125. The bare recollection of anger kindles anger.
I think we have all experienced this — when we think back to being angry about something, we can become angry all over again. It is as if we have been wronged twice, The first time, for which we already experienced anger, and a second, third, fourth time — however many times we recollect the original wrong.
So what can be done about this? Surely we don’t want to stay trapped in a cycle where we continue to allow our anger to be aroused from a single event that happened in the past. The best strategy I know of for this is mindfulness.
First let’s define mindfulness, in the Buddhist sense: to focus on the present moment, being singularly aware of and calmly acknowledging one’s thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations.
This is more difficult than it sounds.
Typically, we are all lost in a stream of thought, and we identify a “self,” or sense of “I,” with this stream of thoughts. But if we spend enough time quietly, nonjudgmentally observing our thoughts, we eventually recognize we are not our thoughts. We become a silent observer of our thoughts. We look for the “self” which we’ve identified with for so long, and see that it never was there in the first place. We eventually come to an experiential realization that there is no “self” which exists in any real sense.
Without going too much deeper here, just know a basic practice of daily mindful meditation can help immensely to become aware of our thoughts. To observe them, as opposed to always feeling identified with them.
Mindfulness as a Strategy for Dealing with Anger
Being mindful of our thoughts is extremely helpful in not identifying with angry or negative thoughts. Typically, when someone becomes angry, they think of themselves as being angry. However, they are simply feeling a collection of physical, emotional, and mental sensations which, taken together, can be described as anger. A state of heightened awareness and arousal — rapid breathing, flushed face, blood boiling.
But if we catch ourselves becoming aroused to this state of anger, we can remember that we are not our anger. And it will pass over us much easier. And the more we practice mindfulness, the more often we will catch ourselves before becoming lost in our thoughts and acting out.
So here Publius reminds us that we can rekindle anger simply by recollecting that anger. And if we don’t have a strategy for dealing with this, we are helpless. A slave to our emotions, being blown in whatever direction we happen to being feeling at the moment.
Instead, through the practice of mindful meditation, and of staying present throughout the day, we realize that we are not our thoughts and emotions. We can observe them from a nonjudgmental viewpoint.
By doing this, we can recognize signs that we are becoming angry — our pulse increases, our face feels flushed, a rage starts to swell up in us. In this moment, we recognize what is happening, and we can detach from the destructive thought pattern. In this way, the anger passes more rapidly and we are less likely to act impulsively.
Until next time,
If you’re interested in learning more about mindfulness and meditation, this book by Jon Kabat-Zinn comes highly recommended.