The Art of Anger Management

Imageprakrteh kriyamanani  —  gunaih karmani sarvasah /

ahankara-vimudhatma  —  kartaham iti manyate //

“The spirit soul, bewildered by the influence of false ego, thinks them self to be the doer of activities that, in actuality , are carried out by the three modes of material nature.”

Bhagavad Gita 3.27

I love to get angry. Few things make me happier than an opportunity for indignation, righteous or otherwise. And if nothing worthy of my fury comes my way, I’ll go out and find something. In fact, I’m so nuts that I’ll actually observe a circumstance, imagine it evolving into something I dislike, and then get angry about what I imagined.

Cars and the people who operate them are probably my favorite source of irritation. Politicians are a close second. And if I really want to get angry all I have to do is turn on the TV! The folks at Homeland Security encourage us to say something if we see something: well, I see stupidity and waste everywhere: to whom should I say something?

Basically, the problem is people: people make me angry. And, of course, the person who ticks me off the most is me: how much of my precious and irretrievable time will I waste today? How many ways will I find to divert my attention away from that which really matters? How many opportunities to be of service to others will I miss because I’m so absorbed in the fulfillment of my own desires?

Whether self-directed or aimed at others, managing my own anger is one problem. Managing my response to the anger of others is another: how do I respond to people when they find some reason, rational or otherwise, to direct their anger at me? After all, I’m not really a victim of some unjustified ire; they are just agents of my karma, right? Should I get angry with the messenger when I’m really the ultimate source of whatever comes my way?

And what does that say about me? Have I earned the anger of others? Do I deserve the scorn of society? Does God think I’m a loser?

When I slow down, take a deep breath, and find that ever-elusive reflective moment, I remember what anger is and how it comes about: it’s a gate to hell and it arises as a response to not getting what I want.

What we want, in general, is for the world to cooperate with us in our project to fulfill our desires. When that project is thwarted we get frustrated and, given some encouragement, frustration develops into anger. When we get angry we’re getting caught up in a delusional and bewildered condition: we mis-identify ourselves as being our ego.

What we want the most is to be loved, or at least to be liked. And we want God to love us most of all and to show that love in the form of making us happy or, to put it more accurately, by fulfilling our desires and sparing us from that which we find distressful. As often as not, if God doesn’t live up to our idea of what God ought to be doing for us, we deny God’s existence: we ask, ‘how could any God worth the title of ‘God’ treat me like this?’

When someone acts toward me, for whatever reason, with indifference or anger then my spontaneous reaction is to get angry at them for getting angry at me. The issue is no longer whatever it was that inspired their anger; the issue becomes anger itself.

Yoga isn’t about mind over matter; it’s about understanding that the mind is matter. The mind manifests anger when it jumps to the defense of the ego, and that sends our intelligence out the window: we loose our capacity to distinguish between the conscious self and the unconscious matter of the mind and body. We think ‘I have been offended’, but the ‘I’ that was offended is the false ego, not the real self.

Patanjali lists ignorance, ego, attachment, aversion, and clinging to embodied life as the five obstacles to yoga. They’re all interrelated, with the last four proceeding from the first: nature abhors a vacuum so in the absence of knowledge of who we are (ignorance) we think we’re something we’re not (the ego), which we define by what we like and desire (attachments) in contrast with what we dislike and hope to avoid (aversions), the foremost of which is death (clinging to embodied life). When the anger of others threatens the life of my ego then all of the obstacles pile on, ensuring that my capacity to distinguish between my true self and the unconscious matter of my mind and body is hopelessly obscured.

On the one hand, a spoiled child cannot experience the love of a parent if they feel entitled to the things a parent gives them as an expression of love. On the other hand, a child who is convinced that they are unworthy of love discounts the possibility of being loved and therefore never experiences love no matter how genuinely love is offered. Both mentalities are different sides of the same coin: the ego, which, in pursuit of its own validation, makes it difficult if not impossible for us to experience the love that we want.

So the ego must go and that means the mind must be convinced to stop defending the ego by means of intelligence, by understanding the difference between the interactions of the qualities of material nature, which can manifest conflict, anger, depression, and all manner of other obnoxious things, and the self proper, which, though categorically spiritual, may fall under the influence of material nature and mis-identify as being a mind and ego that, in actuality, are causing us nothing but problems, problems that can only be solved by stepping outside of the boundaries of the system of mis-identification within which the problem arose.

I try to begin that process of stepping out of the system by cultivating a sense of humility, a sense of perspective that comes from remembering my position as a very small part of a very big reality. And I especially need to find that sense of humility when I’m confronted by anger, my own or someone else’s. Which means I pretty much need to cultivate it all the time since getting angry is one of my favorite attachments. My advice to myself, and anyone else who gets tripped up by the gate to hell known as anger, is as follows:

“Those who think of themselves as lower than the grass, who are more tolerant than a tree, and who do not expect personal honor but are always prepared to give all respect to others can very easily always chant the holy name of the Lord.” Siksastaka, Verse 3

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