Everyone’s stressed. Everyone’s taxed. Everyone’s tired. Fuses are short, tempers are hot and despite how logical all of our anger and frustration is, consequences remain. It makes sense that people will be pushed past physical limits by things like pain, a lack of sleep, a bad diet or other particularly long-term stresses. So as a society we must learn to accommodate flashes of various emotions that are entirely natural for people to experience. At the same time we don’t want to coddle people who are literally addicted to anger as their natural response to not getting what they want. That’s onerous for others to deal with and that’s not good for harmony in the tribe. And as challenging as aspects of the tribe are, you simply cannot live a rewarding life without a tribe.
Just the other day I saw a guy losing his temper near my house. They’re rebuilding a lot of the roads and sidewalks near where my parents and I live, and I also live near several churches. I recently saw a guy railing in anger while his wife patiently listened to him for over half an hour about how the city shouldn’t have done this and it should have done that. Of course this guy has zero appreciation for the complexities of actually planning anything like that, and of course these are private companies and not “the city,” and even then, we’re only talking about a one day inconvenience to him. And for that he put his wife through a minimum of a half hour of hell. Volunteering to do that is crazy. And listening to it when you know it’s crazy is what love does. Because I could tell by the look on her face that she totally knew his diatribe was his and his alone. It had nothing to do with the city. The city did not insist that he ruin his day with his wife.
It’s important to remember that your anger will get worse the more you use it. Like any part of the body, your mind gets better at recreating emotions if you create them pretty regularly. So the more you get angry, the better you get at being angry. It’s why Olympians and Jeopardy contestants both train the way they do.
Now, as to the why you’re getting angry—this we can dissect. We can prove that your criticisms are one-sided and unreasonable. As soon as you accept the truth in that, then it will be your truth too and so will end that conflict within you. Now I’m actually fine with you expressing a flash of frustration—and if your mind turns that into a burst of colourful language, no problem we can all handle it. Sticks and stones. Where it’s too much is when it starts fuelling itself. Meaning, you aren’t venting off some chemistry from an immediate reaction—instead you’re fuelling your own personal internal dialogue and this now has nothing to do with the original event other than the subject matter is the same. Your angry replaying of it is entirely voluntary.
What this effectively means is, the man was not angry about the sidewalks and roads. He was angry about his thoughts about the sidewalks and roads. You know how I know this? Because I’ve got entirely different thoughts about the very same situation. And I know how the brain works. So I can appreciate that the addictive quality to knowledge—that is; the belief that things will continue to follow the same patterns they historically have—makes sense for so many things that we do subconsciously. Even things as difficult as driving, which we rarely think about consciously. But it can be very dangerous to desire patterns when it comes to our emotions because, as you can see, when that man’s mind wanted things the same and the nature of the world did not comply, his brain smashed into that reality—that Isness—and his reaction was to incite the chemistry for anger, which his wife then had to deal with. We want to change that by changing our narratives, and then go on to use our elevated consciousness to eventually dispel our narratives altogether.
So why don’t I get angry about the same thing? Because I don’t tell myself the story that guy told himself. Because I didn’t expect things to stay the same. I know they’re changing. All the time, every moment of every day. I get that it’s difficult to avoid inconveniencing people when you’re doing something as major as paving their street. This guy wanted them to only do half the streets and sidewalks and then come back another time to do the other half. But breaking up the work—even if it’s done back-to-back, is going to be way, way more expensive. And pretty much every city council in history gets blasted if they announce even a 3% tax hike. Well if we want them to work around our daily needs to that degree then that’s going to cost a lot of money and I have this sense that a tax increase would just be one more thing that poor guy’s wife would have to hear all about.
There’s nothing wrong with the world my friends, we just think we’re more important than the world does. We’re all integral—that’s for sure. But none of us is critical to the ongoing survival of civilization. The world is doing some big things for large numbers of people. Sometimes small numbers of people need to move out of the way to accomplish a greater good. So yeah, we can look at things and think “these idiots. They’ve made it so hard to move around,” as though that’s what they were doing—trying to make it hard for us. Or we can see it the way I do, which is either no opinion at all, or maybe something like “wow this will be great. When they’re done we’ll have brand new sidewalks and roads!” I’m not lying to myself. What I’m saying is true. But it’s also enjoyable to think. And that’s what we all need to do. We need to approach things selfishly. We need to notice things in ways that feel better for us.
Here’s a way of thinking about it: You can smash your expectations into reality, or you can be like Bruce Lee recommends and be like water. Because water can flow and water can crash. But it does not win through resistance, just persistence. So if for instance the change to the roads and sidewalks is a rock in your flow, then you don’t freeze up in anger and trap yourself. Instead you have your initial shock wave of chemistry that goes with recognizing the situation—the splash—and then let those thoughts go and flow around the issue and get your mind onto the next moment where you can choose thoughts that feel better. It really is that easy. Stop thinking things should be different. Accept how they are and move into the next moment with that flexible reality being the context which you are operating from. It’s not, I want the sidewalks a different way, it’s: now that they’ve done this, what’s my best bet?
Anger is created within us by whatever narrative we choose to engage in. If we become conscious of our thinking we will go there far less often and we will be highly motivated by how good it feels to succeed at redirecting our previously angry thoughts. It’s quite the achievement both psychologically and spiritually. If I can do it anyone can do it. It’s just changes in habits of thought. It’s tricky, but it’s not hard. I wish you every good fortune with your meditations. And my best to your spouses. 😉
Following a serious childhood brain injury Scott McPherson unwittingly spent his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and the self. This made him as strange to others as they were to him. Seeing the self-harm people created with their own overthinking, Scott dedicated part of his life to helping others live with greater awareness. He is currently a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB, where he finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.