In the heat of the summer, anger – among other things – can be aroused. Of all our emotions, it can be the most toxic to our health and our relationships. In the heat of the moment, that’s all we have – a moment — before we blow it. Enter mindfulness for emotional rescue. When we slow down and stay aware, as we do when we’re mindful, we are able to notice how we’re feeling.
We are familiar with the sensations we feel when we are in the throes of sexual passion, but often we are oblivious to the bodily sensations that precede heightened emotions like anger or fear. It could be pain in the belly, tightness in the chest, heat or chills or elevated heart rate, quickened breath. When we are able to notice them, we can pause – take a deep breath – and rather than react, we can respond in an emotionally intelligent way, or perhaps not at all.
Isn’t unexpressed anger bad for our health?
Therapists say the healthiest way to release anger is to let the moment pass, write down our feelings, and discuss them at another time when emotions have calmed. Often, when we postpone confrontation like this we can’t recall why we were upset in the first place.
It’s not a passive state, but an active one.
Pema Chödrön (Working with Difficult Emotions) has said that it takes patience and courage to not speak or react. She suggests to be honest that you’re furious, but know that you’re not suppressing anything. You allow the other person to express themselves, while you don’t react, even though inside you are reacting. Withholding your words, and just being there is not a passive state – it actually gives you power: The other person wants you to react, and you’re not giving them the fuel they want for their fire.
“Any person capable of angering you becomes your master; he or she can anger you only when you permit yourself to be disturbed by him.” – Epictetus, Greek philosopher
Through the practice of mindfulness you will discover – as many people do – that the little things that used to anger you won’t bother you anymore, and you will experience less emotional reactivity and become a better responder. As Pema states, this skill takes patience, but when you are able to just witness anger, you will feel relief as the heat of the moment cools off.