There’s a story told in meditation circles used to illustrate how meditation helps us deal with a very human emotion; anger. The story, I like to describe as, ‘ducks don’t do anger,’ tells how two ducks fighting over a piece of bread, after a short bit of angry nipping at each other, are able to just swim away, and unlike their human observers aren’t holding a grudge, feeling resentment or feeding their anger.
Anger is part of being human and it’s hardwired into our reptilian brain, it comes from our ego state, that part of us that needs us to feel secure and safe. In order to deal with anger we must find the underlying cause. Anger can rise out of fear, pain, sorrow; anger can be a cry for attention or help, it may be an expression of grief, loneliness or a desire for love.
In the end we have to own our anger and more importantly the root cause and in order to own it, we need to acknowledge it and not try and repress it. The questions arise, can meditation help us embrace this shadow side of our humanness and if so how?
Meditation is a practice of awareness and when we sit in meditation we start to become present with those parts of who we are, even those parts which we’ve repressed, hidden from, the darker side of our nature.
Unpleasant as unearthing these thoughts, feeling and emotions are, as long as we continue to repress them, the more they will rise up and make themselves known. Meditation opens a doorway allowing us to see what the real emotions are hiding behind it. Meditation invites us in to witness the anger, and in that process of witnessing anger, begin to evaporate it.
Ram Dass describes this process as ‘making friends with anger,’ a place from which he no longer identifies with it, he said it this way, in the Shapiro’s new book, “Be the Change,” “I still see anger arise, even after thirty years of meditating. But now, when it does, I can say, ‘Hello old friend’ and invite in for a cup of tea.” He went on to say, “Meditation has helped to overcome the more negative places, like anger, because it gives me the chance to bring together my identification with my awareness.”
Anger unchecked can do untold damage both on an individual level and on the wider level of our collective consciousness. When anger is repressed it can transform into hatred, a transformation that occurs when we feel we’ve been especially wronged.
It’s natural to feel greater justification for this kind of anger, as well as, in situations where we see injustice. And in situations where find gross inhumanity, it becomes possible to transform angry passion into acts of compassion. This, however, can be a slippery slope, because justification can, also, become rational, and rational can be used to justify irrational acts.
It’s this level of anger that creates enemies and is ultimately the rational for violence. So, how do we move from anger and hatred of our enemies, to a place, if not of love, at least of tolerance?
Deepak Chopra offers us this analysis of the problem from his blog post, “How to Love Your Enemies (Really).”
1. Anger is a natural emotion, but when it turns to hatred, a natural emotion becomes distorted. Anger is bottled up and feeds on itself. Ideas of revenge, retribution and violence build up over time. People who have injured, opposed or offended you start to turn into enemies.
2. The rationale for hating an enemy can become quite complex and convincing. Long-held grudges always tell a story in which the wronged party is in the right. But behind these rationales the fuel is bottled-up anger.
3. Even when someone commits a horrendous offense against you, which would seem to justify seeking revenge, you are doing harm to yourself by harboring built-up anger. This insight, which is hard for many people — and nations — to arrive at, is key.
4. Once you see that the problem is built-up anger, and that anger is irrational and destructive, there is an incentive to release it. An emotional debt to the past creates suffering in the present. In cases where horrible crimes have been committed, the higher goal is to seek justice, not revenge. The two aren’t the same thing.
5. Paying old emotional debts can be done in various ways. A person can begin to cross the divide, talking to his enemy and realizing that both share a common psychology. Empathy can be cultivated. Letting go of pride and ego is worth pursuing. Yet much of this letting go happens only at the mental level, which isn’t adequate to the hot, violent feelings being held inside. In fact, when anger management training brings up old hostility without giving a way to release it, attempts at controlling anger fail miserably.
6. Releasing the hot, violent energy of anger can be done. Under the rubric of “energy work,” there are now many practitioners in this area. If that seems too arcane, it needn’t. Sit down and revisit a memory that arouses your anger. Generally these are memories where you feel that an injustice has been committed against you. Your mind is filled with reasons for how you were wronged. Now pause and feel the actual energy of your anger. Your body may be tense, your skin warm, breathing ragged, heartbeat increased. The physical side of anger is the key to releasing it, because rationales go on forever. They are all-consuming and self-consuming at the same time.
7. Once you have contacted the physical side of anger, there is a pivotal moment. If you express your anger by acting it out, mentally or physically, none of the energy will be released. Feeling your anger and expressing it still holds the energy inside. You must want the anger to go, which can be tricky. Like every strong emotion, anger believes in itself; it wants to stick around and keep telling you its story. To get past this allure, stop paying attention to the story and the rationales attached to it. Instead, focus on making the angry energy leave. This may require an experienced guide, because the pivotal moment is psychologically slippery. Read more…
In meditation, because we develop a greater sense of self-awareness, we have the opportunity to see anger as it is, with all its recurring patterns of thought and its waves of shadow energy, and make ‘friends with it.’ It is from this quiet space of self-reflection that we can begin to accept ourselves for who we are.
Meditation is not a panacea; will we will be instantly be transformed into beings of light and love because we’ve practiced sitting on the cushion? No. Meditation’s benefit is that it allows us to be honest and accepting of ourselves as we are and it’s that awareness which carries with it the power of real transformation.