The Spiritual Path of Anger
By Michael Ketterhagen, PhD
In the Center’s 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training program and in the sister program, Yoga’s Personal Development program, we have been talking about the Yogic Lifestyle. An important part of that lifestyle is to live a life a free from harming ourselves, others and all of God’s creation by practicing non-violence, that is “ahimsa.”
When we practice ahimsa, we are dedicating ourselves to being completely kind in our words, thoughts and actions to ourselves, others, and all sentient life. It is quite a challenging practice. It is the practice of all the great saints and sages of the world, like Jesus the Christ, The Buddha, Teresa of Calcutta, Francis of Assisi, Mahatma Gandhi, Rumi, Martin Luther King, Jr., etc.
This non-violent way of acting often includes learning to not get angry with ourselves or another person. Medically, we know that anger produces adrenaline flow in the body which adds to our physical stress, especially if that anger continues for a day or so. That additional stress in our lives is destructive of our immune system. At this “coronavirus-time” we must positively and effectively deal with any anger that might surface in our lives. Doing this will keep us healthier, too.
This “Safe-at-home” time is a great opportunity to use our anger as a way to develop ourselves spiritually. We could take the time to reflect on any anger that pops up in our lives.
First, anger is a secondary emotion. There is another emotion/feeling that precedes anger. It could be embarrassment, hurt, sadness, fear, worry, or any number of negative emotions. Anger arises in our emotional world whenever we blame either ourselves, another person, or God for the underlying feeling. Any time we think that another responsible for our feelings, we are automatically activating the feeling of anger.
Therefore, when we feel this anger we have an opportunity to go inside and find out who we are blaming and why? Usually, it is because of the thought that another person, or God, or even our self is to blame for the initial feeling and usually the initial feeling is triggered because we think that our identity and dignity have been violated. We think that our basic needs in life have been threatened and we feel sad, or hurt, or worried, or fearful about this. Then we blame the one we hold responsible.
Why do we hold someone responsible for this threat? Because we think our security, or our pleasure, or our personal power is no longer being honored. Because we identify with our security, our pleasures, and our power, we get angry.
This is great learning. We now know that it is our thinking about who we are that is the problem. This is very helpful because we can begin to decide whether we want to hold to the way we think about ourselves or let it go.
Experiencing our anger is a wonderful opportunity to know ourselves at a much deeper level. It is a blessing! It may even help us realize that we may be identifying with a personality quality or characteristic that is not very helpful and needs to be changed.
Maybe we learn that we are identifying with trivial stuff and that we are much “bigger” than that, that we are truly a loving, kind, and compassionate being.
What a great learning! Anger can lead to spiritual growth if we stop and look deep within.