How can I deal with the exploding Anger within?
by Venerable Thubten Chodron
Q: Since the pandemic hit the world and changed how the world operates with profound impact in so many areas: world economy, work operation, domestic job market and financial trade, I have been experiencing greater anger within. How can I handle the exploding anger and bring healing to myself? – TA
A: Anger and other destructive emotions are not the nature of our mind/heart, so they can be diminished and eventually removed completely from our mind stream through the development of patience, love, compassion and wisdom. Many of the people we admire — the Buddha, Jesus, Mahatma Gandhi and others — had the ability to remain internally undisturbed in the face of harm and externally act for the benefit of others. Their anger was neither expressed nor repressed. It was simply absent, having been transformed into tolerance and compassion.
Thus, an alternative exists besides expressing or repressing anger. When we express our anger, our words and deeds can easily hurt others. In addition, expressing anger does not rid ourselves of it. On the contrary, each time we express hostility — even if it is by beating a pillow or screaming in an empty field — we strengthen the habit of feeling and acting out its violent energy. What happens if one day there is no pillow around to pummel, no field nearby to scream in and we are surrounded only by human beings?
On the other hand, repressing anger doesn’t eliminate it either. The anger still exists, no matter how much we may try to pretend to ourselves or others that it doesn’t. It may still erupt, sometimes when we are least prepared to handle it. Repressed anger may also damage us physically or mentally. Expressing anger is one extreme, and repressing it is another. In both cases, the habit of anger remains in one form or another.
Patience is an alternative. It is the ability to remain internally calm and undisturbed in the face of harm or difficulties. The Sanskrit word “kshanti” has no suitable equivalent in English. Here we use “patience,” but kshanti also includes tolerance, internal calm, and endurance. Thus patience, as it is used here, also includes these qualities.
Patience does not involve pasting a plastic smile on our face while hatred simmers inside. It involves dissolving the anger-energy so that it is no longer there. Then, with a clear mind, we can evaluate various alternatives and decide what to say or do to remedy the situation.
When speaking of both anger and patience, we must differentiate mental attitudes from external actions. For example, anger may manifest in different behaviours.
When Gary is angry, he explodes. He shouts, curses, and at times has even been known to throw something. Karen, however, withdraws. She goes into her room, closes the door, and refuses to talk. She may sulk for days. These two people are both angry, but they manifest it in totally different behaviours: one is aggressive, the other passive.
Similarly, patience may manifest in various behaviours. It gives us the mental space to choose appropriate behaviour for the situation. Sometimes we may speak strongly to others because that is the most effective way to communicate with them at that moment. For example, if a child is playing in the street and her father very sweetly says, “Susie dear, please don’t play in the street,” she will likely ignore him. On the other hand, if he speaks forcefully, she will most likely remember and obey. But internally, the parent’s mind can be calm and compassionate when doing this. The child will sense the difference between the words said when he is centred and the same words said when he is upset.
In other situations, a patient attitude may manifest as calm behaviour. Rather than retort to a passerby’s taunt, Bob chooses not to respond. He does this not out of weakness or fear, but by wisely deciding not to feed a potentially hostile situation.
A common misconception is that patience equals passivity. However, when we correctly understand the meaning of patience — noting that it is an internal attitude, not an external behaviour — we see that this is incorrect. Rather, calmness in the face of harm gives us the space to evaluate situations clearly and thus to make wise decisions. This is one of the foremost advantages of patience.
Another advantage of patience is that it leaves our mind free from turbulence and pain, and our body free from tension. This benefits our health. Many studies show that calm people heal more quickly after surgery and are less likely to have accidents. Ronda, upset by a conflict with a neighbour, was hammering together a new cabinet with ferocity. Suddenly she pulled herself up and thought, “If I continue like this, I’ll certainly hurt myself.” She breathed deeply, let her physical tension go, and resumed her carpentry with a different attitude.
Patience also enables us to live free from the pain of grudges, resentment and the wish for revenge. Because we are able to communicate better with others, our relationships are more harmonious and last longer. Instead of our friendships being ripped apart by anger, they are deepened by attentive listening and considerate speaking. We thus amass fewer regrets, so our mind is at ease at the time of death. Accumulating positive karma, we know we are on the path to fortunate rebirths, liberation and enlightenment.
Patience, in addition, directly affects the people and atmosphere around us by short-circuiting the dysfunctional ways in which people interact with one another. Before school, Ron’s daughter arrived at the car frustrated because her hair band was tangled in her hair. Instead of scolding her for doing her hair at the last minute and thus condemning both of them to having a bad day, on smiled and helped her pull out the band.
Reflecting and contemplating so will help you deal with the anger within and bring greater clarity and calmness to the mind.