Urban Sadhu Exploration January 2024
PSY 2.33 vitarka-bādhane pratipakṣa-bhāvanam
Meaning: When oppressed by negative thoughts, feelings, and emotions, cultivate the opposite: positive and uplifting thoughts, feelings, and emotions. – Austin Sanderson
Anger is not useful if expressed as a negative emotional state that is typically associated with hostile thoughts, physiological unrest, and maladaptive behaviors (inability to adjust to situations). Anger can lead to inappropriate and harmful acts toward ourselves and others if this negative emotion festers and goes unmanaged. Anger can be a useful emotion if it is expressed appropriately as part of the “flight, fight, or freeze” reflexes that may arise when our lives are threatened. However, this positive expression is not the kind of anger most of us are trying to overcome in our lives.
Everyone experiences anger, and most anger is generally short-lived. But in today’s culture of social media, seemingly constant conflicts and partisan politics, many people today live in a chronic state of anger – anger that is endless. The long-term physical effects of holding onto anger can be both physically and mentally damaging.
A study published by the American Psychological Association (2019) found that carrying anger into old age is associated with higher levels of inflammation and chronic illness. “We found that experiencing anger daily was related to higher levels of inflammation and chronic illness for people 80 years old and older, but not for younger seniors,” said study co-author Carsten Wrosch, PhD, of Concordia University. The study also found that anger in the elderly was more damaging than loneliness. Another study performed at the Department of Neurology, University of Lübeck, Germany (2021) found that anger reduces our ability to see things from other people’s perspectives. In everyday life, being angry is often associated with irrational decision making – saying things one regrets later and being unable or unwilling to empathize with others.
Experts agree that how we deal with anger is a learned behavior, assuming that it is not stemming from bipolar disorder or any other mental illness. No one is born with chronic anger issues. Rather, chronic anger itself and aggressive responses to anger are both learned behaviors, according to Dr. Harry Mills in a 2005 article on “The Health Cost of Anger.” As children, we learn by copying the behavior of people around us. Anger often runs in families. Frequently, people can think back to parents, grandparents, and other extended family and how they expressed anger. As children we imitate the people around us and often carry this dysfunctional behavior into adulthood.
The good news is that any learned negative behavior – such as anger and violent reactions to anger – can also be unlearned. The key is to first take control of the situation, your mind and its thoughts. In the Yoga Sutras of Patañjali, in Chapter 1.2 he states, yogaḥ citta-vṛtti-nirodhaḥ, which means that to start the process of yoga one must end the “fluctuations” or “storms” of the mind (anger would be one of the types of “storms” he is speaking of). In Chapter 2.33 he goes on to suggest that when negative emotions and thoughts start to arise, we should think and focus on the opposite. He is telling us that we can shift from being an angry person to one of compassion and unconditional love, a peaceful being. The key here is to recognize that we have a choice in our thoughts, feelings, and actions.
Reappraisal of the mind’s negative thoughts and feelings is not about suppression or avoiding negative thoughts, feelings, or actions. Rather it is about checking in, evaluating them, and changing the negative outlook to something more positive, uplifting, and productive. This antithesis of thought patterns is a way of letting go of a paradigm that keep us from yoga, (anger is a klesha, or block in our path to yoga) . Letting go is the key to freeing oneself from excessive anger. Our modern competitive goal-oriented culture focuses on control. Anger is a tactic of controlling a situation and controlling others. Our society rarely teaches us the art of letting go. But by letting go, you will actually gain control over yourself and your mind! Realize that the efforts you make to control others are all in vain. When you become aware of excessive anger within your thought process, you can begin a different dialogue within: “I don’t need this feeling of anger to control this person or situation. Anger is not who I am, I am the master of this feeling of anger, my true nature is that of compassion, unconditional love, supreme happiness, and bliss. I am letting go of anger. I am not an angry person; I am letting go of anger.”
Austin Sanderson – Urban Sadhu