Anger, Alcohol, and Abstinence
Anger is ubiquitous. Along with jealousy, lust, and envy, it brings about so much of our daily suffering. It can kill you.
It is said in alcoholic circles that ‘Anger is the dubious luxury of other men’. Well, it is neither a luxury nor advisable for any man or woman. Abstinence won’t guarantee your salvation from it. Anger has, sadly, become a part of everyday life for most people. Yet, there are ways that can overcome it, and its most dangerous produce - our reaction.
Here is a little that I have learned from Buddhist studies and from hanging around the traps awhile. I hope you can benefit.
When we get angry at others, our circumstances, or ourselves, it can feel like temporary insanity.
Mostly, I get angry at other people's driving styles and decisions. This has been my greatest teacher and constant pain in the arse.
But anger, like a lot of other negative minds, is a delusion within me. This is the good news, because if the problem is outside my mind, I cannot fix it. There are plenty of Buddhist teachings about overcoming negative minds. It’s a lifetime’s work (or many lifetimes!).
By becoming aware of our delusions, we must be careful not to identify with the delusion.
For example. being angry is not the same as being ‘An angry person’.
In this way, we will not become overwhelmed or discouraged by our anger. We can see that our self-esteem is not effected by the very ‘human’ act of being angry. We all get angry.
Atisha famously engaged a very obnoxious cook just so that he could constantly work on his own delusion of anger.
So, the first step to handling our anger is to acknowledge it without identifying with it.
Fear and Doubt
Often times we might find that our anger stems from fear or doubt. It would be nice to have that realisation at the time that anger arises, but rarely do we have THAT luxury. Author, Tony Fahkry says that,
“we must try to replace fear and doubt with confidence and encouragement. Fear and doubt are dense emotions which have a way of capturing our attention. They are like uninvited guests, who show up for the night and overstay their welcome”.
Getting angry with others that don’t share my view of the world is a common one.
I have actively partaken in forums that are opposed to my views just to see another perspective, but it’s hard. It’s taken nearly 60 years for my ideas to germinate, and they’re hard to budge sometimes. If I take Tony’s advice, then I can stay confident in my perspective without being challenged by another point of view. I might even encourage others to think about things a different way without anger, and together we can engage in some friendly debate - we will both win from the exercise.
1.Breathe, Smile, Go slowly (pause)
3.Turn it over (let go of the result)
There are two ways I like to think about spirituality - vertically and horizontally. It’s a fun thing that I like to practise. Most people are more familiar with vertical spirituality - connected to the earth (downwards) or God (upwards). This is a great way to feel that I am incorporated in creation.
Our earth creates such abundance in nature. God, or our own concept of a Higher Power, is our ethereal creator and sustainer.
And the horizontal spirituality is between all sentient beings. My spiritual connection between us all keeps me from extremes of exceptionalism and separation. Since the problem of anger is inside ME, I can work on the real internal issue and maintain the spiritual connection with the world. But only as long as I am successful.
In times of anger, I can sometimes put aside my reaction to the thing that has angered me just long enough to feel that spirit between my HP and others.
Apparently, even having our feet on the ground has positive benefits here. Once we are connected to others or God, then anger management is made available. It’s a miracle (just a little one!).
We can take a leaf out of Geshe Ben Gungyal’s book. He neither prayed nor meditated in the traditional way, but instead focussed on attentively countering each delusion as it arose. When his mind was free from delusions, then he would enjoy his peaceful and happy mind.
His method was to use black marbles to mark his anger or other delusions and white ones to mark his positive minds. At the end of each day, he would count the marbles to score how he went in his practise. There must be an app for that now, surely!
Whether you identify as an alcoholic or not, anger plays a big part in everyday suffering. We alcoholics ran to the bar with any excuse, and anger was a favourite. Without a justifiable drink available, what do you do now?
Well, the bad news is, drinking isn’t a good solution for anything. When anger arises, we all have a reaction. Usually, our impulses too good in that moment, so a better strategy for us all, is to pause, act and let go.
The pausing bit will take the greatest amount of effort. Thich Nhat Hanh’s famous phrase has been my saviour in this recovery. “Breathe, smile, go slowly”. Then we can think about the next right thing to do.
Finally, having a spiritual connection to others and a Higher Power has served well for billions since the dawn of time. Exercise your right to be wrong and help a fellow sentient being to feel the connection to the cosmos today. Choose a little peace and quiet in the face of suffering. You will boost your own esteem and strengthen your connection with a Higher Power in the process.