We all have them. Those days when nothing especially big went wrong, yet there we are - pissed off. "I can't believe some & #$ drivers, that & $#% cut me off. That *& $ jerk in unit 306 is halfway into my parking stall again. Why didn't you answer your phone when I called?!" They are all relatively minor events, usually related to what another person did or didn't do, that often overshadow an otherwise good day. Sometimes we are conscious of it, and other times we may not even realise that we've allowed anger to ruin our equilibrium. Whether we're aware of our upset state or not, our physical reactions are similar: our eyes narrow, our jaws clench, our throats constrict, our hearts race, our breathing becomes shallow. It doesn't feel very good, does it?
So why do we insist on getting pissed off? We unwittingly impose expectations upon ourselves and others. When these expectations go unmet, we often respond with annoyance, irritability, or outright anger. Typically, our responses are not even directed at the person who we imagine has made us angry. We may even vent on inanimate objects that we've worked and paid money for - our car, our cell phone, the barbecue, the TV remote controls or anything else - as if abusive treatment will somehow ease our frustration. This behaviour could almost be viewed as comical if it didn't mean ruining some material thing that we could otherwise enjoy. But often it is our lovers, our friends, or even innocent strangers who suffer our wrath. Anyone who has been the victim - or even the witness - of another person's fit of rage knows that it isn't funny at all. Anger is an epidemic; we "catch" or internalise it even when it isn't ours, and later "lash out" or externalise it. We risk infecting the people that we love, or strangers that we possibly could love and so it may continue to spread in this way. According to my understanding of eastern philosophy, anger is suffering of the worst kind. This is why.
Anger destroys our innate sense of peace and will always conflict with happiness. To demonstrate my point, can you recall a time in your life when you were both angry and happy? Me neither. No despot or dictator - no matter how powerful, charismatic or clever - ever imposed control over humankind with the same ugly efficiency that anger takes over our minds.
It can take over much more quickly than we realize. "I'm mad" is a much more common statement than "oopsy, I'm starting to get a bit upset now". It also seduces us with a false sense of power and self-righteousness. We are never more "right" than when we are enraged. Anger is a lonely emotion; even our pets can sense our bad moods. and seek to avoid us. In a sense, anger can. also travel through time. A few hugs and treats later, Rover and Simba might forget all about our tantrums, but other human beings will not. They may resent our past pissiness long after the incident has occurred.
You say, "Okay, okay, anger is nasty but so is life. I can't help it. Sometimes I'm entitled to be angry. Everyone has a bad day. It's not my fault. It's the situation or someone else's fault."
It doesn't have to be that way, or at least, it doesn't have to be that way most of the time. Perhaps it's a genetic predisposition, a temporary chemical imbalance in our brain, this rat-race / "gotta-have-it" lifestyle that most of us conform to but seldom question. These are things that may bring us to eruptions of anger, among many others. But much of the anger we spread is preventable.
Extinguishing anger is a simple matter - simple, but not easy.
First, be clear about what anger really is. No one can make you angry, and it does not make you stronger. It is an ego-driven and animalistic emotion - you don't own it because it owns you, and you are not entitled to borrow it either. Anger spins complex real-world situations into over-simplified stand-offs; it is the cancer of communications, caring, and sharing; it is not your friend. Let these myths of power, entitlement and unavoidability wither away.
Second, decide that treating the disease is worthy of your attention and effort. Make a commitment to free yourself from it, and remind yourself of the ugliness of your actions when you were angry in the past.
The first two steps might be successfully accomplished before cocktail hour on a Friday. The third and last step is the one that requires some consistent daily effort. This involves becoming more self-aware by noting or observing your anger - out loud, under your breath, or as a mere thought - "there is anger" - even after it has taken control. Do NOT start in with excuses or claim ownership of it, just mentally note its existence. If this approach doesn't work, you might also try mentally noting the physical symptoms, such as your racing heart or tight throat. You'll be surprised at how quickly anger will start to ease once you simply note its presence. If anger already has control, the destruction has already started.
However, the sooner you begin to rid yourself of it, the less will be the damage to yourself and others. Sounds too simple to be true? Try out these three steps anyway.
You don't need to immediately run over and swap smooches with a person who just yesterday you imagined to be your worst enemy! Start out small - a petty annoyance or two. The lid off of the toothpaste again; the SUV that's slightly in the crosswalk; the photocopier emptied of paper. Mental noting is a skill, and you will improve your skill with practice. No one can promise you that you won't have any more bad days, but a few anger triggering events need not destroy your happiness, and that of others. With time and effort, you'll be pissing on angry-fires, not on yourself or someone else.
*By Imu.urme, Gay Calgary and Edmonton magazine
"Imu.urme" has studied and practiced Buddhism for over ten years - first here in Canada and later during five years of travel in Mexico and throughout East Asia. Having returned to Canada early in 2006, he wishes to shore some Buddhist principles that may offer some useful philosophical tools for living in a busy world. No matter what the spiritual tradition of readers, this writing is offered without motive - other than love and compassion for all others.