I don’t know about you, but I haven’t met a lot of angry yogis. I’m not referring to yogis who get angry. I’m talking about yogis who are angry at their core. It’s not that anger is not a characteristic of yogis (in fact, a lot of us turn to yoga to deal with anger among other emotions), but because dealing with anger like a yoga means learning to work with it, not against it.
Think of an encounter you’ve had with someone who is angry because he or she has been treated badly. Or maybe the anger is directed at God or the universe because the person gives a non-compliant higher power responsibility for his or her suffering.
How do you react to such a person?
Anger Gets Counterproductive Quickly
My guess is you don’t like to be around anyone who is angry for very long. If you’re a sensitive, empathetic person, you may feel for the angry woman or man, especially if you witness the slight or mistreatment that triggered the anger. Maybe you even try to help, which is great, as long as you’re not fueling the flames. Hopefully you help the person let go of that troubling emotion.
But then something else happens. The person experiences more misfortune (as everyone does), and you see the same wrath again and again. And if you continue your connection, the anger may eventually be directed at you. What gives?
Why do we get angry?
Like all emotions, anger serves a purpose. It’s a warning of sorts. But also like all emotions, we can become too dependent on it. But here’s the truth: Anger does not solve problems; in fact it usually makes the problems we have worse. The angrier we are, the worse our problems get.
Think about it. Your colleague steals your idea. You are incensed. While you are seething, are you productive? No. So hopefully you don’t seethe for long.
But what if you didn’t seethe at all? Well, then it’s possible you’d just let the colleague steal your idea and perhaps you’d become someone who is continually taken advantage of. So dealing with anger well means understanding that it serves a purpose (in this case, it says, “don’t share your ideas with this person”). But—here’s the kicker—anger will only work for you if you let it go, and let it go quickly.
I promise you that every moment you spend angry is a moment you are stealing from your own life. Human beings are not attracted to anger. And as humans, we are social beings who depend on each other to thrive. We can all find reasons to be angry all the time. We need to learn how to work with that anger and take responsibility for our actions at the same time.
Anger does not just hurt you socially and professionally. It also causes physical harm. It raises your blood pressure, weakens your hurt, and pumps your system with cortisol (which leads to a host of other problems). When it gets out of control, anger basically renders you unable to function, unable to move forward, unable to thrive.
As yogis, we often think that we can’t be angry. We may try to push the feeling of anger away before we even feel it fully, but this is as unhelpful as holding on to anger for too long. Problems occur when we get used to being angry, and in particular blaming people, circumstances and systems around us for our own suffering. When we do this, we’re missing something key.
If no one or nothing in the universe ever gave you a reason to be angry, you’d still be responsible for your own happiness.
You cannot be happy, successful, or content if you think you’re not because of all the things that make you angry. And further, many of the things that make you angry may incense you not because you are a victim, but because you’ve made a habit of getting angry.
No matter how many terrible things happen in your life, anger alone will not solve your problems. You will also need to be a person that attracts the attention, support, and “good karma” that leads to happiness. Dealing with anger is not easy, especially if you’ve had a lot of setbacks, but there’s really no way around it. Good fortune is not just about luck (though luck does help).
Dealing with Anger
No one’s life is perfect all the time. In order to make any situation you face better, you need to be part of the solution. And that means taking responsibility for your actions, whether you have reasons to be angry or not.
So, yes, be angry when you need to be, but first be sure that you need to be. Then be careful where you direct that anger, who you blame, and how fiercely you hold on to your role as victim. All of those things only hurt you. Use anger as fuel for action, and burn that fuel quickly.
Perhaps one of the best guidelines for dealing with anger (as well as hurt, disappointment, and other misfortunes) is in the words of the Serenity Prayer:
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I can’t change, the power to change the things I can, and the wisdom the know the difference.
There are lots of things to be angry about, but in the end, anger is not a requirement; it is an option. Choose wisely.