Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned. – Buddha
There was a story I read long ago called “A Bag of Nails. I cannot remember who wrote the story but it to this day impacts me. The story goes as follows:
A BAG OF NAILS
Once upon a time there was a little boy with a bad temper. His father gave him a bag of nails and told him that every time he lost his temper, he should hammer a nail in the fence. The first day the boy had driven 37 nails into the fence. Unbeknownst to the little boy the number of nails being hammered in daily gradually, dwindled down. He realized it was easier to hold his temper than to drive those nails into the fence.
Finally the day came when the boy didn’t lose his temper at all. He proudly told his father about it and the father suggested that the boy now pull out one nail for each day that he was able to hold his temper. The days passed and the little boy was finally able to tell his father that all the nails were gone. The father took his son by the hand and led him to the fence.
“You have done well, my son, but look at the holes in the fence. The fence will never be the same. When you say things in anger, they leave a scar just like this one. You can put a knife in a man and draw it out, it won’t matter how many times you say ‘I’m sorry’, the wound is still there.”
Patience is key to loosening the knot of anger anger. Ancient wisdom dictates that counting to 100 is the most effective method. However, the most effective method will depend on the actual situation. Especially in this day in age of rush and intense change, patience may not be seen as a positive quality, but take a minute to think impatience can easily give rise to a general feeling of anger.
Realization of the truth of Suffering.
Once one understands that problems and frustration is a basic fact of life, it can reduce our impatience with our own unrealistic expectations. In other words: nothing is perfect, so don’t expect it. If I believe that things should be perfect, it is almost unavoidable to feel disappointed, hurt and angry.
The real reasons for our problems are our own actions, which are in turn caused by our own negative states of mind. If someone makes us angry, it can have a sobering effect if we dare to think that the real reasons for this situation are our own actions, and the person is just a circumstance.
Changing or Accepting.
Basically, we can find ourselves in two types of unpleasant situations: ones we can change and ones we cannot change.
*If I can change the situation, I should do something about it instead of getting all worked-up and angry. Not acting in such a situation will cause frustration in the end.
*If I cannot change the situation, I will have to accept it. If I don’t, it will only lead to frustration and a negative and unpleasant state of mind, which will make the situation only worse.
For reasons unclear to me, Westerners (including myself) appear to have big problems with accepting unpleasant situations which we cannot change. Could this be a result of impatience (a form of anger) with imperfection (an unrealistic expectation)?
For example: someone accuses me of something.
*If it is true, I apparently made a mistake, so I should listen and learn.
*If it is untrue, the other person makes a mistake. So what? Nobody is perfect. I also make mistakes, and it is all too easy to label the other as “enemy”, in which case a helpful discussion or forgiving becomes difficult.
It may also be worthwhile searching for the real underlying reason of the problem. Of special importance is to evaluate one’s own role in the situation: your own fears, insecurity, being very unfriendly, or not being blameless (like leaving home much too late for a meeting and blaming the 5 minutes delay on someone or something else).
Equanimity means that one realizes the basic equality of all beings; others want happiness, just like I do. Others make mistakes just like I do. Others are confused, angry, attached just like I often am. Is the other person happy in this situation, or just struggling like I am?
Be open for the motivation of others to do what causes you problems. Talking it over and being prepared to listen can suddenly make a problem acceptable.
Did you ever notice the difference when a plane or train has much delay and nobody gives any reasons for it? People very quickly become irritated and hostile. Then when the driver or pilot explains there is a technical defect or an accident, suddenly waiting becomes easier.
Ask yourself if this situation is actually important enough to spoil your own and other people’s mood. Is this problem worth getting upset in a life where death can hit me at any moment?
Change Your Motivation.
In the case where a situation is really unacceptable, and the other person needs to be convinced that something is to be done or changed, there is no need to become upset and angry. It is likely much more efficient if you show understanding and try to make the other person understand the need for change. In general, to be really effective one needs to reflect on quite a number of aspects in one’s own mind like; forgiveness, peace of mind, fears, self-acceptance (no acceptance of others is really possible without self-acceptance), habits, prejudices etc.
Last, but certainly not least, meditation can be the ultimate cure to completely eliminating anger from your mind. A simple meditation has been listed below.
Concentrate on the tip of your nose, feel the breath going in and out. At every out-breath count 1, and count from 1 to 10. When you come at 10, simply start at 1 again. Focus all attention on the tip of the nose and the counting. (some 5 minutes)
Release the counting and the concentration on the tip of the nose.