I am an angry person. I imagine many people could say that about themselves in our modern society. We are inundated with angry stories on the news, angry politicians and political commentators that attempt to persuade us to share in their righteous indignation. I feel it. I get angry with my students, I get angry with myself, and I certainly get angry with other drivers that I share the road with. I used to drive a Honda Element and when I got mad I pictured myself a seething pit bull. Now that I drive my more economical Fiat, I am more in line with a seething chihuahua. When my anger kicks into high gear I swerve around cars, yell, cuss, grip the wheel tighter; anything I can think of at the time. I try to remember my breathing: “in 2-3-4 and out 2-3-4.” But it winds up being more to the effect of “in out in out in out in out,” turning me from a seething chihuahua to a hyperventilating seething chihuahua. This is all to the chagrin to any passengers that may be riding with me in the car, fearing for their lives.
This anger has come to a boil on two separate occasions. Both, ironically, towards the end of a relationship I was in at the time. My first boiling point happened as I was driving with my partner. I became so irrationally angry that I had to pull the car over and have him drive the rest of the way. I cannot remember what triggered the anger, but I recall how it enveloped me completely, like a thick wet blanket that was smothering me. I could not escape it. When he took over driving it was nearly thirty minutes before I calmed down enough to feel like I was back to “myself”. The other occasion I am even less proud of. I hit my partner (not the same person as the driving incident), two separate times. No blood was drawn, no bruises or marks were left. The first time it happened he announced, rather coldly, that he had been cheating on me and I punched him in the chest as hard as I could. This error in my anger clouded judgement immediately put me in the wrong. The second time I became physical he informed me, equally as coldly, that he was leaving so he could continue to sleep around. I pushed him into a chain link fence.
Now some might say he deserved these actions for cheating, but in my mind violence is never the response I want to have toward any aspect of my life. In fact, anger is not a response I want to have either. Especially the anger that explodes into such a negative outcome. The first experience in the car led me to therapy. The second, more violent episodes, led me to anti-anxiety/anti-depression medications. But the aftermath of both of these events did not lead me to a greater understanding of my anger.
Sure, therapy helped scratch the surface, but I needed a deeper explanation. And I began to brush at the edges of that explanation when I started my yoga practice (Please understand I use the terms yoga and buddhist practice interchangeably; to me they are one and the same and cannot be separated in my mind or heart. I hope this doesn’t offend any of the purists that may read this.). As I became more adept at yoga and began reading and studying more I began to actively ponder my anger issues. I began reading Anger by Thich Nhat Hanh (can you tell already I love this guy?) and the Tricycle Teachings e-book Anger (which you can download for free from the Tricycle website if you’re interested http://www.tricycle.com). As I read these books I remember smiling, laughing, and crying. I didn’t know I was allowed to be angry. These great Buddhist teachers were telling me it was ok, embrace your anger. WHAT? Are you kidding me? Embrace it? Be ok with being angry? Wait, that can’t be right. Then came the catch…I can’t let the anger control me. Well damn, how am I supposed to do that?
Well, here’s what I came up with. It isn’t going to happen all at once. I know, many of you are saying, “duh genius, you can’t make life altering changes instantly.” But, now would be a good time to mention I’ve always been an instant gratification kind of guy. If I see it, I buy it. If I go to the gym I want to loose ten pounds after my first visit (yes, I recognize the ridiculousness of that statement). But this isn’t going to be instant and often I won’t feel gratified. But it is a start. Now I work on sitting with my anger. I take a few deep deliberate breaths and try to step back from the situation. This has been working as a start. However, my major “ah-ha” occurred when I realized the root of all of my anger. Are you ready for this?
When I feel I’m not in control, anger is the response that I default to. This very idea was like a thousand light bulbs going on at one time. How could I not have recognized it before? I get angry at my students when they won’t do what I say (of course they won’t they’re 11). I get mad at drivers when I can’t travel at the speed I want and move freely about the road. I get mad at myself when I can’t loose the weight I want, or can’t attend my yoga classes as regularly as I’d like. I was flying high when this realization hit me and it has made all the difference.
I’d like to be able to tell you that I now have complete control over my anger and that I can face any situation with calm and aplomb. That is not, however, the case. But I am on the right path. I try to stay in the moment as the anger is rising. I try to remember my breathing and the deeper reasoning of my anger. I’m not there yet, not even close, but I’m happy to say I feel lighter for making the attempts to improve my anger; to sit with it and embrace it. Try embracing your anger as well, what could it hurt? It’s better than lashing out at the people you care most about.