The first of the “Four Noble Truths” which the Buddha taught was that "Life is suffering.” He did not mean that all of life is suffering, but rather that suffering is unavoidable in life. All of us experience suffering we have no control over such as loss of a loved one, being laid off from a job, illnesses, etc. Then there is suffering that we create ourselves. You may think, ‘wait, I don’t do that!’ Often though, we actually create suffering for ourselves without even realizing that we are doing it. The most common way is when we create our own anger.
Anger occurs when we demand (meaning have to, no choice), that life and other people play by our rules. These may be unspoken rules in our own minds or we might actually tell others about it. When we believe people and circumstances must or should operate the way we think they should and they don’t comply, we create our own suffering. For example, it is common for teenage boys to have the unrealistic rule or demand that says “you have to respect me.” In reality, there is no rule that anyone actually “has to” respect you or anyone else. This unrealistic belief or demand can sometimes result in verbal or even physical altercations when not complied with.
Consider this the next time you get angry. Look for the rule in your own mind that other people, or life, has violated. Become aware of the sensations in your body as the anger builds. Connect those sensations with your own habitual thought pattern that is telling you that other people, or life must revolve around you, in order for you to get the sense of self you want. To calm yourself down, try to recall and accept the fact that no one has to play by your rules. Tell yourself, “It would be nice if the world revolved around me, I would prefer everyone play by my rules, but they don’t have to.” Stay in the present moment; become aware of what is happening in your body as it gradually and slowly calms down. The more you practice this the easier it will become. It will likely never become extremely easy, but it can become a new habitual pattern.
So, the first step in reducing suffering and better controlling your anger is stop demanding that life and other people play by your rules. In other words, stop demanding that reality not be reality. When you use anger to get someone to change their behaviors, then you are simply saying ‘I cannot control myself, so I must control you, so that I can control myself.’ A better way is to ask yourself: If this person doesn’t respect me, how am I harmed? The real answer is that you are harmed only when your sense of competency and adequacy is dependent on the other person giving you the positive sense of self you crave. We are better, healthier, when we begin to see our own strengths and good qualities, and stop depending on other people to give us the story of who we are. Step 2 – to be continued.
Jim Runnels is a retired Licensed Professional Counselor and advocate of evidence-based education and supporter of the health benefits of a whole food plant-based, active lifestyle, to achieve optimal health.The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Texoma Marketing and Media Group.