“You will not be punished for your anger; you will be punished by your anger.” ~ Attributed to the Buddha
While it is debatable that this well-known quotation was, in fact, ever said by the Buddha, it certainly is reflective of his beliefs and teachings. Anger, he taught, is counter-productive to the serene and enlightened mind.
Almost paradoxically, anger is also an oft-needed tool to attain such serenity and enlightenment. What other emotion can possibly lead us to make any substantial changes—in ourselves or in situations—unless and until anger manifests? Keep in mind that anger, as with all other emotions, comes in degrees and covers a wide range of internal and external responses. I would argue that disappointment is a low-level form of anger—perhaps it would be better to call it a precursor—and disappointment can be very effective in getting us to make changes. However, disappointment comes in degrees, as well, and at some level can be a huge roadblock to change.
The problem with anger is when it goes to the extreme. Once we get that raging anger—the type that we know raises our blood pressure—the reptilian part of our brain takes over and rationality, as well as logic and decency, go out the window. This is when we are prone to over-react and, almost inevitably, say out loud thoughts we know were better kept hidden in the recesses of our minds. For me, the worst anger is born from frustration; particularly frustration over something that is out of our control.
I have several friends to whom this applies. A couple, like me, found themselves out of work as a result of the poor economy, and are frustrated with the difficulty those of us over age 40 encounter in trying to find employment. The frustration often yields to anger over the “new norm,” which includes applying to positions on-line in the most anonymous fashion possible, with many (if not most) companies often not even acknowledging receipt of the application. Frequently, this is due to a system where applications and résumés are scanned by programs looking for a certain number of key words. Only once that number is noted will the application be forwarded to…well, who knows?
Other friends’ frustrations stem from any number of things, and I often fret over the depth of emotion some of them have over situations that either are so far out of their control that my friends might as well be observers, or can be dealt with, if only they would stop focusing on the anger/frustration – a state I think of as emotional blindness.
Of course, I am guilty of this sin of emotional blindness; we all most likely are. In an earlier blog (“Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda…”), I touched on the cause of some of my frustrations: living in the world of what if. What I didn’t include in that blog entry was how much anger the frustration-dwelling can lead to. This is something I have been working on for some time and while I have come a very long way, I still have far to go.
But my anger/frustration sources are pretty much apparitions. If I could ignore them they would, in fact, go away. Apparitions only hold power as long as they are believed in. Some of my friends, though, have frustration demons much more real and impossible to ignore. They have health issues that cannot be ignored and which, unfortunately, are not easily alleviated. One friend is dealing with a physical ailment that lies dormant in his system. It might rear its ugly head, or it might not. If it does, the condition could, in time, become fatal. Two things might work to suppress the condition: medications and stress management. While not a guarantee, the meds offer hope. The stress management offers as much, if not more, hope, but he isn’t the type to brush things off his shoulder. For someone like him, he stresses over ways to control stress. This frustrates him to no end, and the frustration makes him angry. Often.
Another friend has been dealt mental health cards that might as well be Tarot cards. With mood swings, severe depression, confusion, and anxiety to live with, her psychotropic drugs don’t work like aspirin for a headache, bringing her relief in twenty minutes. No, these drugs take time to be effective – usually several weeks–and often aren’t effective, resulting in a prescription for, yet, another drug. Unfortunately for her, the side effects, which can be rather nasty, kick in much more quickly. She is constantly frustrated at the inability of her doctors and medical science to come up with better solutions for her, and angry that she cannot enjoy life as easily as most of us seem to. (Or, at least, most of us who don’t get frustrated over something ourselves. I guesstimate this is a very small percentage of the population.)
Which brings me back to the Buddha-attributed line about being punished by our anger. One wonders what Siddhartha might have said had he been living with friends such as mine. Perhaps:
“You will not be punished for your anger; you’ll be beaten up by your anger. And it will feel like you’ve just gone eight rounds with Mike Tyson. And I don’t have a clue what you can do about it. Except, maybe, sit with me and let me listen.“
Given different circumstances, Siddhartha might have said that, but I do, in fact, say it. To my friends I offer an ear and they frequently take me up on the offer. We’ll sit, sometimes somewhere private, other times somewhere public, and we’ll talk. Mostly, I’ll listen hoping to find something they say that I can hang some worthwhile advice on. But, mostly, I just listen. They tell me my listening helps them and that it usually beneficial for them to vent and then re-focus. Not quite an enlightened state, but perhaps the anger has been lessened, if only for an hour. The thing is, as they begin to speak a little softer and less agitated, I always see their apparitions hanging back, smug looks on their faces.
And that frustrates and angers the hell out of me.