Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Anger: How Seeing it as Suffering Makes all the Difference in the World

Do you suffer from anger or resentment in your life? Whether it’s our own internal anger or that of someone we live with, work with, or love, everyone in this world is touched by the destructive forces of anger. Recently I wanted to gain a deeper understanding of my own inner aggression, so read the book, Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames, by the great Buddhist teacher and Nobel Peace Prize nominee, Thich Nhat Hanh, who writes:
"When we get angry, we suffer. If you really understand that, you also will be able to understand that when the other person is angry, it means that she is suffering.  When someone insults you or behaves violently towards you, you have to be intelligent enough to see that the other person suffers from his own violence and anger. But we tend to forget. We think we are the only one that suffers, and that the other person is our oppressor. This is enough to make anger arise, and to strengthen our desire to punish. We want to punish the other person because we suffer. Then, we have anger in us; we have violence in us, just as they do. When we see that our suffering and anger are no different from their suffering and anger, we will behave more compassionately......So, don’t despise your anger. Don’t fight your anger, and don’t suppress your anger. Learn the tender way of taking care of your anger, and transform it into the energy of understanding and compassion."
At one point while reading this book, I felt broken-hearted as I realized how great the suffering must be that would lead us to want to punish the people we love the most---to see them, at least in the heat of the moment, as an enemy we want to crush. And if you’ve ever had such a relationship, you know that those victories are shallow and short-lived, because next time your loved one will crush you, and so the fighting continues...

If you can't relate to this, you are either very blessed or you possess great wisdom and self mastery (maybe both), because experiencing the desire to lash out and punish is truly a state of great personal or group suffering.  It takes all of our peace and joy, and throws it out the window. Of course, some people are so deeply entrenched in anger as a way of life that they don’t even realize peace is an option. 

Hahn’s remedy is to cultivate deep understanding and responsibility for our anger, and to treat it (as well as the anger of others) with great compassion. What makes this possible is the heart-felt realization that anger can only come from suffering. People who cause us pain must be suffering greatly, and when we’ve hurt others it is because of our own suffering.

This week, I ask you to look at your relationship with aggression. Is there a conflictual relationship in your life in which anger and punishment play out? Is it with someone you love, such as a family member, spouse, former spouse, or child? Please take some time to get in touch with your role in the conflict and consider how this might have brought pain to the other person. Then, go into your heart and try to find compassion for yourself and the other person. Try treating expressions of anger as wounds to be healed, and not enemies to be conquered.