Unmasking Anger

By Alan Reder, YogaJournal.com

“Holding onto anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”

Many people believe that anger is “unspiritual,” a damaging misconception that often causes us to stuff it inside.  Spiritual traditions such as yoga and Buddhism can teach us how to react skillfully to anger without repressing it.

In a post-September 11 world, one point seems undeniable:  The most harmful force known to humanity is not high-tech weaponry but raw anger.  Anger is lightning in a bottle, and the bottle is us.  If we fan anger’s embers inside us, the heat can consume our love, rationality, and emotional and physical health.  If we direct the heat at others, it scorches everything in its path—friendships, work relationships, marriages, and families.  At its worst, anger even maims and kills.  Rwanda, Northern Ireland, the Middle East—beneath the issues in each case lies anger burning out of control.

We know that we’re saner and healthier when anger isn’t igniting our thoughts and actions.  But anger can’t be wished away; sometimes it flares up inside us as spontaneously as hiccups.  Other times, we feel justifiably provoked—by a lover who betrays us, a work partner who lets us down, injustice in society.  So the real question is: How can we deal constructively with this potentially destructive emotion?

For thousands of years, spiritual traditions such as yoga and Buddhism have offered detailed anti-anger prescriptions because anger undermines their main goal:  attaining happiness and freedom.  More recently, psychologists and medical researchers have studied anger to help prevent the damage it causes to both the perpetrator and the target. This accumulated knowledge makes clear that anger can indeed be tamed, because despite its destructive power, anger barely has a toehold in reality…

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