Guard against anger erupting in your speech;
Be restrained with your speech.
Letting go of verbal misconduct,
Practice good conduct with your speech.
Dhammapada v. 232, translated by Gil Fronsdal
We move now from guarding against anger erupting in our bodies to a new location – our speech. Of course, body, speech and mind are intimately related, and we can have no strong emotion without all three being involved. But for the sake of learning, we look at these three separately.
The hierarchy of harm that anger can motivate goes from body (hitting), to speech (harsh words), to mind (our thoughts mostly hurt ourselves). However, in my experience, controlling anger in speech is the most important line of defense. We can almost always hold back from hitting people, but we can’t, with our will, prevent ourselves from feeling the sensations that anger in the mind brings forth in our bodies. So there we are, blood boiling, mind roiling – yet, we may be able to stop words of anger from coming out of our mouths. This is so important – powerful memories are made of strong words as much as physical actions.
I use the extreme example because it is easiest to see. Most of the time we are dealing with a more subterranean form of anger; often we’re not even aware of it until we say something sharp. Sometimes anger just feels like general upset or mild unease, or even a holding back of energy. This is the form we have to be alert to by monitoring our physical/mental state throughout the day. We can’t be happy all the time, but we can know how we are feeling at any time.
Sometimes I put suppressed angry words to paper (or computer). In that form, often, their absurdity becomes apparent. It is always some form of “you did me wrong!” without consideration of the other person’s mental state and pressures and distortions in thinking, or the fact that we all do careless things from time to time and cause more hurt than we intended. It becomes possible not to take things personally. There are no doubt other methods for processing anger in a skillful way; but all methods require reflection and humility.