As appeared on THE PAIN PROJECT
by AIMI founder Barry Kerzin, MD

Part 6 – Practical Methods to Overcome Anger and Cool Down

In order to reduce anger, reflecting on the disadvantages cultivates conviction, strengthening our resolve to practice tolerance. This is the same as dealing with any addiction such as smoking or drinking too much alcohol. Intense anger deletes our history of wholesome actions that lead to happiness in the future. Anger also has insidious, corrosive effects on our mood blocking our present state of happiness. It dulls our clarity and scatters our focus. We lose our perspective narrowing into tunnel vision. Decision-making becomes clouded and short sighted.

Anger hinders our compassionate nature, which is the source of our greatest happiness.

It seems that much of the violence and destruction in the world comes from aggression, anger, and hatred, fueled by misunderstanding and ignorance, in turn, fueled by a latent state of discontent. The damaging consequences of anger and hatred can be seen clearly in domestic violence. They also flame communal violence and war.

Anger often keeps company with fear and discontentment.

This latent state of a lack of contentment and irritability is called mi dewa in Tibetan, literally meaning not happy. It is an underlying state of unease, anxiety, and dissatisfaction that sets a mood for what the psychologist and criminologist Dr. Paul Ekman says underlies flares of angry emotion [10]. Dissatisfaction is the spark that ignites the fire of anger, hostility, and hatred. Just as damping out sparks prevents forest fires, reducing underlying moods of discontent can lead to a reduction in anger.

Seeing things from this new perspective, we recognize that destructive emotions feed upon themselves.

The more these emotions are indulged, the more they intensify.

Resilience comes from inner training. To address such self-perpetuating destructive emotions, it is helpful to turn our attention inward to become more familiar with our tendencies and habits. Instead of blaming others and the world, we become more courageous and mature to work on our self. The same great eighth-century Buddhist master Shantideva [11] referred to earlier, makes this point exceedingly well when discussing how to manage anger. If we wish to prevent our feet from being pricked by thorns, it would be foolish to try covering the whole world with leather. Rather, it would be much more reasonable to just cover the soles of our own feet. In the same way, it is a mistake to think we can get rid of anger by changing every situation and every person around us. Instead, it would be much more reasonable to transform our own anger. Along with transforming our anger is the practice of gratitude.

Feeling gratitude makes us feel well, thus making us less susceptible to anger.

10. Dalai Lama; Ekman, P. (2008). Emotional Awareness. Macmillan: New York.

11. Shantideva (1999). A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of life.Dharamsala: The Library for Tibetan Works and Archives.