When I was a kid I got angry at a slightly fatter friend of mine. This was around 8-10 years old. He said something bad about me and I confronted him with the other kids. I was a little taller and dominant in my personality, so the other kids followed me. I threw a rock at the fat kid and luckily it hit him in the stomach. He was hurt but he recovered. The parents got involved, and I was grounded. My parents (rightfully so) told me to apologize to him, and I said “I’m sorry”. I since recall this memory in embarrassment and shame. Kids have a way of just being honest and sometimes we become friends and other times we butted heads. I was genuinely sorry and we became friends again, but things were never the same between that other kid and me.
As adults we have a tendency to hide our anger, for professional or diplomatic reasons, and sometimes this anger manifests itself in unhealthy ways. I’ve learned through trial and error now that sometimes my anger is justified, and instead of suppressing righteous anger, you should just let it out or it will fester.
Phil Jackson’s Eleven Rings explained his philosophy on dealing with huge egos and emotions in a championship team:
In fact, two recent studies published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology demonstrate a link between anger and creativity. In another study, the same researchers found that subjects who were prompted to feel angry generated more creative ideas than those who experienced sadness or a nonemotional state. The conclusion: Anger is an energizing emotion that enhances the sustained attention needed to solve problems and leads to more flexible “big picture” thinking.
No question, anger focuses the mind. It’s an advance-warning system alerting us to threats to our well-being. When viewed this way, anger can be a powerful force for bringing about positive change. But it takes practice – an no small amount of courage- to be present with such uncomfortable feelings and yet not be swept away by them.
My practice when anger arises is to sit with it in meditation. I simply observe it come and go, come and go. Slowly, incrementally, over time I’ve learned that if I can stay with the anger, which often manifests itself as anxiety, and resist my conditioned response to suppress it, the intensity of the feeling dissipates and I’m able to hear the wisdom it has to impart.
Sitting with your anger doesn’t mean being passive. IT means becoming more conscious and intimate with your inner experience so that you can act more mindfully and compassionately than is possible in the heat of the moment.
Says Buddhist meditation teacher Sylvia Boorstein, “An unexpressed anger creates a breach in relationships that no amount of smiling can cross. It’s a secret. A lie. The compassionate response is one that keeps connections alive. It requires telling the truth. And telling the truth can be difficult, especially when the mind is stirred up by anger.”