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Thursday, September 6, 2007

3 Ways to Handle Anger Before Anger Handles You

3 Ways to Handle Anger Before Anger Handles You

"Feelings are much like waves. We can't stop them from coming, but we can choose which one to surf." -Jonatan Mårtensson

In the Western world, we think of strength as big muscles, heavy weights, physical power. But in the ancient Eastern cultures, strength means something entirely different. The yogis think of strength more as an ability to overcome powerful emotions such as anger and jealousy.

In the heat of the moment, a normal person (myself included) will want to lash out. In her song "White Trash Deco," country singer Cynthia Ford catches her husband cheating and responds with anger and jealousy by maxing out his credit cards to misdecorate his house. The words go like this:

So don't write any checks cuz they'll just bounce back
Don't use the credit cards cuz they're all at the max
But don't worry, babe, I spent it all on you
To go along with all the cute little things you do
Oh, I've wanted so long just to wring your neck, oh
Instead I redid your house in White Trash Deco

Is this the best way to respond to anger? Probably not. Can most of us relate to it? Hell, yeah! But if we cultivate the rare ability to overcome powerful emotions, we make better decisions. So much of life comes down to the decisions we make in intense, pivotal moments.

Here are some tips on dealing with anger so you can walk proud on your finest path through life:

1. Remember that anger and love are two sides of the same coin

If you really want love in your life, you must be willing to spend a little time with love's less comfortable relatives, anger and pain. It's common to think that with anger and pain come breakup and divorce. But the bottom line is the more you love someone, the more able they are to piss you off. So be aware: Anger and intense emotion are normal when you truly love and care. Mel McDaniel sings about this two-sided coin in "Anger and Tears":

Anger and tears, anger and tears
Is that all that's left of us after loving all these years
As slowly as love grows how soon it disappears
In a house full of anger and a heart full of tears

Remember, true strength is being able to work through the anger rather than letting the anger work through you.

2. Before you lash out, look within

When you're struggling with anger, it's common to blame others for every little thing. A true sign of strength is taking responsibility for yourself. In "Startin' with Me," Jake Owen comes to a very yogic resolution to dealing with anger:

If I had a dime for half the things I did that didn't make no sense at all
I'd be living a little higher on the hog
If only I'd have known
That later on down the road
I'd look back and not like what I see
I'd have changed a lot of things
Startin' with me

3. Practice feeling without reacting

The 6,000-year old practice of yoga teaches that when you are in challenging situations, you make the best decisions in even the worst of situations if you just breathe and relax. Try it: Lift your arms to the sides of your body and hold them so you form a letter "T." Allow your arms to stay parallel to the ground for 2, 3, even 4 minutes. When your shoulders start to burn, notice that by breathing and relaxing, you gain more endurance. There's very little that physical strength, hustle, and effort can do you for you in this situation. As a famous Zen proverb reads: "Nothing on earth can overcome an absolutely nonresistant person."

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