It is human nature to react to our feelings. It is also common for us to seek out positive or happy emotions and avoid the bad ones. Negative emotions can come on so strongly at times that they catch us off guard and demand our attention. Without self awareness anger can overtake us and lead us into acting out of sync with our values. Like a toddler who has been told "NO," anger can lead us to yell, throw things and make a mess of an already difficult situation. In the worst cases anger has lead people to ruin relationships, act out in violence--even to the point of committing crimes of passion. What a tragedy when one comes out of that place and feels the heavy weight of regret for what they have done in the heat of the moment.
I've seen it time and time again in my own life. In dealing with disrespectful children in the classroom. During arguments with loved ones. Waiting in traffic and that oh-so-considerate person has just cut me off to beat me to the red light up ahead. As far as I can see, as long as other people share this planet with me, anger isn't going away any time soon.
So where does that leave us? Are we forever stuck in the cycle of feeling angry, reacting and regretting? What about the scriptures? Jesus tells us “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire." (Matthew 5:21-23) So if this thing called anger is so dangerous that it can be called 'sin,' (look for my upcoming article entitled My Spin on Sin) what are we to do?
Hard as I've tried I haven't been able to get rid of anger. We're talking self-help books, prayer, yoga, meditation, you-name-it. The sucker just keeps coming back. The only thing I can control when it comes to anger, is how I react--rather-- respond to it. Yoga has been a tremendous tool in processing this powerful and potentially destructive emotion.
Our unchecked anger becomes a toxic poison in our lives and the lives of those we love. It consumes and devours the love and beauty in our lives like a fire destroys the good around it. Below is a list of discoveries I have made in processing and working with anger in my own life. My hope is that it helps you to look at your own anger, and how you deal with it in your life.
Anger isn't going anywhere. I have had to learn to sit with and accept the discomfort that this intense emotion brings. Much like the discomfort we experience in difficult yoga poses on our yoga mat, simply creating the space in our hearts and minds for anger to exist gives us freedom from its grips.
1. Having an awareness of anger as it arises is one of the first steps. Recognize that you are angry. This takes practice! Anger often comes on so fast and furious that we are already on to reacting before we even consciously acknowledge that we are angry.
2. Create a gap between feeling the sensation of anger and how you respond to it. Feel it in your mind. Feel it in your body. Feel the heat as it rises up your neck and the tenseness of your shoulders and back. Feel your brows and jaw tightening. Feel the urge to yell, throw things and break things. Feel it all. Breathe it in, and exhale it out. Take a pause before doing anything. Just feel.
3. Respond. Now that you have taken the time to experience the feeling, you can logically decide how to respond to the situation in a way that benefits everyone involved. *This also takes a tremendous amount of practice.* Our ego wants justice. Our ego wants to be heard and seen and validated when we are angry. Ego (or the flesh as it is commonly called in Christian circles) wants to lash out from that place of intense feeling. It wants instant gratification. But reacting with a tantrum often comes back to bite us in the butt, with terrible consequences in the form of shame, broken relationships and even trouble with authority.
I could never have developed this method of processing anger on my own. My yoga practice and the help of the Spirit have guided me in dealing with anger this way. It is a process that will never be perfected and requires hard and continuous work. But the ability to be in control of our actions in response to any emotion is worth the effort required. Responding to anger in this fashion actually restores our personal power and gives us the confidence to tackle any curves that life may throw at us.
May you have a blessed and peaceful weekend...even if you find yourself in a fit of rage. Just consider it an opportunity to practice making space for anger. Namaste