Another beautiful warm Sunday morning in the South ushers in time for some weekly reflection over a cup of hot green tea. Last Sunday morning the call of the trail took me out early, but today I’m practicing some restraint because in about six hours, my running will be on the football pitch and if I run the mountain trails this morning, my legs will be jello on the playing field.
This morning, anger is once again on my mind.
I see it everywhere and I’m wondering if anger is an epidemic? 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 where two or more people are trying to get something or somewhere. The reality of anger is that in almost every case, the anger is being felt by people who are not in control of the 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 better? Does our food start tasting better? 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 as emotion that snuck up on me then enveloped me, like a rogue wave where all of sudden, it’s all over me. But now, I see the wave coming. I feel it. 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 it’s even 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.