It helps to understand the source of our angry thoughts and to be able to reframe the experience of dosa (anger/hatred/irritation). But in the moment of anger rising up in us, we need to figure out how to catch it before it overtakes us. For me, it’s like a fire alarm ringing – I hear it, but I’m not sure I have to do anything about it. This is the working edge, recognizing the signs and responding with mindful awareness rather than being carried away by its momentum.
I once met a Tibetan Buddhist nun who taught meditation to incarcerated adults. I asked her how she helped prisoners take responsibility for their actions when they were tempted to react harshly to other people. One technique she mentioned was teaching her students to wait 30 seconds before responding in anger.
When gripped by anger, this 30-second timeout allows us to take control of our own thoughts, an action that can be deeply empowering. Amazingly, the rush of anger rarely lasts for 30 seconds if the light of awareness is shining on it. A 30-second pause is enough time for other thoughts to come up; one or two elements of the wider situation can come into focus; more than one perspective on the conflict may appear. We can register the effects of anger in our own bodies, noticing both their pleasant and unpleasant aspects. The other person involved can start to seem like a human being rather than a demon; there’s even enough space for a glimmer of compassion to appear. Waiting 30 seconds is not a cure-all, but it is a beginning point for the essential practice of patience.
During a self-imposed 30-second wait, a person might consider the consequences of responding without thinking. For a prisoner, the consequences could include disciplinary action, retribution from other prisoners, even physical injury. For any of us, possible consequences could be hurt feelings, damaged relationships, shame at our own behavior, sometimes even violence. Isn’t it worth holding on for 30 seconds to avoid this sort of damage?
Patience is a direct remedy for anger; patience with ourselves as well as with others. We have to expect that until we’re fully awakened (or whatever similar state of perfection is your goal), anger will be present within us. It’s up to us to see it and work with it, one incident at a time.