An antidote to anger

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Ultimately, it is meditation that helps you dissolve anger. It pre-empts disappointments we might experience, by having no expectations of others, says CHRISTOPHER MENDONCA.The foundations of the Christian Contemplative tradition date back to the early centuries of Christianity when men and women sought to reorder their lives which had been torn apart and scattered in various directions by the disordering of their emotions. Harking to the deserts of Egypt and Syria, these Desert Fathers and Mothers realised that there were fixed emotional patterns into which their emotions, feelings and states of mind had become embedded.It manifested itself in compulsive cycles of behaviour which took away their freedom and made them dysfunctional.One of the principal faults they encountered was anger. It is perhaps one of the more visible signs of an internal dysfunction and hence there is greater attention paid to dealing with it. Most often, we approach anger as a symptom that causes us much discomfort,especially in our relationships with others. Uncomfortable with the scars it leaves on our psychological countenance, we are sometimes content to apply the equivalent of ‘facial creams’ so that we continue to look ‘fair and lovely’.The anger is often internalised, the outcome of an injunction not to manifest it as part of good manners.When it continues to fester and destroy our physical and psychological health from within,we see the need to get it out of our system.Counselling and therapy then suggest that we must learn to express it, albeit in socially acceptable ways.

The Dalai Lama in conversation with Howard Cutler in his book suggests that if you simply get more and more used to leaving emotions unchecked, letting them happen and just keep expressing them, this usually results in their growth,not their reduction.We cannot overcome anger and hatred simply by expressing them.We need to actively cultivate antidotes to hatred — patience and tolerance.The Dalai Lama’s traditional wisdom is completely consistent with scientific data. Zillmann at the University of Alabama has conducted experiments demonstrating that angry thoughts tend to create a state of physiological arousal that makes us even more prone to anger. Anger builds on anger and as our state of arousal increases,we are more easilytriggered by anger provoking environmental stimuli.

The Desert Fathers and Mothers of early Christianity saw anger in the context of the basic Gospel premise to love our neighbour.They were astute psychologists but worked on a model of the human person that had a spiritual dimension and within that spiritual dimension there fore, a sense that life had an ultimate goal.We are primarily spiritual beings who happen to be human. Life has an ultimate goal beyond the immediate acquisition of happiness and in this context, anger is much more than an emotion that has to be ‘controlled’.Anger prevents us from truly loving others.

The way we learn to love others is to learn to withdraw our projections on them.We often project on to people our expectations of them and think that because they have met our particular need,they are likely to do so always. Building up our image of them we construct and impose on them an illusion,a supposed reality of our own making.We are obviously angry and feel let down when the illusion is dispelled.As Laurence Freeman a Benedictine monk says:“To love others,we cannot condemn them to playing out the roles of our idealised projections”.

Withdrawing those projections is a step towards maturity and something we learn through the practice of meditation. The practice of meditation in Christian Meditation taught by the Desert Fathers and Mothers involves setting aside the images we have of God through the faithful recitation of a single verse, word, a mantra. It is a subtle process of de-mythologising our understanding of God.But if as Christian biblical theology proposes, we are made in the image and likeness of God,then this process needs to be extended to our neighbour as well. If, in meditation, we learn to experience God beyond words,thoughts,images then surely it follows that we must experience the indwelling of God in our neighbour in the same vein.Relationship is thus subtly being transformed into union. Eros mutates into Agape.

Meditation is the antidote to anger. It pre-empts any disappointment we might experience, by having no expectations of others. The encounter with our neighbor thus becomes a common ground we share and not a battleground of two egos, each struggling to assert its superiority. It closes the door to depression which is often the result of accumulated anger turned in on itself.It also prevents this at the other extreme, from becoming the genesis of violence.

Meditation at its root is a de-powering of the ego, not an overpowering of it. It is necessarily nonviolent in nature. Unresolved anger in a strong assertive and aggressive ego is the basic ingredient of a recipe for violence; in a weak, insecure and low-level ego, it is the harbinger of depression. We owe it to ourselves to be wholesome individuals and to make the world around us a safer place.

An antidote to anger1

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