Have you ever found yourself getting angry or irritated at someone? One of the things I learned about anger, and any emotion, is that it can only stay alive for so long on its own. So when we stay angry or irritated for a long period, it is because at some level we have made a commitment to keeping it alive. Did you know an emotion has a natural life of about 30 seconds? If it lasts longer than that, it is because we are choosing to keep it alive. So when we stay angry all day, or for years, it is because we are choosing to stay angry. There is nothing wrong with a feeling, however, it is important for a feeling not to control us or become our identity.
The other night someone asked me if I ever got angry. Sure, I have my moments, but I try to let it last as long as a commercial on television, not more than 30 seconds. A healthy human being, like a good piece of music, is not only one feeling. It has its ups and its downs. The one helps us appreciate the other.
One of the lessons I have learned from the writings of Thich Nhat Hanh is the importance of feeling the anger, but also allowing it to dissipate on its own. He teaches that compassion is the antidote to that which angers and irritates us. He wrote, “The nectar of compassion is so wonderful. If you are committed to keeping it alive, then you are protected. What the other person says will not touch off the anger and irritation in you, because compassion is the real antidote to anger. Nothing can heal anger except compassion. That is why the practice of compassion is a very wonderful practice.”
Rinzler, in his book, The Buddha Walks into the Bar, suggests that we take a moment to empathize and have compassion for the person who has angered or irritated us. When we can take a moment and think about a time when we might have done something similar, then we can begin to see them as a human being and spend time thinking about forgiving, healing and expressing compassion then remaining angry.
Granted, it may feel as if it is harder to practice compassion with some people more than others are. However, then I remember that for somebody I am the person who they may find it hard to show compassion for in their lives. When we remember to breath peace into our own lives, then we can begin to exhale the anger and irritation and let it die a natural death, rather than keep them alive via our own artificial means.
Sometimes we all need to vent and be angry. We are, after all, human beings. To help me stay in the present, honor my feelings and practice compassion for self and others. I have a few select friends whom I can call when I need to take a commercial interruption. We will jokingly say, I need to take a commercial so I can go back to my regular scheduled programming. We are then given 30 seconds to vent, and then we say thanks for listening to this commercial; we are now returning to our regularly scheduled programming. Talk to you soon.
Pema Chodron has taught me to stop and look at the anger and irritation and try to understand what it is in me that is allowing me to feel these feelings, recognize it, understand when these feelings are first arriving, and work at controlling them, rather than have them control me. I have learned I have a choice about what we keep alive. We can practice keeping compassion alive or we can practice keeping anger alive. Personally, I am choosing to practice keeping compassion alive. How about you?
 Thich Nhat Hanh in Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames