Replacing Anger with Compassion
In the last few weeks in print media, facebook updates and in conversations with others, I’ve heard the same story recirculating, a story that the Dalai Lama has been known to recount. In his story, the Dalai Lama describes his conversation with a Tibetan monk who had been imprisoned and tortured by the Chinese for many years. He asked the monk what was his greatest fear, and he indicated that it was losing compassion for those who hurt and tortured him.
It is hard to behave compassionately and fill your spirit with thoughts of compassion. Our default emotions usually range from apathy, dissatisfaction, fear, anger, jealously, mistrust, wanting control, resentment and entitlement. Moving our thoughts to the other end of the spectrum towards compassion, peace and joy takes a lot of effort. Changing one’s mindset takes diligence, vigilance and desire. The key though is really desire. Without making the decision to change and wanting to change one’s attitude, you’ll just be stuck, in the same place as before- swirling around in a maelstrom of negative emotions, sinking lower and lower until you end up feeling unhappy and full of despair.
So you have two options: 1) keeping your anger and discontent or 2) giving up your anger to replace it with satisfaction.
Anger is an emotion that is difficult to give up because we ultimately get so much out of it. It in our minds entitles us to be self-righteous, never having to look at or change our own behavior, remain in control, manipulate others and rewards us with a sick type of satisfaction that just feels so good. Blaming others and self-righteousness can be a high in itself. This high can give you a lot of energy, making you feel powerful, safe, untouchable. Holding on to anger also protects you from looking at what is truly underneath- often times the emotions of sadness, grief and despair. It is a lot easier to protect oneself from others and one’s own emotions through maintaining a wall of rage, rather than facing any uncomfortable emotion head on.
If you’ve decided to end the turmoil within your spirit, figure out your anger “triggers”. What situations in particular activate this emotion? Or is it generally free-floating- waiting to raise its ugly head at the smallest incident or slight? Sometimes anger (for a time) is justified. But more often than not, we blow things out of proportion to the situation. Become familiar and notice when anger starts to surface. Let it go, especially over the small and petty stuff. If you haven’t been able to rid yourself of it, don’t be afraid of it, or what it means. Understand when it is there, don’t deny its existence. Anger is not necessarily bad. The issue comes down to what you do with it, how long you hold onto it, and the degree to which you let it attack your spirit and attack others. Do you use it to destroy or as a learning tool?
I generally find myself angry with either external circumstances which I cannot control, or with others whom I’m close to or have had some power/influence over me. My entitlement gives me permission to be angry with individuals who have done something I don’t agree with or who don’t meet my expectations. My ego tells me that others exist to satisfy me and meet my standards. What a foolish thought! During these times my duty is to consistently remind myself that I am not in control. In fact there is very little that I will ever or can have control over. I work towards letting go of the need to influence every event. Then I work on it again, and then again.
During the times that I’ve decided to let go of my pain and anger, compassion for those whom I’ve had the most conflict with will often build up over time. Working to forgive these individuals is also a large part of the equation that will lead to healing. I still face the occasional land mine, surprised by my anger at someone, anger that I didn’t know was there. I wish I could say I have a habit of quickly giving up anger and resentment towards another, but this is hardly the case. It is probably an issue I will need to work through at different levels for the rest of my life.
Compassion allows us to face our enemies and put ourselves in their place. When you’re angry at someone, look at their motive in their negative behavior towards you. If placed in their shoes, you might respond in the exact same manner that you judge so harshly. You yourself are far from perfect. Forgive those who have hurt you. Wish for peace and healing, like the Tibetan monk, for those who seek to harm you. Hope that those whom you’ve hurt can muster the compassion it takes to forgive you as well. For those of you who are Christian or who are familiar with scripture, remember the petition of Jesus as he was dying on the cross. While in pain and agony, he prayed to his Father for those who put him there, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
In the end, anger is unproductive. It is destructive and unloving. Decide to let go of it. Let go of the entitlement that allows you to hold on to your rage. Move forward. Move ahead. Work to forgive. Anger is only a dead-end while compassion holds the key, to release you from the bondage of malcontent so that you may experience true joy.