How to Escape the Cage of Anger Through Meditation
Illustration by Allyssa Marsden
Why meditation helps you control your temper in the long-run
Speak such words, sans ego’s ploy
Body remains composed, giving the listener joy
When you’re in anger, your mouth is a canon. And your words are the cannonballs ready to pierce the body, mind, or soul of the listener. These attacks, often do unrepairable damage to our relationships.
As they say, a person may forget what you said to them, but they’ll never forget how you made them feel. Once the cannon is fired, you can’t do anything about it.
No one likes being angry all the time — it’s a destructive emotion. The heat of anger not only affects us even more than the listener.
Yet, we can’t always help it, can we? Most of us live in the usual fight-or-flight state during the day. Even the slightest inconvenience, a change of weather, or a meeting at the wrong time of the day can trigger us into a negative emotional spiral.
While there are tons of ways to control anger, meditation seems to have the highest success rate. Almost invariably, I’ve seen people become less angry and more compassionate as they pick up meditation.
They’re tolerant of others, accept things as they are, and find no reason to be angry at petty issues. Since mediation is increasingly pervasive, you too can observe the same correlation in the meditators around you.
So let’s understand why that’s the case and how you can use meditation to control your temper.
Effortlessly Toggle From Reaction to Response
Many techniques of anger management focus on what to do when anger starts building up. These techniques include counting to ten, deep breathing, and so on.
However, a better strategy would be to stop anger from arising in the first place. That’s what regular meditation does.
Instead of relying on multiple anger management tricks, this one practice helps you prepare for triggering situations. By meditating, you can practice the virtue of compassion and acceptance when it’s easy. So when you find yourself in a difficult situation, you can be calmer and more joyful.
As meditation helps us observe our thoughts non-judgmentally, we can find the origins of our anger that are not otherwise apparent. Investigating your own thoughts helps in realizing that some things are too inconsequential to get mad over!
It also trains us to switch between the two parts of our autonomous nervous system — sympathetic (fight-or-flight) and parasympathetic (rest and digest) — at will.
Non-meditators aren’t able to consciously switch between these two aspects, thus reacting to situations instead of responding to them. Here’s where meditation helps us take a pause (even if for a second) and choose to respond with love and compassion instead of anger.
People with short tempers realize a few moments later what a terrible mistake they’ve made. Why? Because once they had the chance to process it, they could see why their reaction was wrong. Meditation gives you this power at the moment exactly when you need it.
By doing this, we get back on the driver’s seat and no longer let our emotions or ego get the best of us.
Getting to the Root of Anger
Anger is born of frustrated desire — Paramahansa Yogananda
People get angry because they have a strong desire for things to be different than they are. As the desire gets stronger and intense, it leads to anger.
There are a million things displeasing to the ego. You could be on the best vacation of your life and still get mad at the waiter for not keeping your cocktail cold enough.
The intelligent ones accept that in the world of duality, things will never be the way we want them to be. And by expecting that to be the case, we’re getting upset over nothing. The simplest thing is to give up being displeased and practice acceptance.
By teaching us acceptance of the present moment, meditation also aids us to accept life as it comes. Whatever it is, allow it to be — a situation, a person, or a thing.
If you really accept it, there can be no anger.
This doesn’t mean you don’t try to improve things. If you think you can do something better, improve it calmly, in a spirit of cooperation and betterment. Still, realize that there are too many wrongs in the world for one person to correct — our chief need is to be inwardly calm and unaffected.
Only from that state of calmness can we ever achieve anything worthwhile. Else, we’re just headless chickens running in all directions at the whim of our emotions.
The Two Stages of Going From Anger to Love
I too had a short temper. When I was advised (by people and the Internet) to convert it into feelings of love for others, I was disheartened. To be honest, it seemed difficult.
To truly love someone who pushes your buttons is a challenge. But there’s hope for all of us. Love is a spectrum — we don’t directly go from anger to love in an instant.
There’s a stepping stone in between. And that stepping stone is silence.
When you find anger building up, stay silent. When someone shouts at you, shut your mouth.
To further avoid a relapse, remove yourself from the environment and be alone for a time. Process these feelings into love with the tools we’ve learned above — accept things as they are. Again, a regular meditation practice will make it easy for you.
Once you’re calm, send out good thoughts and love to that person. Empathize with their state of mind. No one is perfect; we all have our struggles. They do too. By sending them positive vibrations, you lift yourself up and not sabotage your relationship with them.
This exercise itself will make you stronger as a warrior of love. You’ll learn soon enough to be able to stand in the face of wrath and still feel compassion for people who persecute you.
Humans are creatures of habit — and love is also a habit that comes with practice. Bit by bit you can change your habit of anger into a habit of love.
Do This Now
Before you end this article, I want you to take a moment and practice a short visualization.
Imagine a situation in which you typically get angry. See the situation playing on the curtains of your closed eyes. Feel the emotions you were feeling then — don’t be guilty of what you felt, we are what we are. Accept your feelings and take responsibility for them.
Now, imagine how the situation would change if you responded calmly. What could you have said? How could you have behaved then? Investigate your anger and your reaction.
And now, replay the better version of the situation where you respond with love. See the situation getting better. If it’s a person, see your relationship with that person improving. Feel the harmony and peace that come when we give love to others.
Be in that state as long as you feel like it. And whenever you’re ready, open your eyes.
This visualization is a form of “If-Then” intentions where you train your mind to behave a certain way when a situation arises — “If X happens, I will do Y.” Practicing this frequently can change your default reaction to what you want it to be.
Anger is nothing more than a habit. It’s not a trait that you’re born with or that can’t be overcome. By constant mental and spiritual training, we can change our thought patterns to be accepting, compassionate and loving in daily life.
A life without anger is beautiful. When you let go of anger, it’s as if a dark cloud is removed from your mind. You start to see things clearly. You will accept the unsatisfactory, dual nature of life.
Don’t sell yourself short. With practice, you too can get to state. We all can. You just have to keep trying to conquer anger not with anger, but with love.