The one who keeps anger in check as it arises,
As one would a careening chariot,
I call a charioteer.
Others are merely rein-holders.
Dhammapada v. 222, translated by Gil Fronsdal
A lively analogy, isn’t it? Particularly apt when you think about people who drive cars with anger, careening in dangerous ways.
In this verse, our anger is like a horse pulling a chariot (our bodies). The horse might have been spooked by something that happened, perhaps something harmless like a dog jumping out or a loud sound. But we know what an out -of-control horse looks like, and we know what our own out-of-control anger feels like. At those times, can we find the reins? Can we feel the energy of the anger and not just let it fly but apply some wise restraint?
One thing we can do is be on guard for the beginning of anger – catch it, recognize it, and see its danger when it’s just budding. My favorite response when I feel anger rising up is simply silence; to feel the burn but not feed it; to let the associated physical sensations become the object of my awareness. Usually only 30 seconds’ silence is enough to defuse the explosion.
Once an anger-fire gets burning, any amount of damage may follow. A stored-up litany of offenses comes pouring out, hurtful words are said (or shouted), things that cannot be undone are sometimes done. Trust between people, fragile at the best of times, is destroyed.
Some people will say that anger is a necessary, psychologically helpful emotion, but I can’t agree; I’ve never seen anything get resolved through anger. Anger just feeds itself into a bigger and bigger flame, circling around and around. Anger only involves the one who is angry, the object of the anger is rarely “taught” anything, except to back away and stay away.
The choices we make when we feel strong emotions will have consequences, will produce good or bad results. Are we rein-holders or charioteers?