My new year’s commitment for 2015 is simple: when I’m getting angry, I am gonna put my hand on the spot in my body, where the anger sits, and just breathe into it. Nothing more. Just connecting to my anger and bringing awareness to it, if even for just a split second.
Last year I made a much bigger commitment, and failed at it at least 150 times, if not more: “When anger is manifesting in me, I am determined not to speak. I will practice mindful breathing and walking in order to recognize and to look deeply into my anger.”
At the end of 2014, looking back at all those failures, I realized I was practicing at PhD level. My mindfulness practice is not strong enough to prevent myself from slashing out when I am angry. I nurtured the habit energy of anger for such a long time, that I probably can’t stop myself when anger overwhelms me. The habit energy of my anger is like a tank, firmly grounded in the solid course of its pain and hurt. It might take a while to steer it in another direction.
So I decided to set myself up for success and commit to a practice I most likely can keep, and trust that just a little nudge of the rutter will change the course of my tank in a more wholesome direction.
Image courtesy to fitbie.com
I accept I am a toddler, wobbling on the path of mindfulness and compassion. Sure, I mastered standing up. And sure, my goodness, am I excited to walk and get somewhere. And yet, I fall all the time. I am not ready to run with the elite. Let me first learn how to walk with a stroller. And then, maybe, without. And then maybe, go a little longer, Till I can run as fast and far as I want.
But now, start where I am. Right here. Right now.
Put my hand on my body where the painful feeling arises. Breathe into it. Embrace it with compassion and acceptance. Speak to it: “Hi precious anger, I now you’re there. I’m just as angry as you are. I’m just as scared and confused. I don’t know how to help you yet, but I’ll stay with you. I won’t leave you alone, I’ll hang in here and hold your hand.”
That’s my commitment for 2015. What’s yours?
Want help making a commitment that leads to big successes? Contact me 512-589-0482. I would be honored to help.
Angry? Focus on your breath
Thich Nhat Hanh has a simple four step process to support connection when we are angry.
The first is to bring our attention back to our breath; to notice where it is in our body, how it rises and falls. To continue doing this as long as anger is grasping us and to embrace the anger as if it is a crying baby that needs holding.
Hum. I can stop right here. I have failed this first step often enough. Yep. Sneaky moments where my mind told me Thich Nhat Hanh was wrong. That it was much better to slash out, yell, blame, disconnect.
Ànd I have had times when I followed Thich Nhat Hanh’s invitation and focused on my breath first. Then I was ready for the second step. Breathing in, breathing out, “Darling, I suffer, I am angry.”
Express your pain
‘What?! Darling?! Thich Nhat Hanh got thàt all wrong! My husband is a jerk, hè caused my anger, and he needs to be punished for my pain.’ No matter how much Nonviolent Communication I have under my belt, and how aware I am of emotional liberation, and the difference between cause and trigger of my feelings, this is thè exception. ‘My husband is not a darling, he is a jerk, and I a saint, and we need to be treated accordingly.’
So another breathe. In. Out. Looking him in the eye. Seeing a glimpse of a human being. A hunch of someone who loves me. Cares for me. Wants to support me. Breathing in. Feeling my anger. Breathing out. Feeling my suffering.
Applause for your failed efforts
Step three. I breathe in. I breathe out. “I’m trying, I’m really trying.”
Something softens in me. I feel my anger towards myself. That I screwed up my mindfulness practice, that I failed. And I feel compassion that I try, that I really try. To dissolve the habit energy of my anger, the years of practice slashing out. I do fall off the ‘mindfulness bike’ a lot. Like, rèally, a lot. And I get back up. After every failure. Trying loving speech when I am angry, again, and again, and again.
Courage to ask for help
Now I am ready for the last step. Breathing in, breathing out. “I need your help and support.”
I feel vulnerable. To own up to my pain. To acknowledge I am struggling. To tremble in that nakedness. Will he help? Or will he retaliate? Will he blame mè for yelling, slamming doors, running away? I want to be held. Seen for my humanity. For my struggles. And for my longing to connect.
I feel scared. And proud that I dare to ask for help.
Sometimes these four steps take a while. Often it takes my husband’s generous and empathic heart. And the process always works.
Thich Nhat Hanh is right. Just four steps to get us from anger to reconnection. Isn’t it fantastic?
You cannot change someone. You might want to. The world might seem so much yummier if such-and-such behaved so-and-so. But you can’t. It is beyond your scope of influence.
You can only change your response to them. That’s it.
“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Viktor Frankl
I have found great delight in the strategy of nót responding when I am upset. Of delaying expressing myself. Of absorbing what the other person said or did. And let it be.
Thich Nhat Hanh
Thich Nhat Hanh teaches us to not speak or act when we are angry, and I finally get it.
Something happens, and my habitual response is to react. Now I bring my attention to my belly. I notice if my belly is tight, or loose like a Buddha belly. The attention itself relaxes my belly. I bring my attention to my breath. I notice if it is deep down, or more constricted in my chest. I don’t change it, I just observe it. I focus my attention on something I enjoy. Working, walking, talking to a friend. I pause my painful feelings, and create feelings of happiness and joy. I will get back to the painful feelings when I am calmer.
Then something resolves. The anger mellows out. It is not such a big deal anymore. Nothing serious happened. Just someone who needed help, and didn’t quite know how to ask for it. I don’t have to have a big conversation about it. I can let it go. If something big happens, I can talk about it when I am calm. For now, let me focus on the important things. Let me save energy for connection and understanding.
Contact me, if you want my help to bring more self-compassion, healing and integration in your life.
Nine steps to deal unmindfully with your anger
- Start by being angry. Preferably with someone close, someone you deeply care about. Your partner, your best friend, your mom.
- Stimulate blame and thoughts of wrongness about the other person. “They don’t care about me.” “They don’t give a shit.” “They take me for granted.” Be creative!! There are so many choices! So pick any thought that ignites your anger even more.
- DON’T connect with the pain underneath your thoughts. DON’T feel your hurt, your shame, the old wound of thinking you’re not good enough, you’re not worthy, you don’t belong. For crying out loud, stay angry and work yourself up into more anger!
- DON’T talk to the person you’re struggling with. DON’T ask for help. Stop any impulse to practice going back to your breath. Forget Thich Nhat Hanh‘s suggestions to be gentle with your anger, to take good care of it, holding it like a crying baby. Run after the one you think put your house on fire, and DON’T try to quench the fire. You carry a slip of Thich-Nhat-Hanh’s-mindfulness-anger-steps? [1. I breathe in, I breathe out. Say “Darling, I suffer, I’m angry.”, 2. Breathe in, breathe out. Say “I’m trying, I’m really trying.” 3. Breathe in, breathe out. Say “I need your help and support.”??] This is THE time to tear it up and THROW it away! Remember you’re trying to do something unmindfully with your anger, not something beneficial.
- Disconnect from the person you blame. Make sure they know you’re angry, but DON’T engage with them.
- Pick up a big, sharp knife. Start cutting something hard and slippery. A butternut squash will do.
- Start cutting. Fast. Put all your anger in the cutting. Fire up thoughts about the wrongness of your loved one.
- DON’T pay attention to what you’re doing. Be absorbed by your angry thoughts. Drown in them. DON’T watch how the knife slips away and chops off your finger top.
- Watch the bleeding. Blame your husband. Blame yourself.
- Stop. Embrace yourself with compassion. See how strong and habitual your anger patterns are. You failed to hold your anger mindfully. You failed. You contributed to harm. Don’t make it worse by blaming and being angry. Use this experience as a wake-up call to interrupt these habitual, unconscious patterns. Glue the scraps of the slip of Thich-Nhat-Hanh’s-mindfulness-anger-steps together. Bring your attention to your breath. Apologize. Tell your husband you’re suffering. Tell him you’re trying, really trying. Tell him you need help and support. And if you’re lucky, REALLY lucky he will rush to your rescue and heal your bleeding finger.