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Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die…

 

Angry womanHow frustrating is it that people seem not to behave in the manner that WE believe that they should? From that person walking in the tube station, too distracted on their phone to get out of our way, to our boss thinking it’s ok to speak to us disrespectfully, or our spouse, who just doesn’t seem to understand that we can’t walk the dog/do the washing and go for dinner with their parents this weekend because we are just too BUSY! Life is full of small irritations, and at times, major fall-outs with other people. These inevitable conflicts are unavoidable. They occur because, annoyingly, people all see the world differently, through their own lens, a lens made up of their own values, past memories, beliefs – the list goes on.

 

There is a metaphor in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) called the “fish hook” metaphor.  It says that staying angry with otfish hookher people and past situations is like remaining on a fish hook with the person we are angry with. The only way to get off the hook ourselves is to let the other person off too. The original pain or wound may still be there, but at least we don’t exacerbate it by keeping the situation alive in the here and now. The idea is that we would do well to forgive others by letting go of anger, rumination, attacking, and defensive behavior, not because we necessarily believe that others deserve forgiveness but because WE deserve peace and wellbeing.

 

finger pointChoosing to let go of anger is in fact a way to take control. The reality is that the more we ‘point the finger in blame’ towards others about the way that we feel, the more we are actually pointing it back at ourselves, ultimately undermining our self-confidence. When we hold onto anger, we confirm to ourselves that we need other people (and indeed the world at large) to be different in order for us to cope, and to be calm. The reality is that other people (again, annoying as this is) will continue to challenge us throughout our lives, holding different views, and behaving in ways that we perceive to be unjust, unfair, cruel or just plain wrong. And, guess what, we might even be right. And chances are, someone else has had similar thoughts about us at some time in our lives – rightly or wrongly. We may even be able, if we try really hard, to recall a time where we held such a judgement (again rightly or wrongly) about ourselves.

 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that there aren’t many times where we need to take action in response to people’s actions – it is simply that even once we havebroken man taken action, sometimes things remain unresolved, and even if this  isn’t the case, angry feelings can linger. It is important to try to act in line with our core values when dealing with angry feelings. For more info on values. Acting outside of our values may feel good at the time of anger, but often leads to guilt and diminished self-confidence in the long run. For example, it may give me a short-term feeling of relief to scream and swear at my spouse when they upset me, but later, when I reflect on my personal relationship values, this behaviour may leave a sour taste in my mouth.  The anger that I felt at my spouse may be compounded then by shame and self-recrimination at my own actions.

 

So, what can we do?? Buddhists originally coined the idea of loving-kindness meditation, which has been adopted within Western practices of mindfulness practice. The idea is to develop feelings of compassion towards others, and oneself, recognising that all human beings are fallible, and developing compassion is a gift of peacefulness to ourselves, within a world that is often the opposite of peaceful! The exercise in relaxedmindfulness meditation below can be practiced repeatedly, to develop feelings of compassion towards yourself and others. If you are currently experiencing high levels of self-blame or self-loathing, you may initially find it hard to send loving-kindness to yourself. That’s okay. If it’s too difficult, just skip that bit initially. As you keep practicing this exercise, and get better at sending loving-kindness to others, you will find there comes a time when you are able to send it to yourself.

 

 

Begin by finding a comfortable position, and focus on your breathing for a couple of breaths. Then, bring your awareness to the sensations around your heart area. As you focus, allow the sensations to be as they are, with an attitude of openness, interest, and receptiveness. Sometimes this is enough to connect with feelings of loving-kindness.

 

Next, think of a person who has been very kind and loving towards you. Reflect on what they’ve done for you, and why you’re grateful to them. Remember a specific act they did, that was very loving or kind or caring, and remember how that felt.

 

Now imagine yourself radiating warm feelings of love, friendliness, kindness, and generosity towards that person. As you do that, hold that person in your mind, and slowly and silently, repeat the phrases below (or rewrite them to suit your own needs, or make them more personally significant).

May you be healthy
May you be peaceful
May you be content

May you experience love
May you experience kindness

May your life be rich, and full, and meaningful

As you say them, feel the meaning of the words, and radiate feelings of warmth, love, kindness, tenderness to this person.

 

Next, think of yourself, and the pain you’ve experienced, and radiate these same warm feelings towards yourself, while you say the same phrases, slowly and gently:

May I be healthy
May I be peaceful
May I be content

May I experience love
May I experience kindness

May my life be rich, and full, and meaningful

As you say them, feel the meaning of the words, and radiate feelings of warmth, love, kindness, tenderness throughout your body, completely accepting every aspect of yourself.

 

Next, bring to mind someone who is a good friend, or someone (such as a child) for whom you have a strong sense of care, and radiate warm loving-kindness to that person. Imagine them filling up with those feelings. And once again, repeat the phrases:

 May you be healthy
May you be peaceful
May you be content

May you experience love
May you experience kindness

May your life be rich, and full, and meaningful

 

Next, bring to mind a ‘neutral’ person – someone who you have no particular feelings
towards (e.g. a neighbour). Now radiate loving-kindness to them, as you repeat the phrases:

May you be healthy
May you be peaceful
May you be content

May you experience love
May you experience kindness

May your life be rich, and full, and meaningful

As you say them, feel the meaning of the words, and radiate feelings of warmth, love, kindness, tenderness throughout your body, completely accepting every aspect of yourself.

 

Finally bring to mind someone with whom you may be having some difficulty or
conflict, and radiate loving-kindness to them. (Don’t start with the most difficult
person in your life! Start with someone who gives you a mild-to-moderate degree of difficulty)

May you be healthy
May you be peaceful
May you be content

May you experience love
May you experience kindness

May your life be rich, and full, and meaningful

 

Finish off by once more focusing on your breathing for a couple of breaths.

 

[Adapted from: www.dipa.dhamma.org/]

 

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