We’ve All Experienced Anger
It surges up in a split second and if we react to it, our actions may cause us to feel guilt, shame or further resentment afterwards.
The emotion floods our body and that wave takes no more than 90 seconds to move on. Yet we can be ruminating over it, gathering the momentum of our story for hours or even days afterwards.
Do you recognise this?
We Feel Powerless
Sometimes it can be the very people we love the most who press our buttons. Or ongoing daily life where politics and big decisions are out of our hands.
It doesn’t work very well though, does it? Anger can feel like it’s hiding deep inside you, ready to rise up and you feel completely out of control when it does.
Beneath the experience of anger is a sense of powerlessness.
When you react with anger, you feel powerless, as if it’s the only thing in that moment that you can do. It feels so enormous and shameful at the same time.
Yet you can harness this anger with mindfulness and 4 simple steps.
Step 1: Sit and Acknowledge your Feelings
Our normal response may be to push anger away, to bury it, until the next time it rises up like a monster! But bringing a mindful approach can help.
Find a quiet place to sit and notice the range of experiences from shame through to fear, frustration and fury. And be clear, sometimes this emotion is there for an important reason – you’ve been bullied or treated unjustly or seen others on the receiving end.
However uncomfortable your emotions may feel, be curious and acknowledge them.
Thich Nhat Hanh says, ‘I know that you are there, little anger, my old friend. Breathe – I am taking care of you now’.
Instead of pretending you don’t feel anger, invite yourself to look carefully at it.
Bring a sense of kindness and compassion to yourself. Sense mindfully in to your body and find where you feel it:
- heat across your face
- tension in your fists and jaw
- pounding in your heart
- your stomach feeling as though it might explode
Whatever you discover, however anger reveals itself to you – be with it.
Step 2: Tenderness and Compassion
As you become familiar with the physical sensations of anger, you can bring in your awareness of your breath.
With each breath back and forth, like a mother cradling her baby, notice how you might start to feel some tenderness, compassion and calm. Your heart feels softer and your body might begin to relax.
Tara Brach calls this, ‘Attend and befriend’, as you are focussing on yourself. And like a good friend, you simply sit and listen in.
Jack Kornfield calls it ‘cradling the heart’.
So difficult feelings – towards others and towards yourself, start to soften.
It can feel a relief to stop berating yourself and shift those negative self-beliefs to a gentler, kinder approach. You also gain clarity which will guide you towards your next move.
Step 3: What is it Telling You?
You could place your hand on your heart to help you divert away from the mind-chatter and connect with your body.
As you continue to focus on the breath’s rhythm notice how your feelings may have shifted – both physically and emotionally.
As you listen in to yourself you may also discover that there is good reason to feel anger. It is telling you something and this is the work of exploring what it means. Then what you may have to do in response.
So you haven’t suppressed it, you’ve allowed it to flow through you. Welcoming your experiences with love and compassion.
Stay with this as long as feels right for you. And if you need to make changes in your life or be involved in changes around you, the next step may demand courage.
Step 4: Continuing Awareness
As you go about your day, check in to your emotional state.
Awareness is the key – notice how tension builds up in your body. Track how your mind might be chattering again with the same old story-line.
Remember you can connect in with your heart and your breathing as you continue. Simply breathe in and breathe out, and bring tenderness and kindness to yourself. This creates a sense of peace.
The more you are alert to the gathering momentum of anger, the better able you can manage it and arrive at peace with more ease.
O GREAT SPIRIT
Help me always
to speak the truth quietly,
to listen with an open mind
when others speak,
and to remember the peace
that may be found in silence.
Learning from Anger with Mindfulness
Or so used to the relationship that keeps this anger alive.
Being mindful gives you a shift in perception. You might even have labelled yourself as ‘an angry person’ and think that there’s nothing you can do about it.
Acknowledge that you experience anger, like millions of other human beings, and that it can be viewed in the light of kindness and gentleness.
Sometimes anger is justifiable and gives you the push you need to deal with an injustice or wrongdoing. It’s important to make wise use of anger and what it’s telling you. With the practice of mindful meditation comes understanding.
Anger is just one of many emotions we experience as humans.
If you want to get to know yourself better, with all your emotions and experiences, a mindfulness course is one excellent way to go deeper. Further details here at Place of Serenity
‘True Love, A Practice for Awakening the Heart’ by Thich Nhat Hanh
‘The Wise Heart’ by Jack Kornfield
‘True Refuge’ by Tara Brach
A good article worth reading is How to turn anger and resentment into happiness
Yvette Jane – Mindfulness & Meditation Guide
Updated post since first published in July 2015