Moving Out of the State of Anger
old bumper sticker reads, “If you are not outraged, you are not
paying attention.” There is something to that. This world is full
of wrongs that should be righted, and many of us shut out the awful
truth so that we are not tortured by it. Outrage, anger and indignation
are great motivators. They get us moving. They stimulate change. Great
movements have arisen out of indignation. Leaders rise because they
harness collective dissatisfaction with the status quo. These emotions
also start wars and break up families.
is important that we remain sensitive to wrongs. We won’t make
corrections if we are not sometimes scandalized. For that outrage to be
a virtue though, we must empower ourselves to act upon it with wisdom.
Outrage without empowerment leads to cynicism, which is corrosive to
in its wild state is destructive. It may lead us to hurt others, say
unkind words, or shut ourselves away. When it persists, it hurts our
health. We must learn to tame our anger—use it to motivate us
toward constructive efforts when that is appropriate and to release it
when it is of no productive use.
is a way of managing anger. When we are enraged, we are out of our
minds. We don’t think clearly. We say things we later regret.
Maybe we even act out anger by breaking things or hurting people. By
shifting into mindful attention, we regain control. We shift out of our
emotional mind, into a wiser, more resourceful presence.
anger flares, remember to breathe. Take a breath and let it out slowly.
Push the out-breath a little, so that you empty your lungs. You
don’t have to worry about the in-breath. You will inhale when the
time comes. Do this a few times. While you are focused on breathing,
take your time to collect yourself. If possible, don’t say
anything. Your first words in an angry state are likely to be poorly
chosen. Get calmer before you speak.
yourself. Notice who you are and where you are. Anger narrows focus, so
to gain control over it, expand your focus. See the whole situation.
Bring your attention back to center. When angry, your attention shifts
to the person who angered you. Your attention is your power center, so
don’t put it all on somebody else. Keep some on yourself.
We could rewrite the old bumper sticker to read, “If you are
enraged, you are not being still and paying attention.”
what is important. If you are in a family argument, remember what is
most important in the relationships. Is being right the most important
thing, or is it the quality of the relationship? Is it the child who
might be witnessing the event? Being right is overrated.
to the other person with compassion. In front of you is another
suffering person. Hear their suffering and make it your wish for that
suffering to be lifted. Our inclination when angry may be to create
more suffering in the other. It is our mistaken belief that somehow
that will lessen our own suffering. Generating suffering in others only
leads to more suffering of our own. Remind yourself that revenge is
primitive. Give it up.
Breathe. Regain attention. Remember what’s important. Listen with compassion.
Recommended reading: Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames by Thich Nhat Hanh
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