The last week of this practice has been both interesting and troubling. Besides being beset by doubts as to the legitimacy of this project I have found that coming to know, coming to actually honestly experience the arising of anger, and distinguishing from other emotions, has left me strangely anger-free.
This state of being anger-free should not be misconstrued. I am still experiencing the same emotional and physical phenomenon that I experienced before this project. For the life of me, however, I can’t say that it is “anger.”
As I have become more intimate with the experience of “anger” and trying to differentiate it from other emotions, I’m finding that it doesn’t actually matter whether I label the emotion I experience as “anger”, “fear”, “frustration”, or any number of other official designations. At least not at first. The actual experience is the same regardless of the name. As originally experienced it is simply a raw negative aversion to whatever is immediately present.
I think the Existentialists have best discussed this original emotional moment. They coined many terms for this raw negative emotional arising but my favorite is “angst” because it best captures the fact that the experience is both emotional and bodily. “Angst” nests in your gut. It grows and swells pushing upwards and compressing your lungs. Your breath shortens and you heart speeds up. I will borrow this term and ask to be allowed to be only marginally burdened by any baggage it carries.
What I’ve come to see is that regardless of what “negative” emotion I end up experiencing it always begins with this same state: angst. For instance, my wife may say something to me that I don’t want to hear (alternatively she may not say something I do wish to hear) and I experience a negative emotional arising. As this angst arises, as my ease and comfort escapes me, I “need” to give it vent, a channel that promises to relieve the moment.
Thus I give it form: angst becomes anger or fear or dread, or any one of the hundreds of other emotions. The unformed and formless angst is made object for me: I feel the anger, I experience the fear, I taste the dread. As an object I can measure or judge it. I can embrace it or dismiss it. I can compare it, preserve it and memorialize it. At the extreme it even ceases to be an object for me and I become the object itself. I am angry, I am fearful, I am sad.
Thus, by the time I’ve come to experience “anger” it is something I’ve already processed. We often say when a feeling arises let it go. However, it seems that if the “feeling” has already moved beyond the raw angst (and here is where naming it “angst” becomes paradoxical) and become any recognized distinct emotions I haven’t let it go, I’ve held it, selected it, and given it a river bed within which to flow.
This last week of practice has been troubling because I’m coming to recognize that anger, or any other emotion isn’t the issue. It’s been disturbing because all my tools for dealing with my emotions are rendered useless if the emotions are just secondary effects of something deeper. They are all just salves for the symptoms (symptoms of my choosing) of the underlying state.
Thus, today I say:
Anger only a choice I make to relieve the experience of angst.
Anger is just a response to my own suffering.
I choose to live 30 days without anger
30 days without anger. Beginning May 8, 2012 I commit to 30 days without anger. I have no illusion that I will escape anger completely. My hope is that I can develop my compassion and learn to live without the poison that anger is. A poison that harms not only the angry person but all those who he/she touches.
If you want to join me, please do! In what follows I spell out the 5 principles that I am committing to at the outset. That said, I know they will evolve and grow.
My hope is that we can use this forum to share our experiences and evolve (or abandon altogether) these principle. I will post each day and I look forward to our discussions here and on twitter (hashtag #30dayswithoutanger – though we need something shorter).
Finally I’ve added a short piece on my personal reasons for this practice.
Good Luck and peace to you all!
For each of the next 30 days I commit to the following:
1) I will endeavor to remain mindful of the inclination to anger.
2) When the inclination to anger arises I commit to a moment of calming, regardless of the circumstances, presence of others, or any seeming discomfort in doing so.
3) Following the moment of calm I will commit to listening to whoever has occasioned my dis-ease, or if not a person, to contemplate the situation. This will be without judgment, but with the intent to appreciate what is before me
4) I will not disengage from that which inclined me to anger, or from the world generally. Instead I commit to both stay in the moment and the “angering” situation. I will be an example of what I hope to be, and I will give my calm to others
5) When anger arises despite the above, or should I fall short in my commitment to any of the foregoing, I will not judge myself. I will not see this as a failing nor a failure. Neither will I see it as a great moment for growth. I will see it for what it is: The arising of anger – and I will let it go. (If I must, I will have tea with it.)
My Personal Inspiration
So, I have an anger problem.
Not the kind one normally thinks of when one hears the phrase “anger problem.” I do not go into rages, I don’t scream, curse or hit things. I’ve never threaten violence by word or deed, and I don’t think I’ve ever been accused of or been described as an angry person. In fact, much to my surprise people at work consider me mellow and a peacemaker.
But that’s really my problem. I never have any direct and obvious fallout from my anger. Thus, I get angry at something or someone, fester and churn. My anger stews inside and flavors all my interactions with the world. I simply get bitter and want to disengage from whatever/whoever angered me, and ultimately from most of the world.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not inclined to believe that I need to become more explosive, violent or mean. What I do need to recognize is that anger, even the quiet sort I most often experience, affects how I am in the world. Thus, it affects all those around me and then all those around each of them. My anger breeds more anger, more unrest, and more withdrawal of one person from another.
So, for 30 days I will vow to be (or attempt to be) anger free.