Rage. Anger. Fury. I don’t know if anyone has genuinely ever solved a problem by being angry. I’m not talking about the idea of using jealousy as fuel, or the heat of intense focus. I mean impotent, pointless rage. Rage because it feels good in that moment.
Anger is the result of a violent clash between your hopes and beliefs about the world, and it’s cold reality. It’s your pointless scream in the face of an uncaring universe. It’s weakness personified.
“Of course our loved ones will disappoint us, naturally our colleagues will fail us, invariably our friends will lie to us. None of this should be a surprise.”
-The School of Life, Great Thinkers
When I was about 17, I got into a stupid argument with my parents. I don’t even know what it was about. All I can remember about it is that I took my anger out by punching a wall, and smashing some stuff up in the garden. Did it help? No. Now I hadn’t just had a big row, but my hand hurt badly and I was in much worse trouble.
I’ve learned a few ways to deal with it since then:
In the short term: Reset your physiology. Stop if you feel the rage bubbling up and breathe deeply, fully. Take ten long, slow breaths. Don’t worry about ‘looking crazy’. Your heart rate will slow, your nervous system will begin to calm down. You’ll come out the other side a much more reasonable human being.
In the mid term: Sam Harris wisely said you can only maintain anger by continually thinking about it. The actual feeling itself only lasts a second. It’s the ruminating that drives you crazy. So get out of your head – sit down and write down what you imagine your ‘worst case scenarios’ to be. Make sure you lay out, in explicit detail, exactly how angry you are, why, and at who. When you’re done, you’ll have had your release – and you can throw the paper away. Burn it. Let it go.
“It is impossible to actually stay angry for any significant amount of time–much less be motivated to range your life or relationships on this basis–without continually being lost in thought about why you should be angry or why you have every right to be angry. You have to stay lost in thought. You literally have to be thinking without knowing you’re thinking. It’s like going back to sleep and getting back into the dream to be angry at one of your dream characters. You have to do that, or let it be done to you over and over again, in order to stay in this state. [In] the moment you become sufficiently mindful (and this can happen long before any of what that I said about selflessness will make sense) you can discover the half life of negative emotions to be really short. And then you’re given some kind of choice, where you can say “well, is it worth being angry here? Is there some ethical purpose by expressing anger? Or is this just me screwing up my life needlessly?”
-Sam Harris, Waking Up Podcast #92
In the long term: Learn to laugh at your problems. As Seneca said, “It is more fitting for a man to laugh at life than to lament over it”. Learn to accept that horrible, difficult things are inevitably and unquestionably going to happen to you, over and over. And laugh in the face of that truth – because nothing can hurt you any more.
On a side note, this is my 100th post on The Ink, and day 43 of my self-imposed ‘100 days of writing’ challenge. Consistency counts.