Mark Twain’s description of anger as an acid that eats away at its host (the person who is angry) causing unseen, but terrible damage is one of the most compelling I’ve ever read.
While we know that anger is an emotion that can erupt suddenly like a volcano spewing molten lava on everything in its path, it's useful to acknowledge that anger often does as much, if not more damage to the individual who succumbs to a fit of anger or who has held anger inside for months or years.
When the dust finally settles, the consequences of anger can grab you by the throat for the rest of your life. It can ruin your health; cost you a dear friendship and alienate those you love; it can end a marriage or start a world war. Anger is one of the most destructive energies on the planet, and perhaps it is also the least understood.
When we are consumed by anger, we have momentarily lost our minds and our spiritual grounding. It’s as if the fictional “Incredible Hulk,” (who turns green with rage when he’s provoked) has taken over for a while and then we’re left to pick up the pieces.
From a spiritual perspective, anger is a denial of the good that is within us. I think of it as a surge of volatile energy ignited by a play of internal and external forces, most of which we are unaware of. But when we make a conscious effort to look into ourselves and discover the source of our own anger, (which sometimes masquerades as depression), our capacity to transform anger into positive life affirming energy becomes possible. To do this takes persistent inner work and sometimes professional counseling, but there is a spiritual practice that can help us understand how anger turns us into someone we don’t want to be.
First, notice how insidious anger can be. It may begin as frustration in a traffic jam, or in a long line at the grocery store, or in any crowded environment where people are packed in together; or it might be a family disagreement or a dispute with your partner or a neighbor. Observe how you feel when you are annoyed or frustrated. Notice what happens to the way you breathe; sense where your body feels tight and uncomfortable. Is your blood pressure higher? Is your stomach tied in knots? If so, anger has arrived and it's causing a great deal of stress. But at least you can see what's happening. By watching what anger does to your body, you create a space between you and a powerful emotion. Within that space is an opportunity to step back from it so that it doesn't completely take over.
This observation of yourself is a very important first step because it is at this moment, when you witness the effects of anger in your body that you have actually stopped identifying with anger, at least momentarily. It’s similar to the Buddhist practice of “mindfulness,” and sometimes referred to as self-observation. You may still lose your temper or say something you’d like to take back because the movement of anger is very fast, but every time you observe yourself confronting anger, you are building a spiritual muscle that will get stronger.
This is a practice that over time will help you “see” the movement of anger in your body. It takes time; it’s not a quick fix, but it can be very helpful in accessing your own inner wisdom about how to channel the energy of anger into something positive in your life, rather than destructive.
Self-observation or mindfulness is absolutely central to getting to know yourself in a new way and gradually becoming free of the type of anger that damages others as well as yourself.
Within you is every possibility for joy and happiness.
By Cynthia Overweg
The Price We Pay for Anger
“Anger is an acid that can do more harm
to the vessel in which it is stored
than to anything on which it is poured.”
Essays & Reflections