Strategies for Working Mindfully with Anger
A regular client of mine, who happens to live on the other side of the planet, sent me an email last night saying that he was having a particularly challenging day with the presence of unpleasant emotions – especially anger. He then asked a question near and dear to my heart, “Other than working with these emotions during my meditation sit, how can I use this day as an opportunity? Any tips you can give me about “practice in life” that I can do?”
I adore that he saw the potential opportunity here, and this is what I wrote:
"I’m glad you wrote me – yes, everyone has especially challenging days and there are a variety of strategies for working with them.
First of all, though, working with emotions isn’t something to only be done during formal sitting practice. A great deal (possibly the majority) of the time I have worked through and/or shifted “stuck” unpleasant emotions, has been during my day – walking, driving, even during short “pauses” I take during the day. So, if I have not previously sufficiently emphasized the “Mindfulness in life” practice – please let me do so now. It is, for me anyway, an essential foundation of my practice. And you can use any technique you like that works for you. (I tend to default to “Flow” most often – i.e. tune into the movement quality of the physical sensation and allow it to move as it will – helping it “digest.”)
Some other more specific suggestions:
If Anger is the dominant emotion, Movement might prove especially helpful to “unstick” it – especially aerobic exercise like running, elliptical, stair master, and swimming.
Loving Kindness practice can be a bitch to attempt when one is especially angry, so attempting it in an “easy direction” – like to kids, animals, loved ones – can often help “dislodge” stuck emotions directed toward other beings or situations. Sometimes this can also enable one to ultimately directly apply loving kindness (or forgiveness, compassion, understanding) in the direction previously saturated with anger (or another unpleasant emotion.) And loving kindness & compassion towards oneself is an invaluable practice.
Beauty or Nature can act as a lubricant to help stuck unpleasant emotions work through. Getting out in nature or looking at anything you deem especially beautiful may prove helpful. I tend to like to think of nature as having a certain "frequency" that is very healing for us to be near & align with. But simply looking at and appreciating the beauty of it can have a big impact. I have also used art in this way.
Relaxation techniques – when we relax the body it can enable emotions to flow on through the way they are naturally designed to do. And you can always use the “extended out-breath” to activate your parasympathetic nervous system and stop cortisol from flooding your system.
Using the “Matching Frequency” Strategy where you tune into the positive emotion that has the matching frequency & location in the body – and then apply relaxation techniques. [*My next blog post will go into this particular strategy that I developed in more detail, but, for now, let’s say, for example, that the sensations of fear and excitement may occupy the same place in the body – and even have a similar “frequency” (quality of energy) – and by focusing on how the positive emotion tends to manifest, the energy of the challenging emotion can sometimes “convert” to the positive one. Again, more on the specifics of this later.]
One particular suggestion that tends to be helpful when people are feeling “stuck” or particularly intense unpleasant emotions, is to suspend the making of decisions during that time. The bigger the emotion, i.e. less “IQ” that is available for decision-making, or, as my little poem goes:
"As emotions expand, your IQ contracts
– so be smart enough to know you’re stupid and don’t act."
This is not a strategy for helping the emotion move on out, but more of a behavior recommendation."
And these suggestions are what came to mind last night when I responded, but I invite you to comment or add suggestions - and hope you find what I offered to be helpful.