Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Giving Anger a Time Out

After our 35-minute sit in silence tonight, our reading was “You Can’t Stop the Waves but You Can Learn How to Surf” by Jon Kabat-Zinn. His point is that meditation is neither shutting things out or off, but deliberately positioning yourself differently in relationship to them. He says that just as you can’t put a glass plate on the water to calm the waves, you can’t artificially suppress the waves of your mind without creating more tension and inner struggle.

During our discussion, I was struck with the idea that I am unable to fuel the fires of anger while I am sitting quietly, sitting still. I have given up on the idea of totally focusing on breathing, and surrendered to the fact that the most I can hope for is to be able to calmly and rationally process my thoughts in a positive way. If I can adhere to this notion, it means that any anger I sit down with will at worst be put on hold, but perhaps it will actually be dissipated through the act of silent meditation.

Is this perhaps the intention of the forced time out that is so often used with young children to stop wild kicking, biting, or other undesirable behavior? Wouldn’t it be great if we could put a positive spin on this approach to punishment, perhaps saying “Let’s sit together and take 10 deep breaths” as opposed to “You are being banished to time out in the corner for the next 5 minutes”?

The poisons of anger leach into our entire beings, not stopping with our minds or our hearts. I love the idea of putting anger in time out with silent meditation. I love the feeling of peace that results from a silent sit with trusted friends.


Blogger Red said...

Great post! Thanks.

9:54 AM  
Blogger Mother of Invention said...

Excellent ideas here! As a teacher of really young kids, we do a form of this when we put on calm classical music, or I play guitar while the kids are lying on the floor. We sometimes walk them through the typical relaxation steps and you can insert more specific statements regarding calming down and dissolving conflicts/anger, thinking happy thoughts etc. After they gradually, "wake up", we sit in a circle and go around saying positive statements about the person to your left etc. It works amazingly well at any time, as closure to the day or when the class tension needs to be broken.

10:01 AM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Red -- I'm glad you found something here.

MOI -- Why didn't I have a teacher like you? Most of us could have benefitted from an earlier start to anger management. Sitting in a circle and saying positive things about your neighbors is such a constructive thing to do.

11:02 AM  
Blogger Old Lady said...

Never thought of it that way, though most times I do sit still and fume. If I don't I might have a verbal temper tantrum.

2:43 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

OL -- My thought is that if you can sit still, perhaps with your eyes closed, for a period of 20 or 30 minutes, you may be able to cool off and not really need to fume or have a verbal temper tantrum. May not work for everybody.

2:49 PM  
Blogger Kristin said...

You make me want to meditate, to sit quietly and not think for a while. I don't do that much.

4:48 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Kristin -- Since you live on the Hill, maybe you can join us some Wednesday night. I think you'd be amazed by the experience. Let me know if you want details.

5:21 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

Anger is as many have written about it a temporary insanity - including one of my favourite philosophers: Seneca.

"The best course is to reject at once the first incitement to anger, to resist even its small beginnings, and to take pains to avoid falling into anger. If it begins to lead us astray, the return to the safe path is difficult, since, once we admit the emotion and by our own free will grant it any authority, reason becomes of no avail; after that it will do, not whatever you let it, but whatever it chooses." - Seneca

"It is impossible", says Theophrastus, "for a good man not to be angry with bad men." Loically then, the better a man is, the more angry he will be. Quite the contrary, he shall be more peaceable, more free from passion, and less given to hate. - Seneca

I am pretty even headed and not given to wild emotional outbursts (of any sort), though that does not mean I do not have feeling - I simply prefer to be in control of them. Not always possible and when I do let slip a careless comment or word, it seems to have an even greater impact than it would from those who are indiscriminate in what they say. I am not diplomatic as I am far too honest (brutally so, as Sofia constantly reminds me)

The best is simply to walk away and refocus on the issues not the emotions.

As for being unable to fuel anger while you are quietly sitting, it is a motivational trick to get the body into the state you want to be. For example, it is hard to be happy if you walk with stooped shoulders and a frown. If you straighten up and put on a smile, even if it is fake, it is hard to be sad. It exploits the mind-body connection to get the body to influence the mind. So, if you are sitting quietly, then the flared nostrils, heavy breathing, tensed muscles, and wild gaze which often accompany anger are harder to come by.

No, you cannot repress or hide or not feel you feeling, but by understanding them, they become manageable.

Love the graphic.

6:37 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Richard -- I love the lessons in philosophy. I would guess that when you do get angry there is a legitimate reason. We would not be human, however, if we did not feel strong emotions at times, both positive and negative. Anger, mine and that of others, scares me. It always has.

7:00 PM  
Anonymous John said...

Back a long time ago, and for several years, I sat regularly with a zen group in Florida. Your story helped remind me that I miss the practice, and I've already started poking around the house to dig up my old meditation bench. Thanks for the inspiration :-)

6:50 AM  
Blogger Barbara said...

John -- You are more than welcome to join us on Wednesday nights on the Hill. We meet at Healing Arts at 7:30, sit silently for 35 minutes, have a short reading from John Kabat-Zinn's book "Wherever You Go, There You Are", and then you can either make a comment or choose to sit silently until 8:30. It is one of the highlights of my week. And, yes, I too use a meditation bench.

8:27 AM  
Blogger Reya Mellicker said...

Pema Chodron says that anger is a piercing energy that reveals the truth. The trouble happens when a person clings to the anger. Then, she says, it will burn you. Burn is the perfect verb, I think.

It would be interesting for you to take a meditation class sometime, to learn how people focus on their breath, just to compare with with the quiet time of your meditation group which is certainly NOT a bad thing (spending your time quietly thinking) but isn't meditation either.

Thanks for your thoughts, dah-ling.

8:59 AM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Reya -- Don't get me wrong. My approach to meditation is very much focused on breathing. It's not just about sitting still. I use various tricks -- counting breaths, hearing a mantra on the in-breath, a mantra on the out-breath. Sometimes, however, my racing mind refuses to submit to the rhythm of my breath. I have accepted the fact that learning to meditate may well occupy the rest of my breathing days.

3:18 PM  
Blogger Mother of Invention said...

My last comment got "EATEN"!
Thanks, Barbara. I would have benefited greatly from a modern type teacher. Most today really do listen to kids and invite their input as well as foster positive attitudes towards others such as is taught in Character Ed programs. I have loved teaching those as it allows for my expansion and use of creative methods instead of limiting them.

I have never learned to meditate, but I suspect I'm like you. I never have a blank mind..I'm always having thoughts fly in and out every second like at an airport. My friend said I need an air traffic controller to organize them!

10:06 PM  

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