Below is a summary of various approaches to anger. They obviously will be most efficient when used with a calm and concentrated mind, either during meditation or at the moment you realize that something needs to be done about your anger. Obviously, the problem during an actual difficult situation is to have a calm and concentrated mind – a regular meditation practice can be of great help then! One of the best ways to really make progress with understanding and changing the functioning of our own mind is to try out analytical meditation, combined with these clues. See also Meditation on Anger.
ANTIDOTE 1 – Patience.
Patience is the main antidote to anger. As common wisdom says: just count to 100… During this time, any of the below methods can be effective. The most effective method will depend on the actual situation. Especially in our age of rush and intense change, patience may not be seen as a positive quality, but take a minute to think about it – impatience can easily give rise to a general feeling of anger.
ANTIDOTE 2 – Realisation of the Noble Truth of Suffering.
Once one understands that problems and frustration are a basic fact of life, it can reduce our impatience with our own unrealistic expectations. In other words: nothing is perfect, so don’t expect it. If I believe that things should be perfect, it is almost unavoidable to feel disappointed and hurt.
ANTIDOTE 3 – Understanding Karma.
As explained in the page on Karma, the real reason for our problems are our own actions, which are in turn caused by our own negative states of mind. If someone makes us angry, it can have a sobering effect if we dare to think that the real reasons for this situation are our own past actions, and the person is just a circumstance for our own karma ripening.
ANTIDOTE 4 – Changing or Accepting.
Basically, we can find ourselves in two types of unpleasant situations: ones we can change and ones we cannot change.
– If I can change the situation, I should do something about it instead of getting all worked-up and angry. Not acting in such a situation will cause frustration in the end.
– If I cannot change the situation, I will have to accept it. If I don’t, it will only lead to frustration and a negative and unpleasant state of mind, which will only make the situation worse.
For reasons unclear to me, Westerners (including myself) appear to have big problems with accepting unpleasant situations which we cannot change. Could this be a result of impatience (a form of anger) with imperfection (an unrealistic expectation)?
Do consider the wisdom in the following remarks:
“How does this effect my Buddhist practice?
These reported events are like an arrow shot at my heart but it lands at my feet.
I choose not to bend over, pick it up, and stab myself with it.”
ANTIDOTE 5 – Realistic Analysis.
For example: someone accuses me of something.
– If it is true, I apparently made a mistake, so I should listen and learn.
– If it is untrue, the other person makes a mistake. So what? Nobody is perfect. I also make mistakes, and it is all too easy to label the other as “enemy”, in which case a helpful discussion or forgiving becomes difficult.
It may also be worthwhile searching for the real underlying reason of the problem. Of special importance is to evaluate one’s own role in the situation: my own fears, insecurity, being very unfriendly, or not being blameless (like leaving home much too late for an appointment and blaming the 5 minute delay of the train).
ANTIDOTE 7 – Realisation of Emptiness.
See the page on Wisdom. To summarise it briefly, if one deeply realises the emptiness of inherent existence or interdependence of the other person, the situation and oneself, there is nothing to be angry about. The realisation of emptiness is therefore the ultimate means of ridding oneself of unrealistic negative emotions like anger.
ANTIDOTE 8 – Equanimity.
Equanimity means that one realises the basic equality of all sentient beings; others want happiness, just like I do. Others make mistakes just like I do. Others are confused, angry and attached, just like I often am. Is the other person happy in this situation, or just struggling like I am?
ANTIDOTE 9 – Openness
Be prepared to be open for the motivation of others to do what causes you problems. Talking it over and being prepared to listen can suddenly make a problem acceptable. Have you ever noticed the difference when a plane or train is delayed and nobody provides any reason for it? People very quickly become irritated and hostile. Then when the driver or pilot explains there is a technical defect or an accident, suddenly waiting becomes easier.
ANTIDOTE 10 – Relativity.
Ask yourself: is this situation is actually important enough to spoil your own and other people’s mood? Is this problem worth getting upset in a life where death can hit me at any moment?
ANTIDOTE 11 – Change Your Motivation.
In case a situation is really unacceptable, and another person needs to be convinced that something is to be done or changed, there is no need to become upset and angry. It is likely much more efficient if you show understanding and attempt to help the other understand the need for change. If one needs to appear angry for some reason to convince the other person of the seriousness of the situation, one can think like a parent acting wrathful to prevent the child from harming itself.
In general, to be really effective one needs to reflect on quite a number of aspects in one’s own mind like: forgiveness, peace of mind, fears, self-acceptance (no acceptance of others is really possible without self-acceptance), habits, prejudices etc. A list of aspects to start with is given in the page about the mind, under the 26 non-virtuous mental factors.
ANTIDOTE 12 – Watch Your Hands.
An interesting suggestion from Jon Kabat-Zinn, from ‘Wherever You Go, There You Are‘:
“All our hand postures are mudras in that they are associated with subtle or not-so-subtle energies. Take the energy of the fist, for instance. When we get angry, our hands tend to close into fists. Some people unknowingly practice this mudra a lot in their lives. It waters the seeds of anger and violence within you ever time you do it, and they respond by sprouting and growing stronger.
The next time you find yourself making fists out of anger, try to bring mindfulness to the inner attitude embodied in a fist. Feel the tension, the hatred, the anger, the aggression, and the fear which it contains. Then, in the midst of your anger, as an experiment, if the person you are angry at is present, try opening your fists and placing the palms together over your heart in the prayer position right in front of him. (Of course, he won’t have the slightest idea what you are doing.) Notice what happens to the anger and hurt as you hold this position for even a few moments.”
ANTIDOTE 13 – Meditation.
Last, but certainly not least, meditation can be the ultimate cure for completely eliminating anger from your mind. In the beginning, one can do analytical meditations (like this meditation on anger), but meditations on compassion, love and forgiving reduce anger as well. Ultimately, the realization of emptiness eradicates all delusions such as anger.