I recently attended a course about patience, through Buddhist teachings we were exploring anger. I don't consider myself an angry person, I don't get cross with people or argue, but I love a day course and feel like I can always be a little more patient!
First we need to know what it is, and then how to manage it. The best definition I’ve found is in How To Solve Our Human Problems; which describes anger as an unpleasant feeling towards a person, object or situation which leads to deluded thoughts. It’s an internal feeling and the most common and destructive delusion, which afflicts our mind almost every day.
I met up with friends after the course and asked them if they get angry, most say ‘no.’ When we talked a bit more, (think they were feeling a bit angry as I kept going on about it) it’s clear that what they’re thinking of is a person raging in the street, but what about the more subtle signs of anger, or indeed those people (you might be one of them) who feels anger, but rarely shows it?
The Buddhist’s describe anger as a poison and if you drank poison, you’d want to purge, spit it out, we wouldn’t take a sip, and then a few more sips just to make sure it is poisonous! But anger and irritation are so much like a poison. For example; Your partner on the sofa next to you is breathing loudly. It’s annoying, you feel irritated so and your mind starts to cycle through all the times they’ve been annoying. You’ve even spoken about the loud breathing before so it starts to feel like they’re doing this deliberately to annoy you! It’s an unhappy situation, they’re clearly a lovely person who has many positive qualities, but right now you’re drinking down all the negatives.
Unfortunately here you’re not just poisoning yourself, you’re spitting that at other people. You may not be ‘doing’ anything with the irritation you feel, but by the time they ask if you’d like a cup of tea, if so what type, you snap and say 'camomile, I always drink camomile in the evenings!!'
I read The Gift of Anger by Arun Ghandi last year, in which he talks of his Grandfather’s belief in a ‘living philosophy’ which is where beliefs or attitudes that are constantly being tested. I don’t share Buddhist teachings because I think you should be Buddhist, I share them to inspire you to be the best version of yourself. I love Buddhist teachings because so much makes sense for me personally, but the parts I enjoy the most, are the bits that don’t make sense. That challenge my beliefs and make me pull these sorts of faces.
Like how can I practice patience, and recognise if I'm feeling angry about a situation and also not collude with unacceptable behaviour?
Anger is literally my problem right? It's me drinking poison, but in a climate of cruelty and abuse, I have to stand up and say something otherwise I'm part of the problem... I used to be super angry, I was an advocate for women's rights and you can't work in the industry without becoming hugely upset by the violence and injustice in our community. So I look back on those times now and wonder could I have done things differently, could I have managed to be in that industry and not burn out? I don't know... For a while I resisted sharing my passions or values because I didn't want to go down the path of anger and advocacy again. However what I've learned recently is that I can be hugely passionate about causes, have a discussion and not feel angry because after the conversation, I can let it go. That's the art of patience.
So how to put this into practice?
Admit you feel anger, you get irritated and are prone to delusions. Whether you express the anger or not, none of us are immune to it. Even the monk who was running my day course admitted experiencing anger.
Understand that the source of our anger is an internal unpleasant feeling. With the heavy brething example; they were innocently breathing away, you decided it was important to have silence or be able to hear the tv clearly.
Once you’ve admitted you feel anger (can admit it just to yourself if you can’t face admitting it to the other person), you can start to practice patience. Like actually isn’t it good your partner is breathing loudly next to you. How awful would it be if they stopped?! You might even find you laugh at how ridiculous your irritation is.
...Always practice with the easy stuff. Don’t go practicing patience with the most annoying person, the most complex and upsetting situation. Try it first with traffic. You’ll never run out of material with delayed.
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