“If you are angry and you meditate to get rid of your anger, you will only frustrate yourself. Meditate because you are angry, not to eliminate it. Thich Nhat Hanh says we must learn how to hold anger like a baby: we need to learn how to be angry, not how to express or repress it. Whenever we take any emotion and make it into an It (as in “I can’t stand it any longer” or “I have to get it out of my system”), we are in trouble. Anger is a sign that something needs to change. … Learning to use anger is no easy task. Yet the alternative — letting anger use us — makes us prisoners of our own minds. Anger is not the enemy, and we’re not helpless in the face of it. It is only an energy — one that, with practice, we can harness for our good.~ Mark Epstein
I was walking with a patient today who reported shock and awe at his newfound ability to be with his emotions, rather than being used by his emotions. He wanted to know what was going on; he wondered if this change was partly due to his new mindfulness practice.
His mindfulness practice was helping him not cling to what he liked (pleasant) and not condemn what he didn’t like (unpleasant). For example, if you’re driving in Memphis and someone cuts you off; that’s unpleasant and you would instinctively have an angry response. But the thing is, that’s happening all the time and if you have an angry response too often, then you become a nightmare yourself.
A mindfulness practice helps you see that the stimulus, which is someone cutting you off, is different; it’s distinct from your emotional reaction to that thing. Someone could cut you off; you could feel the anger, but you don’t have to act on the anger. Instead of being driven by your reactions there’s a little bit of room where you can choose to be a different kind of person.
It was easy for me to see how mindfulness was helping my patient tolerate the aspects of the external world and the internal world that before where hard for him to face. He said he would keep up his practice.