We’ve all been there. That burst of rage we never saw coming, the meltdown, saying things we did not mean, that tweetstorm. It’s easy to join the outrage factory because the outrage out there triggers the outrage within us. We click things, we like them, we share them and someone somewhere makes money.
Vipassana meditation, or any meditative process you might prefer, allows us to observe ourselves minutely. When this happens, two things occur: first, we are able to trace every action back to its emotion, every emotion back to its bodily sensation, and every bodily sensation to its provocation. When we say ‘my blood boils’, ‘my chest is thumping’ or ‘my hands are shaking’, we are quite literally describing the physical sensation of anger. It has a bodily impact. For us to express acrimony, we need to get physically worked up, our blood pressure rises, our heart beats faster, the adrenaline gets pumping, our mind gets foggy with emotion or memory, then we type out or say too much. As we meditate, we begin to watch this chain reaction. We begin to see what has provoked us, and its resultant physical sensation.
Try this small experiment: close your eyes and think of your favourite food, maybe pizza, or your grandmom’s kheer. Now observe what happens in your body when you think of it. Note the salivation on your tongue, the tangible craving in your stomach, that your mind brings up a memory that intensifies the want, thoughts that make your fingers feel like flipping to a food app. Every time we feel an intense emotion, we impact ourselves in body, mind, word and action.
The second outcome is that once we witness this chain, we are able to put a pause to it. It’s like making a presentation slide by slide. Now you can edit it. We may be thinking very angry things, but we don’t feel the need to say or text them. We can tell the bodily signs of rising rage, and shut it down, refusing to waste our whole day disturbed by such thoughts. Of course that takes regular practice, but even if we only get to the first step, we become aware of our triggers and the impact and are able to divert that energy to other things.
The cyclic professional outrage in some quarters takes a physical and mental toll on those who have to work hard to sustain it. An entire ecosystem of clickbait now thrives on harnessing our outrage like hydroelectric power does the energy of flowing water. Entities that live off our outrage are using our power.
So should we never be angry? We also know that some events deserve our anger. We should condemn the wrong. How then, do we move our anger from the space of self-exhaustion, where we are its fodder, to a space of empowerment, where we are able to channel it to contribute meaningfully to change?
First, show anger, never feel it. If you feel anger, it’s controlling you and not you it. When you feel angry, wait until it has stopped consuming your bodily energy, let it fade. Then, consider what the moment needs from you. If it’s a condemnation, express that, allocate blame and outline the change you’re hoping to see. You’ll see your ‘angry’ communication becoming more outcome oriented.
Second, treat anger like a sugar rush. Recognise that the more you feed it, the more it needs you to eat, until it begins to consume you. Stop feeding it.
How? We can’t switch off the provocations. There will always be someone somewhere irritating us.
Third, recognise we respond with our internal anger. What is our sense of feeling slighted, neglected, inferior, shut down, pushed into a corner, left out? Ask what we can do to resolve our own anger about it within our personal space. When we work at resolving what we can, external triggers will release their hold on us.
Fourth, resonate with what feeds us. When we start giving ourselves more of what we need. We’ll clean up our timelines, we’ll drop the toxic friend, we’ll read more solutions. Our attention falls away from provocations.
Fifth, we learn the value of forgiveness. Isn’t forgiveness just letting people get away without facing the consequences of their actions? Forgiveness is for ourselves. It’s refusing to dance to the tune of what they have done to us anymore. It’s taking our power back. Forgiveness allows us to focus on what’s important to us, extricate ourselves from the cycle of endlessly reacting to others.
The better life does not come from staying stuck in an irretrievable past, an undoable injustice, but in using it to better ways of doing and being. What we transform our anger into is the channel we become. This is empowerment.
Gayatri Jayaraman is the author of Sit Your Self Down published by Hachette India, and a mind-body-spirit counsellor