Practicing equanimity in the face of what is happening today in the U.S. political arena and on the tumultuous world stage is challenging. In our current fractious climate, media discussions become quickly heated, protests more violent, and personal conversations increasingly embittered and polarized.
Scientists tell us that anger, a built-in alarm system that alerts us when something is wrong, has been instrumental in helping us survive and evolve as a species. Anger arises to help us fight back against a possible threat or the experience of hurt or pain. It also informs us when a boundary has been crossed, when our needs are not being met, when someone we care about is in danger, or when some event has clashed with our expectations and beliefs. But when we react unconsciously, repress our anger or get caught up in it, it can become counterproductive and negatively affect our health and relationships.
Mindfulness, defined as “a thoughtful and intense focus on the present moment in which we allow sensations and feelings to reveal themselves without judgment,” allows you to slow down the rush of adrenaline, to connect with the direct experience of anger, and to choose how to skillfully respond. An effective way of deepening and transforming your relationship with anger is a four-step, mindfulness-based practice known by the acronym RAIN: Recognize, Accept, Investigate, Non-Identify:
1. Recognize: Once you have become aware of the feeling, stop for a moment. Take a deep breath and then ‘sit with’ the anger. Don’t inhibit it, suppress it, ignore it or try to conquer it. Name the feeling you are experiencing: “This is anger.”
2. Accept: Embrace or hold the feeling in your awareness. Offer yourself compassion with a phrase, quietly whispering it as you breathe: “May I be safe and protected.” “May I be at ease.” “May this situation teach me about the true nature of life.”
3. Investigate: When you recognize anger is arising, use your attention to zoom into bodily sensations and thoughts. Ask yourself: “How am I experiencing this in my body?” or “What am I believing?” or “What does this feeling want from me?” By applying your curiosity directly to the feeling of anger, you can change a potential damaging moment into a powerful experience.. Anger is simply energy, and it is your response to that energy that causes harm.
4. Non-identification: In this final step, you create a mental space around anger and witness it instead of being enmeshed in it. Non-identification brings the understanding that anger arises and passes away. If you can disidentify with the anger, it can give you the courage to take action. “I know am not my anger.” “I know this feeling will change.”
Just the act of mindfully accepting and acknowledging anger can release its grip and free you to take proactive steps to combat powerlessness, such as calling your local or state representatives, attending community meetings, or donating to organizations you support. Buddhist teacher Lama Surya Das sums it up by stating, “Not get rid of anger, but live with anger, and integrate it healthily. Not let it degenerate into hatred, rage, and violence. Anger is just an emotion and a feeling, a very difficult one. How we respond to it makes all the difference.” To find out more about working with me and our other therapists who specialize in mindfulness, click here.