Understanding and Processing Anger

How we deal with anger
1. Stuffer (not aware is there)
2. Hider (aware is there, but do not show, then dump it)
3. Dumper (store it up and give it to someone else)
4. Venter (let it out)
5. Triangulator (goes to someone else to complain about it)

Managing own anger
1. Recognize signals:
• Triggers
• Self talk
• Body talk
2. Stop acting out (self-discipline):
• Coping self talk
• Managing body stress
3. Focus on issue:
• What do you need?
• From Self
• From Other(s)
4. Decide on a strategy
5. Implement

Skills
1. Use “I” language
2. Describe in neutral language the issue, the behavior
3. State how you feel
4. Describe the effect on you
5. Be specific about what you need/want
6. Listen and response assertively and emphatically
7. Describe your intention

Processing anger through mindfulness practice
1. Acknowledge the feeling/emotion
• Gently acknowledge the arising of anger “This is… anger/frustration/fear
• Be completely present. A gentle presence.
• There is no need to change your experience in any way.
Gentleness means that we are not struggling against our present state of mind.

2. Inquisitive Awareness
• Let go of thoughts and concerns from your object of anger; feel the anger itself.  Let go of the storyline and images around the anger. Stay present with the experience: the sensations of the anger within yourself.
• Explore the physical sensations of anger without judgment.
• Where is the anger in the body? How does it feel? Does it have a temperature? A texture?
• Notice how the anger is not that solid and fixed.
Drop the Storyline
The storylines include all of the thoughts and images and internal dialogue that usually come along with anger. Such a storyline could be a memory that we keep replaying in our mind. It could be a scenario that we project about the future, such as someone we are going to get even with in our family or at work.
Feeling Anger in The Body
What does it feel like to experience staying with the energy or experience of the anger itself? Where do you sense this anger in your body? Is it a feeling of coldness? Is it hot and agitated? Is it dark? Is it moving or still? Is it big or small? Is it in your throat, your head, or your chest? What are you really feeling? We simply let go of the concepts and stay present with these sensations and feelings.
May discover that anger is not solid and fixed
During meditation we see anger arising in the midst of a lot of space. We may see that the anger is transparent, moving, made up of parts, thoughts, concepts, memories, and sensations in the body, expectations.
Awareness allows us to see that anger is not a solid, permanent. It has components and parts. It is changing and shifting.  In this way, we do not have to fear the anger.

3. Warmth and Acceptance
• Bring the physical sensation of anger closer to you.
• Hold it with acceptance, affection, and warmth.
• Melt anger away in a non-dual way.
Openness or compassion allows us to melt the energy of the anger, and embrace the sensations. We move closer to the experience, rather than pulling back. Now, there is no duality between “me” who is feeling anger, and the “thing” that makes us angry. This allows us to “touch” the anger and experience it directly.

4. Further Open
• Let go.  Open up into the space and experience the room around you.
• Where do you feel the sensation of anger now?
Simply let go, release, open, expand, and let be. The basic instruction is to open the eyes and experience the space of the room around you.

Processing anger through the body in therapeutic relationship
1. Monitor the feeling/emotion
• Gently acknowledge the arising of anger in the body. What does it look like?
• Arousal (hyperarousal)—body inflates and tenses (neck stiffens, spine locks, mouth clenches) faster heart rate, increase in blood pressure, extreme alert.
• Collapse (hypoarousal)—body contracts (chest sinks in, neck shortens) lower heart rate, feeling heavy and spaced-out.

2. Attend to bursts of arousal and vitality
• What sensations do you notice in your body? Where is it in your body? Your throat, chest, head, or? Is it big or small? Does it feel hot? Is it moving? Track and describe the body sensations
• Orient to the present moment, notice what is pleasant in your environment (plants, trees, rocks, pets). Now what do you sense in your body? Describe sensations.
• Alternate between tracking and describing anger sensations in body and pleasant sensations in your body so that the energy of aggression moves through the body out.

3. Attend to drops into collapse, immobility and rest
• Describe what you see (tight jaw; fist clenched, tight shoulders, flinching arm, jittery leg, narrowing muscles around the eyes)
For example, when you notice your clenched fist, what do you sense in your body?
• Invite slow movement: what do you imagine your fist wants to do?
• Support expansive movement, work slowly to bring attention to the inner sensations of the viscera and outer sensation of meeting resistance. Notice changes in skin tone from pale to red to splotchy.
• Alternate attention between contraction and expansion.
• Allow to settle and integrate

4. Further integration
• As sensations settle, invite internal images to emerge. Explore a particular one. Does it have a color? A shape? How does it move along in time as you observe? How does the image impact you? Move you?

References

Haddigan, K. (1999). Dealing with Anger in Conflict Situations. New Westminster: Justice Institute of BC

Sakyong Mipham (2003). Turning the Mind Into an Ally. New York: Riverhead Books.

Stanley, S. (2011). Embodying the Narrative. [PowerPoint slides]. Lecture series presented at Sleeping Dog Farm, Victoria, BC

Trungpa, C. (1988). The Myth of Freedom. Boston: Shambhala

Moving through Fear

Fear seems to underlie our habitual world. Fear is covered over by habitual roles and behavior patterns. The slightest interruption of these habitual patterns brings an immediate response of fear.  Our habits can be pleasant like romantic fantasies, or unpleasant, filled with anger. These habits reflect memories of happiness, or hurt over and over again.

By maintaining our habits we are deadening ourselves to the world. An honest examination of these habits (the way we hold our body—tensing the body against the threat of the world; the way we speak—loud and fast, or softly, slurring words; the way we react to emotions—always angry and resentful; the way we think—rigid belief systems) is the way out. By becoming intimate with our fear we discover fearlessness.

Through meditation practice we learn to recognize and experience our fear more directly. Meditation here is about coming to know fear more and more intimately. How do we do that? We honestly take a look at what lies underneath the story of fear. During meditation practice we may discover how our thoughts continuously create fear. By labeling our thoughts and coming back to the breath we momentarily dissolve fear. This shows us how we constantly create and dismantle fear. We learn to experience fear in a gentle loving way and that helps us to open up more and more to life.

How to Move through Doubt

Although doubt may be useful to question our experience, it may seize the mind and make it hard for us to stay focused. We may lose confidence in what we are doing. We may get confused and even become depressed. We may find ourselves trapped and stuck, unable to imagine any creative way out of our situation. When doubt arises we can begin to look at how our thoughts and stories disempower us—we don’t have to believe everything we think and feel!

Mindfulness practice can help us notice how we recreate negative memories and habitual reactions, accept them as moment-to-moment experiences, and allow them to be as they are—let them come and let them go. Using the breath to bring ourselves back into the freshness of the present moment, we learn about our own process, so that we are better equipped not to let doubt get in the way.

As we notice we touch into our natural awake state of being that is the only place we will ever find lasting peace and joy and the way through any doubt we are experiencing. The natural rewards of being in the moment encourage us to spend more of our time in the now and many people find they are able to do this.

Working with Anger

When we feel angry we usually strike out or flee as our feelings are hurt. Even if our heart is soft, it happens so fast that we don’t even catch that softness. Instead, all we think about is how to get even and it has a very hard quality to it. We use words or actions to escape the uncomfortable feelings and we create more anger.

Patience can help us at this point; we stop and wait. We are furious, we are not suppressing anything but we continue to let go of our internal dialogue. We learn to develop patience and hold the edginess of the energy of anger.

By examining this process experientially we learn that there is no resolution. The resolution we look for comes from mistakenly wanting to get away from the situation. When we feel powerful energy, we tend to be extremely uncomfortable until things are resolved in some kind of secure and comforting way. However, practicing patience, gives us nothing to hold on to.

Pema Chodron suggests:

Patience is an enormously wonderful and supportive and even magical practice. It’s a way of completely changing the fundamental human habit of trying to resolve things by going either to the right or the left, calling things right or calling things wrong. It’s the way to develop courage, the way to find out what life is really about.

By practicing patience we can learn to wait, experience the anger and investigate its nature.

Coming Home

Mindfulness brings the mind and body together in the present moment. The body is always present; however, we are not always aware of every sensation, feeling, emotion and movement.

Sometimes our body goes ‘off-line’ in response to threats and challenges and remains in that state for a long time, never recovering.  We begin to experience our body through layers of thoughts and emotions instead of experiencing it directly.

By bringing our attention to the body through mindfulness we begin to ground it and anchor it the here-now. This process helps us reconnect to how experiencing our body moment to moment, in an open, non-judgmental way.
Eckhart Tolle says:

When the body and mind are in sync, we are naturally relaxed, alert, open, and aware, and we experience ourselves and the world in a direct, unmediated way, without conceptual filters. It is this direct experience of the fullness, vitality, and splendor of life that is the gift of meditation.

Mindfulness practice is the key that unlocks the door for us to find our way back home.

Uncovering Habitual Patterns

Have we ever noticed how our lives are driven by undesirable habitual patterns? How we react, attack, and become defensive? How we get hooked by these habits? These patterns keep going all the time and cause destruction everywhere.
Through mindfulness practice we can learn to recognize our habitual patterns, discover how they affect us and those around us and learn to work with them.
Here an example in Pema Chodron’s words:

We could think of this whole process in terms of four R’s: recognizing the shenpa [habitual reaction], refraining from scratching, relaxing into the underlying urge to scratch and then resolving to continue to interrupt our habitual patterns like this for the rest of our lives. What do you do when you don’t do the habitual thing? You’re left with your urge. That’s how you become more in touch with the craving and the wanting to move away. You learn to relax with it. Then you resolve to keep practicing this way.

By accepting our undesirable habitual patterns, learn to gently and skillfully work with them, we soften, we gain confidence in our wisdom. Our negative habitual patterns turn from compost to fertile ground where we can plant new seeds.

Riding Emotions

Emotions are powerful and can push us over the edge. When we struggle with our emotions by trying to gain some control “they can take us on a nice roller-coaster ride […] quite high where the view is very beautiful—then when we suddenly fall downward we start screaming. But the ride’s not over. It turns us upside down and rolls us around before going up high again. […] But when we get trapped again and again by our compulsive and neurotic emotional patterns, we just keep on screaming” (Ponlop, 2010).

By slowing down we can take a look at emotions with mindfulness and interrupt their momentum. We learn to fully experience the emotional energy—simply breathing in and out during the roller-coaster ride—and this creates a sense of trust in the process.

We can ride the energy of emotions and connect to this powerful force that is part of our creative potential. Working with emotions in this way brings about clarity, joy and peace.