After you lose it

As the Buddha said (in MN21.11), people might speak to you in ways that are “timely or untimely, true or untrue, gentle or harsh, connected with good or with harm”. Words may be spoken with kind intentions or from hateful feelings. You don’t know what will come at you. You can’t expect it always to be nice.

Inevitably, there will be occasions when you become angry. Some event or act will strike you as outrageous, unfair and totally unacceptable. You’ll let fly with words or actions that, even in the moment, you might know are not good. Now what?

Reflect on what happened. What was the immediate trigger for anger arising, and what happened next? Try to assess your own thoughts and emotions honestly. Try to guess what the other party or parties to the encounter were feeling. Put yourself into their shoes. Take the time to see the initial rumbling, gradual growth, and eventual eruption of the angry exchange. What were the essential ingredients, on both sides?

Then reflect on the results for all concerned. What did you do afterwards? Did you take the time to calm down, or did you strike out at the next person you met? Are you still carrying the encounter, replaying it in your mind? Are you looking for an opportunity to restart and continue the argument? And what of the other person? It’s easy to think that her feelings don’t matter, but for everyone, feelings lead to thoughts and actions; so who knows what seeds of future acts, or justifications for future acts, may have been spawned by an angry exchange? Consider the potential harm, present and possibly future, to all concerned.

Next you might try to imagine how a “wise person” would have responded in the situation. If you have a wise person in your life, think of describing the situation to her. What would she have done?

Focus on any aspect you might do better with in the future. Can you imagine managing the situation in a different way if it comes up again? Think it through. Is there at least one incendiary word you could remove from your vocabulary? Is there some expectation you held that you can see, in retrospect, was unreasonable in the situation? Did you misunderstand each other? Can you feel any compassion for the other party to the encounter? Is she, or you, or both of you, stuck in some way that makes this happen repeatedly? Is this someone you need to keep your distance from? Make a study of your own experience, and cultivate small improvements in your responses. Strong habits can be broken, but usually by degrees rather than with one sweeping resolution.

About lynnjkelly

Australian/American. Practicing Buddhist.
This entry was posted in Anger. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to After you lose it

  1. Thank you for this thoughtful post.

    This is why I practice directing my metta phrases toward difficult people in my life, whether it be someone I know personally or a public figure. (In my book, I picked Sarah Palin.) What I find is that by repeating the phrases I’ve settled on, not only do I slowly soften to the person, but I come to see the many things we have in common even if it’s just how tenaciously we’re attached to our views. That in itself gives me something about myself to work on!

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