Cooling the Flames of Anger

"Peace cannot be kept by force. It can only be achieved by understanding." -Albert Einstein

Have you ever been angry about something and tried to hold your tongue? Do you notice what happens inside when you do that? Sometimes you can actually feel the fire burning in your belly, chest, or throat. When that happens it is tempting to feed the fire with an inner (or outer) dialogue that justifies your rage. As the fire continues to burn you may erupt in ways that make things even worse for yourself and those around you.

In his book, Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames, Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh offers the following useful illustration:

When someone says or does something that makes us angry, we suffer. We tend to say or do something back to make the other suffer, with the hope that we will suffer less. We think, "I want to punish you, I want to make you suffer because you have made me suffer. And when I see you suffer a lot, I will feel better."

Many of us are inclined to believe in such a childish practice. The fact is that when you make the other suffer, he will try to find relief by making you suffer more. The result is an escalation of suffering on both sides. Both of you need compassion and help. Neither of you needs punishment.

When you get angry, go back to yourself, and take very good care of your anger. And when someone makes you suffer, go back and take care of your suffering, your anger. Do not say or do anything. Whatever you say or do in a state of anger may cause more damage in your relationship.

Most of us don't do that. We don't want to go back to ourselves. We want to follow the other person in order to punish him or her.

If your house is on fire, the most urgent thing to do is to go back and try to put out the fire, not to run after the person you believe to be the arsonist. If you run after the person you suspect has burned your house, your house will burn down while you are chasing him or her. That is not wise. You must go back and put out the fire. So when you are angry, if you continue to interact with or argue with the other person, if you try to punish her, you are acting exactly like someone who runs after the arsonist while everything goes up in flames.

So how do you put out the fire? First, take a deep breath. Then take another one... and maybe another one. Find the anger in your body--where is it located? Notice the physical sensation--what does is feel like? Usually, beneath the anger is another emotion--is there fear or sadness? What frightens or grieves you? What deep need of yours is not being met? (If you are unsure, click here for a list of Universal Needs.) Focus your attention on your need and feel its value. Can you remember a time when that need was met for you? What request can you make of yourself or someone else in order to meet that need now?
"Always choose the path to peace by expressing My Love and acceptance." --Two Listeners