“Anger is just anger. It isn’t good. It isn’t bad. It just is. What you do with it is what matters. It’s like anything else. You can use it to build or to destroy. You just have to make the choice.”― Jim Butcher, White Night
On any given day, we experience a veritable melting pot of emotion — feelings that all sentient beings can relate to regardless of colour, creed, or socio-economic background — which always live within us. Innate senses that bind us all together in an emotive connective tissue, joining the entire human race. Despite this universality, these are all completely independent, wonderfully autonomous sensitivities.
There is a beautiful ubiquity in these states of being. Critics cite the six basic emotions as: unadulterated happiness, gut-wrenching sadness, flashes of fear, blazes of destructive anger, absolute disgust and shocking surprise.
On one end of the emotional spectrum, there is what some call the “darker” emotion, and the key to living with it, is the development of understanding. Seeing it, as it is, and accepting such a presence fully devoid of judgment – this is the only way to live in harmony with such feelings.
As a natural state, anger is a physiological and psychological mechanism that occurs when we are: faced with a threat, verbally or physically assaulted, or treated improperly. These occasions can ignite sparks from a once-dormant volcano.
Despite what you may have heard, there is nothing inherently wrong with anger, or any emotion for that matter. It is only the individual’s aggressive response that may either be illegal, or immoral. A hasty and reactive nature, more often than not, results in regrettable actions i.e. lacking foresight, lamenting in hindsight.
Unsurprisingly, pent up hostility has been linked to serious illness. If stored up in the emotive body, it can fester and result in physical ailments such as: heart disease, stroke, gastro-intestinal problems, and in some cases, ‘the big C’. On a hormonal level, an outburst of rage sends sharp spikes of adrenaline and cortisol rushing through the body. Medical professionals now know that prolonged or chronic negative emotional patterns can impinge on living a happy, healthy and fulfilling life. We’ve all heard the old adage “you’ve a chip on your shoulder.”
In romantic relationships, unexpressed anger can trigger a series of knock-on effects that may ultimately lead to the demise of love, that is, unless the couple can be open, moving past it. Stonewalling – one of the reactive faces of anger – presents itself in the shape of: “I’m fine”, “I do not want to talk”, and “end of conversation”.
This reaction is both self-destructive and damaging to the bond that is love. There are two primary sources of all of our emotions: love and fear. Jealousy sprouts from the fear of losing a partner; resentment and bitterness are also faces of the same fear-based coin.
Where do all of these feelings come from? Our ego. In the Buddhist philosophy there are three poisons: anger, greed and ignorance. If the ego indulges in such toxins, this is said to perpetuate samsara – the constant cycle of rebirth, or reincarnation, that is brought on by an attachment to the “I”. When humans cling to the myth of “I” they maintain an attachment to what is essentially false.
We like to think of ourselves as the protagonist in our very own narrative. We walk through our story hand-in-hand with that little internal voice. This voice is the sometimes constant flow of negative thoughts, perceptions and analysis. The internal noise develops opinions on others, lives in the past and in the future, but rarely in the present. As we know, the present is all that actually exists. It is only when we can separate ourselves from the ego that we can truly live and enjoy a free, pure existence.
How can we ensure that our emotions don’t get the better of us? Is it a matter of simply learning how to control feelings? Mindfulness can alleviate the need for control and help us lead a much freer life in which control is not necessary.
Put simply, mindfulness is the age-old practice of awareness without judgment. Think of it as, just letting things happen. Living mindfully can act as an anchor in a stormy sea of fear. Simply stopping for a moment and bringing ourselves back to zero can be the best aid when dealing with an onslaught of difficulties.
“Start living right here, in each present moment. When we stop dwelling on the past or worrying about the future, we’re open to rich sources of information we’ve been missing out on—information that can keep us out of the downward spiral and poised for a richer life.” ― Mark Williams
Benefits of Mindfulness
When a solid, consistent mindfulness practice is utilised, it really does have a positive and long-lasting impact on all areas of life. At a stage when it comes as naturally as your breath, everything around you seems to flow with the tide of life.
Benefits to physical and mental health:
- Relieves stress
- Prevents heart disease
- Lowers blood pressure
- Reduces chronic pain
- Improves sleep cycles
- Alleviates gastrointestinal problems
- Helps sufferers of depression
- Aids in the recovery from substance abuse
- Assists those with eating disorders
Regular practice can also be beneficial to relationships, aid in creativity, and promote compassion and altruism. It has even been shown to improve behaviour in schools and prisons.
So, how can a mindfulness practice be integrated into the daily routine, in order to live a freer existence? How can we remove prejudice and judgement to gently secure our anchor?
A Simple Mindfulness Meditation
Find a quiet space where you won’t be interrupted. Sit upright in a chair, or if it’s comfortable, in full/half lotus; being comfortable and upright is vital.
Grab some of your favourite comfy cushions and a blanket if it’s chilly. If it’s your first time meditating, just try it for ten minutes initially and continue thereafter, should you wish.
When you have established the position, focus on the inward and outward flow of the breath. Naturally, your mind may wander off to the far-distant land of prioritising, making lists and “did I put the trash out?” This is typical of the mind. It always needs to feel like it is being useful and productive, but here in this still and serene space all that your brain needs to be producing is awareness.
Gently pull your attention back to the flow of oxygen, that which gives us life and moves without any conscious effort. Pay heed to the sound of your breath and the sensation of the ribcage rising and falling. If you hear external noises like bird song or traffic, acknowledge the sounds and move along, staying present.
Continue for as long as feels comfortable and hey presto! You’ve successfully practiced a mindfulness meditation. Congratulations!
Paying attention to your breath is one the simplest and most effective methods of developing mindfulness. A constant in life, it is always there whenever the need arises. Feeling the inhalation of oxygen, the movement of the torso, even focusing on the cold air flowing through your nose, are amazing ways to feel grounded in the moment.
“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.” ― Thích Nhất Hạnh
Walk the Walk
Moving the physical body, whether through dance, martial arts, or simply walking, have long been sources for living mindfully. Take a walk out in the great outdoors. Feel the hard ground beneath your feet, or the movement of your bones and joints as the warm sunlight hits your face.
It is not called mindfulness practice for no reason i.e. like any skill it takes dedication and repetition in order to attain the multitude of benefits. While trying to get to grips with riding a bike, children fall. They graze their leg and get one of mom’s magic kisses. The road to developing present-moment clarity will also be filled with potholes that may result in a fall and a grazed knee! Simply get up, without judgement and bring focus back to the flow.
The connection between mindfulness and emotions can be likened to the element of water.
Cast your mind back to a time when you stood on a golden shore, gazing out upon the vast, untamed ocean while fresh salty air filled your lungs. Remember sensing the water ripples flow between your toes, beneath your feet, all the way back to the heels until your whole foot was submerged?
Pure, alive and absolute in its nature, the sea, like our emotions, is neither good nor bad – it simply is. It is an undying facet of the life experience that we are here to observe, sans-judgment.
From time-to-time, when the winds of difficulty rage, those waves of sensitivity can gather size and momentum. Whole islands can be destroyed in the blink of one reactive eye. However, when that immense body of water is managed correctly, without force, it can provide sustenance and flow to the four corners of the earth.
Life is inevitably going to be lovingly jam-packed with uncomfortable, awkward or emotionally stirring situations. These are generally 100% out of our control. Recognition, observation and letting go are the keys to the door of understanding and happiness; or as Thích Nhất Hạnh suggests –
“Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness. If, in our heart, we still cling to anything – anger, anxiety, or possessions – we cannot be free.”