This morning, anger is on my mind. Not that I’m personally angry, but rather anger as a pervasive emotion.
A case in point. Friday afternoon I was riding with my daughter who is still practicing for her driver’s license, and while leaving her school, we were slowly trying to make our way out of the highly congested school parking lot. We were attempting to merge in to traffic yet no one seemed interested in sharing the road. In fact, when we did manage to find a whisker of space in which to start our merge, the young man we eased in front of was visibly distraught, shaking his head as if we had just robbed him of his last piece of bread. Mind you, every vehicle was traveling at somewhere between 0 and 1 mph, so no one was going anywhere any time soon.
Anger. I see it everywhere and I’m wondering if anger is an epidemic in our culture? I see it while driving on the road, at the sports field, on television, in relationships, on the news, at restaurants, at the airport, and just about anywhere two or more people are trying to get somewhere or get something.
The reality of anger is that in almost every case, the anger is being felt by people who are not in control of their situation.
The irony of anger is that they will never be in control.
We get angry at strangers. We get angry at people who are trying to help us. We get angry at people we love. We get angry at animals. We even get angry at inanimate objects! And for what purpose? When does it ever help? Do we get where we are going any faster? Does our machine start working any better? Does our food start tasting more delicious? Does our wife start loving us more? In my experience, with the very rare exception where anger was an emotional response to some grave danger, anger has only ever served to make my own blood pressure rise, my own stomach hurt, and my own heart ache.
Before I started practicing mindfulness meditation, anger was an emotion that sort of creeped up on me and then suddenly enveloped me, like a rogue wave where one minute all is calm, and the next it’s crashing all over me. But now, I see the wave coming. I feel it in my stomach. I brace myself. Now, rather than drowning in the wave and letting it knock me this way and that, I let it break over me, wash off of me, and flow past me.
How can we export this understanding of anger to everyone in our lives? How can we all begin to recognize it for what it is: often simply an emotional response to the realization of our own impotence? I’m not sure. I do know that the first step is to practice awareness of it in ourselves.
Because while they exist, it is surely the rare person, perhaps only the mentally unhealthy person, who seeks disruption and violence over peace and tranquility. If that’s true, then all of the people – those on the road, in the airport, at the restaurant, at home – should clamor for a cure.
If anger is an epidemic, our own awareness of it might just be the vaccine.