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How Do I Work With Anger?

Do you ever struggle with anger? Vidyamala shares helpful perspectives that have helped her life.

Hi, it's Vidyamala here. And I've been asked to answer the question, how do I find inner peace when I've got so much anger? This is such an important question. And if you're listening to this, I'm guessing you're going through this experience yourself. And I want to say that I really feel for you and also with you. As of course I experienced anger myself because I'm human.

Life can be hard and really challenging sometimes and can push our buttons and anger rises up like a fire. Just the other day, I felt really frustrated with my tech and I wanted to throw my computer through the window. I didn't, but the desire to lash out at my poor innocent computer was pretty strong. And I can sometimes get angry with other people, of course, when my buttons are pushed, or I'm tired and stressed and my tolerance isn't what I'd like it to be. I'm also guessing if you're like me, that you might be self-critical about your anger, maybe feel ashamed of it, think you shouldn't feel anger.

And then we can all too easily disappear down a horrible rabbit hole of ever increasing anger, self-criticism, shame. And it just feels really, really horrible. So what are we to do about this and our quest for inner peace? Is there a way we can have more inner peace if we're prone to anger? I think the first thing to do is simply to come to into awareness and notice what's happening with a kind of clear, honest awareness. This is where awareness itself is so transformative. If we know we're angry, we're no longer completely lost in some kind of blind anger.

Saying to ourselves, I'm feeling angry, is really different from being lost. We've stepped even just a tiny, little bit away from that complete overidentification with the state of anger. And remember anger is just energy that's aroused. And I guess the task is to catch it before it boils over into full blown hatred. And one of the descriptions of mindfulness that I really, really liked from a Buddhist teacher called Analayo, is that it's the middle way between suppression and reaction or the middle way between suppression and getting lost and over identified with experience.

I really, really like that because it works in my own practice and it's helpful because either suppressing something doesn't actually work because then we've just got loads of tension and getting lost in it doesn't really work because we've lost awareness. But we notice what's happening moment by moment in this case, it's anger, but we don't allow ourselves to get swept away. Well, we can't be swept away if we've got awareness, it's really that simple. As soon as we've stepped out of being lost into awareness, then we're no longer lost so we're no longer getting carried away. What I want to offer now is a few simple tips and tools as it were, simple practices to help bring about this arrival in the present moment, arrival in awareness and this ability to step out of being completely lost in the experience of anger.

So these are the four tips, and I'll go through them one by one. First of all, it's simply to let the out-breath go all the way out. When in doubt, breathe out. The second one is to take life one moment at a time, to be present in this moment, rather than lost in the past and the future. The third tip is to understand that inner peace is a process, not a state.

And the fourth tip is to spend a bit of time reflecting on your experience of anger after the event.What can you learn? So let's start with the first point about breathing. We've probably all heard the advice when we're all worked up. Just take a deep breath. So the expression is take a deep breath, but really what's happening is we breathe in, but then we breathe out fully. So it's the out-breath that in a way is the important part of that invitation to take a deep breath.

And we've all got an autonomic nervous system in our bodies. And the autonomic nervous system is outside our control and it's got two wings. It's got the sympathetic wing, which has to do with activation, activity and the parasympathetic wing, which has to do with calming. And the out-breath, if we let the, out-breath go all the way out of the body, we're immediately bringing online the parasympathetic wing, which is calming. And of course when we're angry and agitated, we've got sympathetic overactivity with all the associated hormones.

We've got adrenaline, we've got cortisol. We feel hot. We feel worked up. We feel edgy. And, uh, as soon as we allow the out-breath to also be emphasized or to overemphasize the out-breath, to give the out-breath really full expression, we're immediately bringing online the hormones of the parasympathetic system.

This is oxytocin, endorphins. These are calming hormones, they're peaceful hormones. They're good for us. And straight away, we feel a little bit better, a little bit less riled, less agitated, less adrenalized. So this is really important.

And it's so simple, isn't it? Just let the out-breath go all the way out of the body and straight away we feel a bit better. So there's this fantastic expression that I often use in my teaching, "when in doubt, breathe out." When in doubt, breathe out. So you're angry, you're worked up, you're feeling a long, long, long way from inner peace. You can make that choice. Check in on your breathing.

You're probably find that you got a lot of breath holding, tension in the body. Just pause, stop. Let the out breath go all the way out. And straight away, you're changing the chemicals in your body and your brain. And this will have a positive effect.

Okay. So moving onto the second tip, which is to take it one moment at a time. One of the things we discover with our mindfulness practice is the power of present moment awareness. And we come to see, or we come to experience directly, how the only moment that we can really experience is the one that's happening now. The past is just a memory, the future's just an idea.

So we ever actually only experience life directly in each present moment. And this can help to pull us back from the trance of being lost in the past, lost in the future and just ground ourselves in the here and now. And if we combine that with the previous tip of the out-breath, we stop, we pause, we breathe out, in this moment, then you'll find that you're deescalating the spiral of anger, even if it's just for this one breath, this one moment. There'll be less heat. And what can happen is we're stepping out of over identifying with our mental and emotional state of anger.

Perhaps coming into the body more. And knowing that how we are in this moment sets up the conditions for the next moment. This is a really, really important point. So when we're lost, and the anger is just cranking up more and more intensity, then each moment unfolds with more and more anger. But if you stop in this moment, ground yourself, breathe out, come into the body, then the next moment will unfold on the basis of that and it will maybe be a little bit calmer.

And we just keep doing that. Just keep coming back to the moment, keep coming back to the breath, keep coming back to the body, in the knowledge that this is the only time we can experience our life directly. And also in the knowledge that if we can deescalate the anger now, this creates different conditions for the next moment. So I think that's is also a really helpful and important point. The third point is that inner peace is a process, not a state.

I think this is really important because the original question that I'm asking, how do I find inner peace if I'm angry? Well, they can seem polar opposites, can't they? You've got inner peace as a goal, something that you long for. You've got anger as an experience, which feels the complete antithesis of inner peace. Well, that's certainly how it feels to me when I'm feeling very angry. But if I can understand that this goal of inner peace is not some far away fantasy state of perfection, where I'm never going to feel any kind of difficult emotion, but I can taste inner peace right now in this moment, if I breathe out, if I drop into the body, if I choose not to escalate the anger but I choose to step away from it, even if, just for a moment, and reset my nervous system, then actually I am having a little taste of inner peace right now. And these moments can build on each other and we can end up having more and more of these moments of greater peace in the midst of the hurly burly of life.

I think this is a really important point because I think what many of us can do is we have these kind of fantasy ideals of if I'm a mindfulness person, if I'm a kindness person, I'm going to have this perfect life. And I'm afraid to say that's not really how it works. You know, we live our lives. There's lots of things that we can't control. We'll all have difficult experiences, at least from time to time.

We're all going to get old, we'll get ill, at different times we'll have different challenges. Even somebody who's very, very accomplished in mindfulness, they will have all those experiences. So the, the issue or the skill is to change our relationship to those difficulties in each moment. And to step away from identifying with a reactive response and to come into a response that's much more accepting, much more open, much more kindly in this moment. And to really value that and think, Oh, this is inner peace, I'm having inner peace right now.

It's not some far away ideal. It's right here. It's right now. It's available to me in this moment when I stepped out of being lost in anger and I'm coming into my body and I'm coming into my breathing. That is inner peace here, right now.

Yeah. So I think that's a really important point to value what we taste in the present and let go of some far away fantasy, ideal of a perfect life, which I'm afraid, certainly in my own experience and my own observation, I don't think any of us are ever going to achieve. We're never going to have perfect conditions, but we can have a profoundly changed relationship to whatever conditions come along in our life. And that relationship can be one of greater inner peace, greater kindness, greater awareness and greater confidence. Okay.

So moving on to the fourth point, which I wanted to talk about, which is to spend a bit of time reflecting on your experience of anger after the event. What can you learn? Is there something you could change in the future to help the situation not arise again? Maybe you can't, you know, maybe the anger was about something outside your control. But certainly if I look at my own experience, often there are things I can change. I noticed that I get irritable and cranky when I'm tired. That's a very simple observation that I find.

And there are ways that I can help myself be less tired. Going to bed at a regular time, making sure that I get good quality sleep. Looking at my habits in the evenings. You know, am I overstimulating myself before bedtime, then I don't sleep well, then I'm cranky and irritable the next day. That's a very simple thing for many of us to attend to.

I also noticed I get irritable when I'm hungry. So just making sure we eat three meals a day. You know, that can make a really big difference to our tendency to anger. I notice if I'm overextended, I'm over committed, I'm stressed, I'm doing too much, I don't have any pauses in my day, then I can get more grumpy and cranky. And these might seem simple things, but in a way in their simplicity also lies their power, because there's a lot you can do, I would guess to help set up conditions in your life where you're less likely to get irritable and cranky in the first place.

I think it can also be interesting and motivating to reflect on the consequences of allowing anger to spiral out of control. If I think about it, there's so few good outcomes of uncontrolled anger. It can be so destructive, so harmful, lead to all kinds of communication difficulties, relationship difficulties. And if I reflect on that, then I'm more motivated to really, you know, look at my mind, look at my lifestyle and find ways to perhaps prevent the arising of future anger as much as I can. And it's interesting to reflect on what Buddhism's got to say about mindfulness and anger.

And traditionally the antidotes to anger are patience and cultivating love, which I also think is worth reflecting on. Patience means that we don't just lash out. We feel something arise and we are aware of that, and we see if we can, if you like, inhibit the reactive behavior without suppressing. So we're not suppressing, but just to notice the anger. Well, I'm getting angry here.

And then to choose, perhaps, not to say the harmful words or do the harmful action. So patience is actually a really profound quality, really worth investigating. How can I be more patient towards my anger when it arises with kindly acceptance? And again, how can I be more patient towards others when they're angry? And then of course it's cultivating the opposite, which is cultivating love, cultivating kindness for ourselves and others. Really, really important. So it's not just about the escalating anger when it arises, dealing with the anger.

But it's also spending time cultivating the opposite, cultivating love care, tenderness, kindness towards ourselves, towards others. And there's lots of meditation practices we can do to help that. Um, practices of loving kindness. Practices of compassion will help that. So not only deal with the anger in its presence and prevent the future arising of anger as much as we can through looking at our conditions, but also spend time really actively cultivating, nurturing kindness, love compassion in our lives and to our meditation practice.

So I hope those tips are helpful. Let me just recap them for a moment. There's breathing. When in doubt, breathe out. Bring online the calming parasympathetic wing of the nervous system.

There's live life on moment at a time. Recognizing you're only experiencing the anger now. And if you can deescalate it now. That will condition the next moment to be a little bit less angry. That's really important.

So it's kind of pulling ourselves out of the trance of the past and the future. Thirdly, there's realizing that inner peace is a process, not a state. And every moment when we do thism every moment when we,, ah, sort of climb out of over identifying what our anchor being lost in our anger is actually a moment of inner peace, relatively speaking. So to value all these moments in the present when we have them and realizing, wow, there is inner peace. Innerpeace isn't some far away fantasy goal of the perfect life.

And then fourthly, spending a bit of time reflecting on the experience of anger. What can you learn from it? And also cultivating the opposite of patience and love. And then the fifth point is to maintain a sense of humor. I think this is just so important when we're working with difficult emotions. We can take it all so seriously.

We can give ourselves such a hard time. And sometimes just being able to very gently laugh at ourselves. Oh, I've done it again. I've done it again. Nevermind.

The present moment is another opportunity to reset the scales, as it were, away from anger and towards love and patience and inner peace. Just holding it all a bit lightly, I think is also really important. So, thanks so much for your practice and for listening to this talk and your courage to face your own mind, your own heart and learn how to, if you like, be more human, be more wise. And I wish you really well as you continue to work with anger when it arises. And I really hope that you've found these tips helpful.

As you go forward, please know that I'm practicing alongside you. I'm continually trying to work on my own emotional states, just like you are. And we're all brave, courageous people trying to take on our own emotions, our own emotional attitudes to life. And please remember to be kind, remember to be good humans. And also remember to raise your gaze and look around you in the world and value anything that you see that's got a quality of beauty, a quality of wonder.

Never forget to look out for wonder. So thanks again for listening and I really wish you all the very, very best.

Talk

4.6

How Do I Work With Anger?

Do you ever struggle with anger? Vidyamala shares helpful perspectives that have helped her life.

Duration

Your default time is based on your progress and is changed automatically as you practice.

Hi, it's Vidyamala here. And I've been asked to answer the question, how do I find inner peace when I've got so much anger? This is such an important question. And if you're listening to this, I'm guessing you're going through this experience yourself. And I want to say that I really feel for you and also with you. As of course I experienced anger myself because I'm human.

Life can be hard and really challenging sometimes and can push our buttons and anger rises up like a fire. Just the other day, I felt really frustrated with my tech and I wanted to throw my computer through the window. I didn't, but the desire to lash out at my poor innocent computer was pretty strong. And I can sometimes get angry with other people, of course, when my buttons are pushed, or I'm tired and stressed and my tolerance isn't what I'd like it to be. I'm also guessing if you're like me, that you might be self-critical about your anger, maybe feel ashamed of it, think you shouldn't feel anger.

And then we can all too easily disappear down a horrible rabbit hole of ever increasing anger, self-criticism, shame. And it just feels really, really horrible. So what are we to do about this and our quest for inner peace? Is there a way we can have more inner peace if we're prone to anger? I think the first thing to do is simply to come to into awareness and notice what's happening with a kind of clear, honest awareness. This is where awareness itself is so transformative. If we know we're angry, we're no longer completely lost in some kind of blind anger.

Saying to ourselves, I'm feeling angry, is really different from being lost. We've stepped even just a tiny, little bit away from that complete overidentification with the state of anger. And remember anger is just energy that's aroused. And I guess the task is to catch it before it boils over into full blown hatred. And one of the descriptions of mindfulness that I really, really liked from a Buddhist teacher called Analayo, is that it's the middle way between suppression and reaction or the middle way between suppression and getting lost and over identified with experience.

I really, really like that because it works in my own practice and it's helpful because either suppressing something doesn't actually work because then we've just got loads of tension and getting lost in it doesn't really work because we've lost awareness. But we notice what's happening moment by moment in this case, it's anger, but we don't allow ourselves to get swept away. Well, we can't be swept away if we've got awareness, it's really that simple. As soon as we've stepped out of being lost into awareness, then we're no longer lost so we're no longer getting carried away. What I want to offer now is a few simple tips and tools as it were, simple practices to help bring about this arrival in the present moment, arrival in awareness and this ability to step out of being completely lost in the experience of anger.

So these are the four tips, and I'll go through them one by one. First of all, it's simply to let the out-breath go all the way out. When in doubt, breathe out. The second one is to take life one moment at a time, to be present in this moment, rather than lost in the past and the future. The third tip is to understand that inner peace is a process, not a state.

And the fourth tip is to spend a bit of time reflecting on your experience of anger after the event.What can you learn? So let's start with the first point about breathing. We've probably all heard the advice when we're all worked up. Just take a deep breath. So the expression is take a deep breath, but really what's happening is we breathe in, but then we breathe out fully. So it's the out-breath that in a way is the important part of that invitation to take a deep breath.

And we've all got an autonomic nervous system in our bodies. And the autonomic nervous system is outside our control and it's got two wings. It's got the sympathetic wing, which has to do with activation, activity and the parasympathetic wing, which has to do with calming. And the out-breath, if we let the, out-breath go all the way out of the body, we're immediately bringing online the parasympathetic wing, which is calming. And of course when we're angry and agitated, we've got sympathetic overactivity with all the associated hormones.

We've got adrenaline, we've got cortisol. We feel hot. We feel worked up. We feel edgy. And, uh, as soon as we allow the out-breath to also be emphasized or to overemphasize the out-breath, to give the out-breath really full expression, we're immediately bringing online the hormones of the parasympathetic system.

This is oxytocin, endorphins. These are calming hormones, they're peaceful hormones. They're good for us. And straight away, we feel a little bit better, a little bit less riled, less agitated, less adrenalized. So this is really important.

And it's so simple, isn't it? Just let the out-breath go all the way out of the body and straight away we feel a bit better. So there's this fantastic expression that I often use in my teaching, "when in doubt, breathe out." When in doubt, breathe out. So you're angry, you're worked up, you're feeling a long, long, long way from inner peace. You can make that choice. Check in on your breathing.

You're probably find that you got a lot of breath holding, tension in the body. Just pause, stop. Let the out breath go all the way out. And straight away, you're changing the chemicals in your body and your brain. And this will have a positive effect.

Okay. So moving onto the second tip, which is to take it one moment at a time. One of the things we discover with our mindfulness practice is the power of present moment awareness. And we come to see, or we come to experience directly, how the only moment that we can really experience is the one that's happening now. The past is just a memory, the future's just an idea.

So we ever actually only experience life directly in each present moment. And this can help to pull us back from the trance of being lost in the past, lost in the future and just ground ourselves in the here and now. And if we combine that with the previous tip of the out-breath, we stop, we pause, we breathe out, in this moment, then you'll find that you're deescalating the spiral of anger, even if it's just for this one breath, this one moment. There'll be less heat. And what can happen is we're stepping out of over identifying with our mental and emotional state of anger.

Perhaps coming into the body more. And knowing that how we are in this moment sets up the conditions for the next moment. This is a really, really important point. So when we're lost, and the anger is just cranking up more and more intensity, then each moment unfolds with more and more anger. But if you stop in this moment, ground yourself, breathe out, come into the body, then the next moment will unfold on the basis of that and it will maybe be a little bit calmer.

And we just keep doing that. Just keep coming back to the moment, keep coming back to the breath, keep coming back to the body, in the knowledge that this is the only time we can experience our life directly. And also in the knowledge that if we can deescalate the anger now, this creates different conditions for the next moment. So I think that's is also a really helpful and important point. The third point is that inner peace is a process, not a state.

I think this is really important because the original question that I'm asking, how do I find inner peace if I'm angry? Well, they can seem polar opposites, can't they? You've got inner peace as a goal, something that you long for. You've got anger as an experience, which feels the complete antithesis of inner peace. Well, that's certainly how it feels to me when I'm feeling very angry. But if I can understand that this goal of inner peace is not some far away fantasy state of perfection, where I'm never going to feel any kind of difficult emotion, but I can taste inner peace right now in this moment, if I breathe out, if I drop into the body, if I choose not to escalate the anger but I choose to step away from it, even if, just for a moment, and reset my nervous system, then actually I am having a little taste of inner peace right now. And these moments can build on each other and we can end up having more and more of these moments of greater peace in the midst of the hurly burly of life.

I think this is a really important point because I think what many of us can do is we have these kind of fantasy ideals of if I'm a mindfulness person, if I'm a kindness person, I'm going to have this perfect life. And I'm afraid to say that's not really how it works. You know, we live our lives. There's lots of things that we can't control. We'll all have difficult experiences, at least from time to time.

We're all going to get old, we'll get ill, at different times we'll have different challenges. Even somebody who's very, very accomplished in mindfulness, they will have all those experiences. So the, the issue or the skill is to change our relationship to those difficulties in each moment. And to step away from identifying with a reactive response and to come into a response that's much more accepting, much more open, much more kindly in this moment. And to really value that and think, Oh, this is inner peace, I'm having inner peace right now.

It's not some far away ideal. It's right here. It's right now. It's available to me in this moment when I stepped out of being lost in anger and I'm coming into my body and I'm coming into my breathing. That is inner peace here, right now.

Yeah. So I think that's a really important point to value what we taste in the present and let go of some far away fantasy, ideal of a perfect life, which I'm afraid, certainly in my own experience and my own observation, I don't think any of us are ever going to achieve. We're never going to have perfect conditions, but we can have a profoundly changed relationship to whatever conditions come along in our life. And that relationship can be one of greater inner peace, greater kindness, greater awareness and greater confidence. Okay.

So moving on to the fourth point, which I wanted to talk about, which is to spend a bit of time reflecting on your experience of anger after the event. What can you learn? Is there something you could change in the future to help the situation not arise again? Maybe you can't, you know, maybe the anger was about something outside your control. But certainly if I look at my own experience, often there are things I can change. I noticed that I get irritable and cranky when I'm tired. That's a very simple observation that I find.

And there are ways that I can help myself be less tired. Going to bed at a regular time, making sure that I get good quality sleep. Looking at my habits in the evenings. You know, am I overstimulating myself before bedtime, then I don't sleep well, then I'm cranky and irritable the next day. That's a very simple thing for many of us to attend to.

I also noticed I get irritable when I'm hungry. So just making sure we eat three meals a day. You know, that can make a really big difference to our tendency to anger. I notice if I'm overextended, I'm over committed, I'm stressed, I'm doing too much, I don't have any pauses in my day, then I can get more grumpy and cranky. And these might seem simple things, but in a way in their simplicity also lies their power, because there's a lot you can do, I would guess to help set up conditions in your life where you're less likely to get irritable and cranky in the first place.

I think it can also be interesting and motivating to reflect on the consequences of allowing anger to spiral out of control. If I think about it, there's so few good outcomes of uncontrolled anger. It can be so destructive, so harmful, lead to all kinds of communication difficulties, relationship difficulties. And if I reflect on that, then I'm more motivated to really, you know, look at my mind, look at my lifestyle and find ways to perhaps prevent the arising of future anger as much as I can. And it's interesting to reflect on what Buddhism's got to say about mindfulness and anger.

And traditionally the antidotes to anger are patience and cultivating love, which I also think is worth reflecting on. Patience means that we don't just lash out. We feel something arise and we are aware of that, and we see if we can, if you like, inhibit the reactive behavior without suppressing. So we're not suppressing, but just to notice the anger. Well, I'm getting angry here.

And then to choose, perhaps, not to say the harmful words or do the harmful action. So patience is actually a really profound quality, really worth investigating. How can I be more patient towards my anger when it arises with kindly acceptance? And again, how can I be more patient towards others when they're angry? And then of course it's cultivating the opposite, which is cultivating love, cultivating kindness for ourselves and others. Really, really important. So it's not just about the escalating anger when it arises, dealing with the anger.

But it's also spending time cultivating the opposite, cultivating love care, tenderness, kindness towards ourselves, towards others. And there's lots of meditation practices we can do to help that. Um, practices of loving kindness. Practices of compassion will help that. So not only deal with the anger in its presence and prevent the future arising of anger as much as we can through looking at our conditions, but also spend time really actively cultivating, nurturing kindness, love compassion in our lives and to our meditation practice.

So I hope those tips are helpful. Let me just recap them for a moment. There's breathing. When in doubt, breathe out. Bring online the calming parasympathetic wing of the nervous system.

There's live life on moment at a time. Recognizing you're only experiencing the anger now. And if you can deescalate it now. That will condition the next moment to be a little bit less angry. That's really important.

So it's kind of pulling ourselves out of the trance of the past and the future. Thirdly, there's realizing that inner peace is a process, not a state. And every moment when we do thism every moment when we,, ah, sort of climb out of over identifying what our anchor being lost in our anger is actually a moment of inner peace, relatively speaking. So to value all these moments in the present when we have them and realizing, wow, there is inner peace. Innerpeace isn't some far away fantasy goal of the perfect life.

And then fourthly, spending a bit of time reflecting on the experience of anger. What can you learn from it? And also cultivating the opposite of patience and love. And then the fifth point is to maintain a sense of humor. I think this is just so important when we're working with difficult emotions. We can take it all so seriously.

We can give ourselves such a hard time. And sometimes just being able to very gently laugh at ourselves. Oh, I've done it again. I've done it again. Nevermind.

The present moment is another opportunity to reset the scales, as it were, away from anger and towards love and patience and inner peace. Just holding it all a bit lightly, I think is also really important. So, thanks so much for your practice and for listening to this talk and your courage to face your own mind, your own heart and learn how to, if you like, be more human, be more wise. And I wish you really well as you continue to work with anger when it arises. And I really hope that you've found these tips helpful.

As you go forward, please know that I'm practicing alongside you. I'm continually trying to work on my own emotional states, just like you are. And we're all brave, courageous people trying to take on our own emotions, our own emotional attitudes to life. And please remember to be kind, remember to be good humans. And also remember to raise your gaze and look around you in the world and value anything that you see that's got a quality of beauty, a quality of wonder.

Never forget to look out for wonder. So thanks again for listening and I really wish you all the very, very best.

Talk

4.6

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Mindfulness

One membership to gain access to a world of premium mindfulness content created to help you live happier and stress less.

  • 2000+ Guided Meditations
  • Courses from world-class teachers
  • Resources for Stress + Anxiety
  • Breathing exercises, gratitude practices, relaxation techniques
  • Sleep meditations, playlists, stories
  • Mindful talks, podcasts, music, nature sounds