Some people will cling to angry emotions the same way that an alcoholic clings to alcoholism, as though it is a disease, as though they will never step out from under its shadow. In AA meetings I have heard that members will state their name followed by, “and I am an alcoholic”. There must be some use in this practice. Perhaps they hold memories of the ill times in their life close to their heart to remind them how easily they can relapse.
My feeling is this: we are not defined by our past and we limit our ability to grow if we hang on to dusty definitions that stem from unskillful moments in our lives. I will never open a conversation by saying, “My name is Jason, and I’m pissed off!” Yes I may still be sifting through feelings of anger, but I am not angry. Yes you may want a drink, but if you haven’t picked up a beer in 15 years you are not an alcoholic!
It is a shame that we define ourselves by the emotions that we feel. Because you feel angry, does not mean you are an angry person. Because it rains for a week in the desert, does not mean it is no longer a desert. And because it is a desert does not mean flowers can’t bloom from its soil. Anger can become rich soil for the blossoming of our greatest potential. The rise of anger creates an opportunity to listen to the deeper dimensions of our heart. It is an opportunity to heal, to feel and to see with clarity our imbalances. When we make the decision to cool the coals of anger and move toward peace and when we hold on to that decision, our un-peaceful parts begin to rise to the surface to be healed. We hand down a great injustice to ourselves when we judge and label our fragile and vulnerable emotions surrendering to the altar of consciousness. Those tender parts are joining the peace movement. Give them the space they deserve.
You don’t have to be angry simply because you feel anger. Indulging in those feelings or pushing them away only makes them stronger the next time they return. Spending time with them like an old friend weakens their hold on you. Anger is an old friend that has guided me toward peace. By cultivating the ability to listen to anger and irritation, I began to understand that it is present in me not so that I may destroy my life, but so that I can heal. It is suffering within us that wants us to look more closely, to listen, and to mend. Only when we have the courage to lesson our reactions and increase our ability to stop and listen to our anger do we begin the process of transforming it into love.