them at their seed, let them go, and return to positive thoughts/emotions more in line with the present moment, with meeting things as there are, resulting in skillful actions that minimize/reduce/eliminate harm.

In summary, I’ve found that growing my anger has never worked and when momentum builds to a point where I act on it, it never goes well. The use of anger through action spiritually is never justified. I’m now sixty-three years old and consider myself a novice in this practice. For your health, the health of our children and grandchildren, it’s my hope that we put a big focus on awareness training, noticing how we can grow or diminish these negative thoughts and feelings. It’s the difference between having a quality life filled with peace or a messy life filled with violence and discomfort.

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