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