White Hot Anger

One of the lessons of my meditation practice involves letting go of anger. Instead of embracing it,”I am angry,” you pull back and look at it “So that is anger,” and then try to let it go. This doesn’t always work for me, but it came in very handy a few weeks back.

President Obama was coming to town. I knew I wanted to hear him speak, but had not a clue how to go about when, where, or how ¬†and details were not available. So I forgot about it. Then the day before, Phil casually mentioned that tickets were available through the University. Only he hadn’t thought to mention it to me till just then.

My anger flashed white hot. I can’t even remember when I was last that angry. I wanted to rant at him:

“Do you remember that last year I put in days and days and made hundreds and hundreds of phone calls to get this man re-elected, and it never occurred to you that I might like to see him in person?” That was the warmup to the unsaid vituperation.

Fortunately, I delivered a milder version, more bemused than furious, and when he told me there was a lottery and an hours-long wait on a security line, both my annoyance and enthusiasm cooled completely.

But my reaction had been so shockingly intense that I kept thinking about it.

And concluded that first, no matter how long or how well you know a person, you can’t know everything about them. And that includes yourself.

And second, we are inconsistent, even in our consistency. I usually mock the crowds who come out to see celebrities, or Popes, or royalty or Presidents. They are just people like us, right? So how was Phil to ever suspect that this one time I would care, and care so deeply? I didn’t even know myself.

The most useful result, however, was that tapping into what I had learned from Andy (my guru) of “Headspace.” And that was to take a minute and a step back. Look at the situation from a distance. Don’t leap into the fray, and don’t blurt out the first thing that crosses your fevered mind. Give yourself some space, and give the other person some as well.

Another practice is to ask oneself what you expect and hope to gain from the meditation, and later, what you expect others to gain from your meditation practice. In this case it was pretty clear that my being able to control that anger saved Phil (and I) a nasty confrontation.

These lessons probably sound obvious and trite, but the more I reflect on them, the more profound they seem. Anger, perhaps of all our emotions, brings on a hair-trigger response. And the regrets can last a lot longer. Taking a breath is well worth the time and the hurt not delivered does not have to be assuaged.