The first two Noble Truths…
1. Life is suffering
2. Attachment breeds suffering
Anger is one of the most fundamental causes of suffering. Angry outbursts lead to endless of violent acts and sprout mental anguish in victims and aggressors alike. If anger is such a silly thing and causes so many problems, why do we experience it? Where does this force come from? Sometimes it feels as if it arises out of thin air. Rage can engulf a person without any sort of conscious effort. Sometimes it’s carefully directed. But it all arises out of mindlessness and a fundamental misunderstanding.
Anger comes from a mismatch of expectation and reality. It is rooted in a strong clinging to a certain type of reality. People build a mental fantasy of how life is supposed to play out, and when the fantasy inevitably doesn’t match spontaneous reality, it causes suffering. Anger is a reaction of aggression and an attempt to force the world to conform to one’s false ideals. All it does it cause further suffering.
The harder you stomp around, the worse the situation gets. The strongest are those who remain calm and deflective in all situations. They tread lightly instead of panicking and drowning.
We can learn to deal with anger by building mindfulness. Angry outbursts tend to occur more often in situations of mindless indulgence, like when people are drunk or high, in the throes of deep emotional intensity, in passionate romance, etc. Why? These are all external reliances. When we attach ourselves to people, things and ideals, we place an unwinnable bet. Anger is the ego saying, “Why can’t I be the center of the universe?”
Contrary to what New Age people might tell you, things will not go your way. Your way does not exist. There is a way, but it has nothing and everything to do with you. You can’t force it or control it; all you can do is either choose to let it guide you along, or stubbornly swim against the current. Only direct experience can teach us how to deal with non-attachment properly. The more we resist, the worse off we are.
So, when you get angry, try asking yourself that question: “Why can’t I be the center of the universe? Why can’t I get what I want right now?” You can step back and ponder this idea, and you’ll come up with plenty of answers. Getting what you want is absurd in a universal sense. The world doesn’t owe you anything. The universe is not a benevolent humanistic place that cares about your petty desires. It’s just a place. It exists and has no conception of right or wrong. Shit happens.
We can learn to deal with the failure of reality to meet our expectations. We shouldn’t aim to lower our expectations but instead to eliminate them entirely. They are delusional. We can build mindfulness and presentness— and subsequently cultivate an attitude of independence to outcomes— or we can suffer. Suffering, with the exception of physical illness or severe tragedy, is usually a choice.
Next time you get angry, try to will yourself to step back and reflect. Meditation teaches us to step back from our thoughts, to realize that they are not real. Your subjectivity can sink you into depths of emotional torment and suffering. To practice mindfulness is to climb out of the hole of subjectivity and look around, if only briefly. We can work to be present and allow ourselves to see the true nature of things, with no attachment, no suffering, and especially no anger.