Transforming Anger Into Compassion

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Most of us aren’t peaceful monks. We live in a fast-paced, often cruel world, a world where the people around us say and do destructive things that make anger arise in us, anger which in turn compels us to say and do destructive things.

The gap between anger and compassion seems too wide to bridge. A common rationalization is “I’m just not wired for serenity. I’ve got a short fuse. It would be nice to be able to respond to destructive words and actions with compassion but it’s just not me. And I have the right to get angry when somebody wrongs me.”

But the gap is very much surmountable for each and every one of us, regardless of our given temperaments. The typical conception is that what’s needed is a personality overhaul where stimuli that elicited one set of responses suddenly elicit a different set of responses, so that anger simply doesn’t arise anymore in the face of destructive words and actions. But from the mindfulness perspective it’s not about erasing anger, it’s about inviting the anger in and then choosing what to do with it.

When we get angry our awareness of our thoughts and of the external environment tends to go down not up, we get tunnel vision, and then we act without thinking. What needs to get interrupted in this chain of events is not the initial anger but rather the resulting diminution of awareness. When we do get angry awareness needs to go up not down. We increase this awareness by sitting with our anger and letting it communicate its message rather than simply reacting right away. And with greater awareness we almost always find that our anger is the result of suffering, in others and in ourselves. Then the question becomes, “Do I want to add even more suffering to the world?” If the answer to that question is no then we’re well on our way towards transforming anger into compassion. There’s a good chance we’ll choose to act compassionately rather than destructively and when all is said and done it’s our actions that determine our destiny.

We can’t all be peaceful monks, we can’t all quickly and effortlessly respond to destructiveness with compassion. But we can all interrupt the destructive chain of events in our own psyches in order to start handling our anger with more care and awareness.