befriending anger to transform it

At 40, I’m finally learning how to handle anger. There’s not necessarily greater ease, just greater self-acceptance. I’m still a real thorn in my own side at times, and that can cause me and loved ones a bit of pain.

I am who I am, and who I am is someone who aims for equanimity and compassionate action. And in that aiming, I sometimes feel intense anger—at crimes against humanity, at my partner for calling me out on my nonsense, at myself for “failing” to be perfect.

Since anger is discomforting, I’ve spent immense amounts of energy trying to avoid it. And you know what? All that avoiding hasn’t prevented anger from surfacing.

I’m realizing that feeling anger is OK—anger is just an emotion everyone experiences. Trying to avoid anger, and then not knowing how to transform it when it arises, is the problem.

Anger serves a purpose. It signals when something is askew, often teaching us that we feel ire because we’re not seeing or thinking about a situation clearly. Fury might enflame us because we truly are being mistreated, or when we’re privy to the ill-treatment of others. In either case, the outrage is a catalyst—it’s the energy behind changing what must be changed.

To transform the ire and make necessary changes, we must be able to sit with the turbulence long enough to understand why it’s coursing through us. Such insight leads to clear-headed decisions and actions. So instead of running away from the rage when it arises, I now practice heading into the eye of the storm.

During a recent tit-for-tat with my partner, for example, I felt the inner storms whirling, but rather than get carried away by them, I sat still and stayed quiet. I listened—to what he was saying, to the fire crackling my chest and scorching my heart.

The listening gave me the means to set ego aside long enough to grasp a key lesson: Our anger is the means of understanding someone else’s anger. To know how to transform our anger is to know how to transform someone else’s.

By sitting still and listening to what my partner was saying—along with what my body was feeling—I realized my anger arose from the ego’s b.s. conclusion that I was in the right and he was in the wrong. Lightbulb moment: that phony need to be right kept me from listening, stoking his anger and igniting an argument. In tuning into what he was saying, I extinguished his irritation and the argument all at once.

Note to self: Listen more. Let the anger chew you up and spit you out. Let it envelop you with its searing heat. Stay attentive to and present with it—that’s your path out of it.

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