It’s not uncommon to be angry all the time. Many people experience that – always on simmer, just waiting to boil, and looking for a reason. Not a good way to live. And we can always find a good reason to be angry, especially in today’s world. But if we watch closely, we can see that anger exists for its own sake and doesn’t really need a reason. All it needs is an excuse.
Like a drug, the feeling of being angry can become an addiction. And like any other addiction, we tend to take it personally. It tells us who we are. “I’m normally an okay person, but I have this problem…” The problem distinguishes us and makes us special. And we would much rather be special than be happy.
Being special means that we deserve to be loved, or at least worthy of attention. It’s an instinct – basic, primitive, deep. We need it to stay alive. But we don’t need it continually. We only need it at certain times, especially when change is needed. Anger can provide the energy to bump us out of a rut. But if we believe that anger makes us a strong personality, then anger becomes its own rut. It becomes a habit.
There are classes for business people who travel to areas where there is a high risk of being kidnapped. One way to avoid being kidnapped, they tell you, is to monitor your fear. Not control it, but to monitor it. Nature has equipped us with a highly sophisticated early warning system called fear. Danger that is detected subliminally registers first as an unnamed fear, which when noticed makes us hyper-alert to our surroundings. But if we convince ourselves that we should always be afraid, the warning signal is always on, and the highly sophisticated early warning system called fear is rendered useless.
Anger can be a catalyst for change. But if we are always angry, change becomes nearly impossible. For instance, anger can motivate a young person to leave home, to get away from overly controlling or abusive parents. But once the anger has done its job, it can be released. Its purpose has been accomplished. But if we hang onto that anger and identify it as who we are (this strong person who stood up to her parents) then we find ourselves stuck in the conflict, perpetually reliving the drama. We may have escaped physically, but emotionally we are still living at home!
It is not necessary to identify the cause of our anger. I know this runs counter to the contemporary wisdom in psychology, but it’s actually true. What we need to do is simply observe that we are getting angry. Just a little bit of self-observation is all it takes to distance ourselves from the feeling. Once we see that we are getting angry, we then have the power to choose to see it differently. The feeling will still arise and wash over us, but it will be something that is happening, not something that we are. Observing it happening causes us to become aware of our true identity, namely the one who is doing the observing. And just as we can observe our anger arise, we can watch it pass by. Where it once passed, we remain.
Thoughts are like buses – they come and they go. We get to choose which bus we get on. Feelings are different in that we usually get taken for a ride. But if we were able to observe that ride from a traffic helicopter, then the ride would not seem so personal. It would be just another ride. This would make it a lot easier to get off the bus at the next stop.
It helps to know that anger is something we have gotten used to and not some mysterious thing that wells up from the shadowlands of our soul. The soul is fine. It is always fine. Being face to face with God at all times, it knows that it is safe. Anger and fear are of the body. They have specific roles to play in our physical survival. But being on the spiritual path means that we seek to realize the entirety of our existence, not just the earthly part. Once you start recognizing the observer part, you take the first steps toward recognizing the Self –the real you.