I used to work with a woman that had a seemingly-uncontrollable anger habit. Like a teapot, she would simmer at a low boil for long periods of time, trying to keep anyone from knowing her true feelings. Control was her approach. But, as it always happens, life's circumstances eventually got to be too much and -- ka POW! She would blow, usually at her child or her now ex-husband.
In the time that I knew her she never had any real motivation to give up or try to heal the reasons for her anger -- I think she enjoyed its effectiveness. Too, she always seemed to rationalize that her anger was justified. I rather doubt it, particularly where her child was concerned. And considering the way I've heard people speak about her, it probably wasn't entirely necessary in her work either.
When a friend mentioned this gal's name to me recently, I started thinking about how anger, and its cousins -- resentment, jealousy and apathy -- are habits some people are loath to give up. But what a destructive force they can be. And are they really necessary? Or can we exert more choice and control to sidestep them? Like vicious animals, these unhealthy emotions literally feed on the energy of our life, taking every ounce of joy with them. But when someone is invested in these patterns, they don't seem to see the dangers of them. Anger, while perhaps useful in some stages of emotional healing, can also be addictive, intoxicating and blinding.
I recently finished reading a book entitled Meaningful to Behold, Becoming a Friend to the World by Geshe Kelsang. In the book he describes the many "faults of anger" to help the reader understand how dangerous anger is, and I think to impart the wisdom that anger is a choice and it can and should be avoided. He describes how anger prevents us from attaining our goals, how it destroys our peace of mind, how we lose our freedom of choice and how we create enemies as a result.
Years ago my then yoga teacher taught our class a mantra using the sound SA-TA-NA-MA. "This is the sound of the Universe, it is the eternal circle of life," he told us. "Sa means birth (or infinity), Ta means life, Na means death, and Ma means rebirth."
The mantra is supposed to be done for a specific amount of time, (you can read more about it here: http://www.kundaliniyoga.org/kyt15.html) and as we repeated every syllable of the mantra, sometimes with the spoken word, sometimes in a whisper, sometimes in our mind, he asked us to envision a strong pulse of white light coming in through the top of our head and exiting out the area of our third eye. New syllable, new pulse of light. He said that this mantra would clear the negativity of our subconscious and remove the blocks in our lives. He described how he and his then new wife did this mantra for 30 days together, sitting back to back for the required time each night. At the end of their 30-day practice, they conceived their first child together.
After I tried the meditation, I felt peaceful, centered, calm and happy. Shortly thereafter I picked up a book entitled Breathwalk, which suggested it would teach the reader "how to alleviate exhaustion, anxiety, sadness, and other problems, to heal physical, mental, and spiritual conflict in our lives." Turns out the book used the SA-TA-NA-MA Mantra with walking exercise. I started doing the breathwalk and discovered many of the same benefits I enjoyed during the meditation were present during my walk. Stressful minds seemed to slip away and my clear, calm perspective would return.
Then I took it a step farther. Whenever I was in a stressful situation, I found I could quietly do this mantra in the moment, in my mind. When I could remember to do it, I discovered that my clear perspective stayed prominent and my frustrations dissipated and sometimes disappeared altogether. After a while I noticed that I was reaching for this mantra whenever I needed more patience. Work time or family time, if I needed more patience, this mantra and visualization did the trick. Immediately upon practicing it, I was blessed with more patience.
Interesting -- so interesting. Because in Meaningful to Behold, Geshe Kelsang recommends patience as the remedy to anger. That sounds easy and maybe even a bit trite, but practicing patience, and it is a practice, brings gifts into our life. Patience brings the gift of self-control, clarity, and the preservation of our most precious friendships and relationships to name but a few.
Obviously all emotional reactions can't be eliminated by a mantra -- nor would we want them to be, but my informal experiment from years ago taught me that anger, though it may feel unavoidable at times, just might be avoidable far more often than we think. And perhaps anger, and all of its relatives, aren't always necessary.
The next time you feel the overwhelm of anger, take a breath, take a walk, take a break, practice a mantra and try practicing patience -- for the benefit of all the gifts it brings. And remember that while choosing patience over any enticing, knee-jerk, angry reaction requires practice, commitment and discipline, most importantly, it requires motivation.
For more by Melissa Van Rossum, click here.
For more on mindfulness, click here.