What is Anger? A Spiritual Solution

By The Spiritual Explorer | Published 12 November, 2016

Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism

Let’s explore the question of what is anger? Being human is not easy. Attempting to lead a spiritual life while consigned to a human body encompasses many challenges. If we were Indian sadhus, we might attempt to undergo severe asceticism.  This asceticism might be in the form of severe privation of eating and drinking. Or it might take the forms of perhaps living in a tree for an extended period of time, immersing oneself in a body of water or perhaps as Mother Theresa did, devoting her whole life to treating the poor and the ill. While it might look simple, I am sure from stories I have heard, that Mother Theresa  encountered many difficult situations and people, which took a toll upon her health. I am sure she also asked herself: what is anger?

Did Mother Theresa get angry?  Similarly as I was listening the other day to a woman quite famed for her chanting recordings, I turned to a friend and said, “Do you think she ever gets angry?” In that case, I was thinking that what seems to me to be a lifetime practice of non-stop chanting has to alleviate or dissolve any anger that arises. My friend assured me that this woman too was human and therefore might be subject to bouts of anger. We both then concluded that this chantress had to have entertained the question of what is anger.

Can frailties disqualify you from the spiritual path?

In retrospect, I don’t think that anger or sadness or even depression disqualifies you from being a saint as many of us on the spiritual path think. Based on years of collaborating and colluding with my fellow spiritual aspirants I have come to think they wish to flick away like  small sweat on their faces, anger or sadness or depression as quickly as they appear. This is so as not to interfere with their so-called upward thrust towards spirituality.  In fact, interestingly enough, even though we think we renounce ambition or materialism, Chogyam Trungpa in his book Spiritual Materialism talks about how we are in danger of bringing those same material ambitions in spiritual form back into our lives under another disguise. The impetus remains the same.

How anger inerferes with my personal life

The other day I noticed that I got angry many times, and was asking myself what is anger anyway? Why does it creep upon me so quickly without warning? I was standing in line waiting to buy something and somebody cut right in front of me. And there it was, anger seeping up to my collarbone in the form of a red flush. I then return home taking what I think is a shortcut only to have a train suddenly interfering with my path forward. Ah,the anger.

And then the piece de resistance as I arrive home. A friend/colleague of mine had not yet acknowledged or apologized for an omission she made when I was working with her on a project. Now that is a deep piece of anger right there. All through the next few days and nights, I think about revenge, sadness and depression. I am not a happy person.

Must one be free of the deadly sins for a spiritual life?

Is it a fallacy to think that one must free oneself of all of these “deadly sins” in order to progress along the spiritual path? I think that if that is true, we would soon become very discouraged as these thoughts appear daily and often in our lives.  I have heard of people so interested so interested in freeing themselves of these deadly sins that the focus results in forgetting their real work, which is doing merit or good in the world.

How compassion soothes the question of what is anger

And I think this is where we perhaps go wrong. As we make our upward trek towards spirituality, some of us forget what that truly means. We do not acknowledge or have compassion for the struggle of overcoming human frailties. Not only human frailties but also situations to which we are born. We lose compassion for both ourselves and others. As Ken Wilbur once said, “Even to think about meditating is a spiritual act.” Even attempting the path is a testament to a sincere aspiration.

Forgiveness as an antidote to anger

Ma Jaya has said, “Anger destroys the moment.” In her book, the 11 Karmic Spaces, she suggests many breaths and practices to overcome the karmic spaces that close our hearts.

Addressing what is anger, Ma Jaya speaks beautifully about forgiveness. She acknowledges it is not an easy task if something is done horribly to you. But she presents two philosophical roads to take with these sentences:: 1. “Forgiveness takes lifetimes.” 2.“Forgiveness happens in a split second.” Ma Jaya says that both are true.

Thoughts of revenge and sadness can come again and again but so can thoughts of forgiveness. She speaks of about the power of hesitation and non-reaction to break the chains of karma.  She suggests that you can use your hate or anger as a practice  for your own heart to grow.

If philosophical and spiritual entreaties do not suffice, some physical consequences might be thought of when anger occurs:

1.Aches and pains, especially in the back and head

2.High blood pressure, which can lead to serious complaints such as a stroke or cardiac arrest.

3.Sleep problems

4.Problems with digestion

5.Skin disorders

6.Impaired immune system.

While appearing to be a unique off-beat conclusion, I open to  the possibility that fear of illness might be a great motivator to rid oneself of anger or any one of what I call the frailties of being human.

If you have a question about “what is anger,” or anything else, you can write me at Ask The Spiritual Explorer.

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