We all get angry. Even if we are aware of the harm it can cause, we often can’t help feeling it and in so many different ways – outbursts, irritation, frustration, forcefulness in opinions, glares, raised tones, curt responses, hurtful words, negative moods, and on and on it goes. We tend to use it because we get what we want, like the screaming child in the shopping center. But in my experience, there is a huge catch to anger in that it is ultimately a destructive influence on our lives and a big obstacle to genuine spirituality.
Destructive by design
If you notice, when angry we tend to want to stomp things, force them, push or grab them. It’s ironic that we can even break the very thing we are trying to angrily make work. In the animal kingdom its purpose is to knock out whatever gets in the way of a desired outcome, and that takes force and destruction when met with a perceived resistance. This makes anger by its very nature a force of destruction.
So imagine then the destruction it can wreak on delicate things like the complex world of human relationships, and therefore on our lives. It becomes easier to see how destructive anger is when we remember being at the receiving end of it. Who wants to be around an angry person? Who dares bring up certain subjects or talk openly when an angry response is assured? And if someone is repeatedly angry or even abusive and insulting, the natural response is to feel hurt and emotionally withdraw.
Anger pushes people away so that we can force our way through, but how often do we see the hidden cost? Doesn’t it restrict the ideas and creativity that others can bring into our lives and that could have changed its course for the better? By shutting those out, we can instead take a negative track of decisions made in anger that narrow into an ever tightening and controlled circle of our own limited way of doing things, and this inevitably leads to increasing isolation and inward emptiness as we cut ourselves off from the input not just of others, but of life and the very universe itself.
Why can’t we just stop getting angry?
So why can’t we just give anger up? Often it’s only afterwards, looking back once we have calmed down, that we see we got angry and wish we hadn’t. And yet along comes another circumstance and we get angry again; it can seem as if it will never go away.
Anger itself though is just the symptom of a much deeper cause, and unless this cause is understood, anger will always return. I liken the mechanism of anger to a blocked pipe. The pipe is the track of our desires, wants, opinions, plans and ideas. Through it flows our directed energy to a certain goal, like water. The blockage can be an object, a circumstance, person, or alternative opinion, which stands in the way. As soon as the blockage appears, what was once the unnoticeable flow of our desires, becomes a terrible pressure that starts building. This pressure creates a force upon the blockage, which, when left unchecked, increases to the point at which it has the required force to break through.
When a man dwells on the objects of sense, he creates an attraction for them; attraction develops into desire, and desire breeds anger. Anger induces delusion; delusion, loss of memory; through loss of memory, reason is shattered; and loss of reason leads to destruction. But the self-controlled soul, who moves amongst sense objects, free from either attachment or repulsion, he wins eternal Peace.
~ Krishna, The Bhagavad Gita, translated by Shri Purohit Swami
You can actually feel this pressure inside as anger starts welling up, in response to an external resistance, in the area of the solar plexus (the center of emotion), causing increased heart beats and a shortness of breath as our body responds to the pressure it’s placed under. This pressure builds looking for a way to release – a raised voice, insults, subtle put downs, putting pressure on people, manipulative moods, creating a drama, emotional blackmail etc. – are all different ways this pressure looks for ways to break through to the point where we get our way, and feel soothed again as the pressure subsides and the flow of our desires continue on their way. Sometimes this takes just minutes with a nasty look, but other times it can last years, as hidden issues are psychologically wrestled over between people creating deep resentments and grudges making for a miserable life.
Taking the pressure off
Like a mathematical equation, the desire for reward, our opinion to be heard, to do something, achieve a certain goal or outcome, and even stop something we don’t want from happening, whatever it may be, is always followed by anger as long as obstacles appear; that’s just built into nature’s design.
Although the analogy of a pipe sounds more like physics, psychology also works upon universal principles of energy and matter. Anger is the inevitable result of following and being attached to the fulfillment of our own desires and wants. Often these wants may even be for a good cause (or at least seem like it) – yet even so, desire and its inevitable angry enforcement is always a destructive way of approaching life. We may win the argument, but the ensuing effects on our relationships and life path can be devastating.
It is hard to see the love, understanding, wisdom, learning, and opportunities we missed out on when we are totally driven toward and set upon our own wants at any one time. This is why detachment and removing desire is one of the most prevalent themes of the world’s great spiritual teachings on achieving inner peace and happiness. Even the desire for spiritual things can bring anger and frustration when these desires aren’t met.
If you try to grab hold of the world and do what you want with it, you won’t succeed. The world is a vessel for spirit, and it wasn’t made to be manipulated. Tamper with it and you’ll spoil it. Hold it, and you’ll lose it.
~ Lao-Tzu, Tao Te Ching, translated by Brian Browne Walker
Taking part without taking hold
So next time anger arises, it’s a chance to look inside and see what attachment and desire is really behind it, and like this we can get to know ourselves better and what it really is that drives our actions and therefore our whole life’s path.
If we can detach from events, this could bring about a radically different approach to living. As remarked upon by sages throughout history, the great flow of life and creation is a great mystery: can we take part in it, without trying to take hold? Can we do our duty, without wishing for anything more than what is already eternally present and immaterial? When we get angry, we make the great mistake of looking outside for our fulfillment, instead of in consciousness – the source of real peace and the spiritual we each have within that is not dependent upon external events going our way.
The ego is a monkey catapulting through the jungle: Totally fascinated by the realm of the senses, it swings from one desire to the next, one conflict to the next, one self-centered idea to the next. If you threaten it, it actually fears for its life. Let this monkey go. Let the senses go. Let desires go. Let conflicts go. Let ideas go. Let the fiction of life and death go. Just remain in the center, watching. And then forget that you are there.
~ Lao-Tzu, Hua Hu Ching, translated by Brian Browne Walker