In this series, we explore the application of esoteric truths in everyday life, with renowned teacher and Wanderlust presenter Swamiji. If you have a topic you’d like Swamiji to explore, please email email@example.com.
One of the biggest obstacles to living a contented, joyful life is anger.
None of us wants to experience it, yet it comes anyway. It spares no one. And when it does, we are often left traumatized as we set about to pick up the pieces, all the time wondering why it occurred, who was responsible, and what can be done to repair the damage.
In the Bhagavad Gita, the danger of anger is succinctly explained:
Krodhad bhavati sammodhah summohat smriti-vibramah smriti-bhranshad buddhi-nasho buddhi-nashat pranashyati
“Anger leads to clouding of judgment, which results in bewilderment of the memory. When the memory is bewildered, the intellect gets destroyed; and when the intellect is destroyed, one is ruined.”
When the intellect is clouded, we forget what is right and what is wrong, and when we do, we surrender to the surge of negative emotions. The downward descent continues from there. Since the intellect is the internal guide, when our discrimination is destroyed, so are we.
Anger is a serious problem. Many people ask me about it because it hurts them in so many ways, including hurting those they love. Can anything be done to avoid it, or lessen its impact?
The reason why we get angry is complex. It is to do with misidentification of the self, which results in anger and frustration when things do not go our way. I will write more on this in future because it is too big a subject to cover here. For now, let’s see if there is anything we can do in the short term to manage it.
Firstly, we need to learn to respect the surging power of anger, just as in the same way we have learned to respect electricity flowing from an exposed wire. Both are dangerous and contact should definitely be avoided.
Secondly, work on being able to recognize its appearance early and resolve to quickly get it under control before any damage is done. For example, imagine you are cooking over an open fire. You notice that somehow the hem of your dress has caught alight and is gathering in strength around your ankles. What would you do? Quickly put it out? Or continue cooking and ignore it? Everyone, without hesitation, would immediately put the fire out! Why? Because we know 100 percent what the consequences will be if we don’t. Not only is fire life-threatening, but burns are painful. The sooner the flames are extinguished, the better.
Now think of anger. It too is like a fire that burns your mind. The stronger the anger gets, the worse is the damage to both yourself and those on the receiving end. Realize the importance of putting out the spark of anger early, before it builds to an uncontrollable, raging fire that can cause irreparable harm. If you do not control anger in its early stages, it will control you.
How is it possible to gain control early? By thinking! Think of the consequences that will arise if anger is left unchecked. Play out in your mind all the likely scenarios that will occur if you give vent to your anger. Is it really worth it? No.
But what if anger is the only way to get through to someone whose behavior is unacceptable? It is self-deluding to think that anger is an effective way of communication. Anger is always met with anger, period. Words are words, it is the “intention” behind the words that are spoken that we react to. For instance, I could respectfully but firmly say to someone, “Sit down, I want to talk to you.” I do this because the subject is important enough that I need the other person to be open and receptive to what I have to say. On the other hand, I could just angrily shout, “Sit down, I want to talk to you!” And from that point on, the fire of anger consumes everyone concerned.
When anger shows its face, give yourself time to master it by not speaking until you are confident you have reigned it in and are in control of your emotions. The indicator for this is when you are once again thinking clearly and rationally.
One night, after giving a talk, a woman approached me and asked, “Swamiji, can you help me? I have a boyfriend who recently left me and I want him out of my mind. He’s driving me crazy. You see, I go to a night class and he goes to the same one. The problem is, he’s now interested in another girl who’s also in the same class. Every night, out of the corner of my eye, I can see him flirting with her, carrying on as if he is the best thing since sliced bread. He’s even giving her the same old lines he gave me! I’m so angry! What can I do?”
“Well,” I said, “get a box of needles and carry them with you for the next 48 hours. Whenever you have an angry thought about him, take a needle out of the box and carefully insert it a 1/4 inch in your arm and leave it there.”
“What?”she exclaimed. “Why would I do that? I would end up looking like a porcupine! I’d have needles sticking out of me everywhere. Why would I hurt myself like that?”
“But you already are,” I explained. “Every negative thought you have affects your whole psychosomatic system. If you continue as you are, you will eventually implode and fall sick, physically, emotionally, and mentally. Is he worth falling sick over?”
“No,” she replied thoughtfully.
Anger is a force, a power. Left unchecked it has boundless capacity to harm everyone involved, even innocent bystanders. Recognize anger early and immediately counter it with the power of understanding. When anger threatens the calmness of your mental lake, do not let it. Think, think, think of what it is doing to you and banish it through the power of reason.
Yes, it will take you time to master this positive, life-nurturing habit. But when you do, your life will get a whole lot better.
Write this in gold letters on your forehead: “Never hurt anyone, not even yourself, by thought, word, or deed, for no good ever comes of it.”
Here are some ideas to help you get anger under control:
- Every night, just before going to sleep, take three minutes to review how many times you got angry in the day. Reflect on where you went wrong and resolve not to repeat the same mistakes in the coming day.
- Every morning, just before rising, take another three minutes to affirm all the positive attitudes you are going to carry into the day. If you take this suggestion seriously, you will be surprised just how much better life will be for you.
- Remind yourself to smile! No matter what you are feeling, if you carry a smile on your face, the chances are you will feel better. So will those around you.
- Never surrender to the thought, “This is the way I am, what can I do? It’s my nature.” You are not powerless to change. If you are open to self-improvement and awareness, it will come!
- Give yourself the assignment of observing what happens when people get angry. Note carefully the consequences that arise when someone expresses anger, both to them, to yourself, and to all those within its influence. Ask yourself, “did any good come from this?”
- Instead of using anger as a means to communicate your frustration, think of how else you might better get your point across that will actually bring the result you are looking for.
- If anger does consume you, wait for the next day before you address the issue. Time is a healer, and the problem may look different in the morning. Also, if you need to share your discomfort with someone’s behavior, choose a moment when you can see they are open and receptive to you.
- Finally, your mind is your world. Do you really want to fill it with anger?
Swami Govindananda (Swamiji) is the founder of Ji Living. A New Zealander, he lived years in India learning philosophy and meditation at the deepest levels from a renowned Master. Through his Seven Steps to Self Understanding online video and meditation series at jiliving.com, he illuminates the wisdom that lies at the heart of yoga. A presenter at Wanderlust festivals and yoga studios, he embodies positive spirituality and gives inspirational insights into the significance of human life. Swamiji is known for his wisdom, his gentle, humorous nature and ability to tell great stories.