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By Christopher Hassett
I feel angry all the time, for reasons I’m no longer sure of. I don’t really remember being angry as a child or even as a teenager, but in my adult years it seems I’ve been engaged in a decade-long battle. I fight with my girlfriend. I’m easily angered by my boss and people on the street. I get especially pissed off once I’m behind the wheel. Everything triggers me these days. What can I do?
— Joseph, Queens
There are three things you can do to diminish or entirely uproot your anger. Each one on their own will have a noticeable effect in turning down the heat, but the three together will bring on a dramatic transformation in how you respond to your world.
The first and most immediate way to short-circuit anger is to cut through it mid-attack. Do this the moment you feel your anger beginning to rise by turning your attention away from the object of ire and bringing it back onto yourself. The purpose here is to do nothing other than quietly observe the anger as it stirs inside of you. Habit will make this very difficult to do, since often the last thing we want when we’re angry is to switch over into a state of thoughtful calm. And the truth is, many actually find comfort and satisfaction in their own anger, so to willingly cut through it mid-attack would be much the same, and no less difficult, as an alcoholic setting down his drink mid-sip. But then many successfully do when they recognize their lives are spinning out of control, their relationships are failing, jobs are being lost, and the great metaphysical abyss is moving near. The all-important turning point is always recognition of the problem, which is the very place you’ve commendably arrived at.
The moment your girlfriend or boss or anyone else sets you off, do your best to pull back from the narrow focus on the event and swing that attention immediately back onto yourself. In so doing, try your best to remain objective and calm. Don’t get attached to the anger. In other words, in the same way you might casually notice those first pangs of hunger before sitting down to indulge in a meal, with that same kind of casual observation look at the anger as it begins to brew within.
As noted, this won’t be so easy, but if you know that every day brings with it a situation that sets you off then it might be best to pre-plan or even rehearse the event before it actually occurs. Build in strategies that will help keep you cool and observant when the heated moment arrives. When it does, in those first seconds when you’re just becoming aware that your anger’s been triggered, consciously remind yourself to pull back from the event and notice what’s going on inside yourself. A good transitioning strategy for this would be to first take note of your breathing — feel it as it moves in; feel it as it leaves. Then consciously draw down that attention to wherever the anger feels most alive in your body and simply let it rest there.
With your attention more deeply focused, however brief that may be, observe the the anger as it wells and moves and takes its many forms. Observe its personality and behaviors. Look for its favorite places to hang out. For instance, is it most at home in your head? Does it burn away under the skin of your scalp? Is it lodged in your heart? Does it rise up from your groin? Has it knuckled its way into your fists? Remember, you’re only observing here. What you’re not doing is identifying with the anger or giving it energy or any kind of righteous authority. You’re also not acting on it. Do your best to disconnect from the actual feel of it and, rather, observe it as if you were an old man in a park watching children playing ball. The old man sits amused, detached, observant. If he gets hit with a stray ball he doesn’t get angry. Instead, he smiles and tosses it back, unharmed, unaffected. In this exact way you are watching the child-like anger as it swarms inside of you, knocking things wildly about. Yet, as if you were nothing more than a curious bystander, you remain calmly removed from the general welter, if not even quietly amused at the drama in it all.
And that is all you have to do. Merely observe. Become conscious.
This one practice alone, if you can fully bring it into your experience, will do more to reduce or wholly uproot your anger because it creates a shift in perspective that lifts you into a higher level of consciousness and awareness, which immediately cools the fires of rage. The exercise works equally well even deep into an argument. In fact, especially then, since it can become a calming meditation that brings a welcomed eye to the center of the storm.
Another rarely identified source of anger is the condition of our livers. The liver if weakened by a poor diet will struggle to cleanse away the myriad toxins we take in each day. These toxins over time build up in our bodies and become a kind of fuel for our anger, for they set us in a state of continual dis-ease. Throughout much of history and still in Eastern medicine today, the liver was seen as the seat of our anger. Beyond energy work, such as Reiki or acupuncture, the remedy was always found in diet. So compliment the meditative practice above with a diet that strengthens your liver, which would be one that primarily takes in fresh fruits and green leafy vegetables.
Research is now showing the Western diet to be ruinous to the liver. The liver, however, is the one organ in the body that can regenerate itself. Help it heal by reducing your intake of fried foods, fatty foods, processed foods, corporately manufactured foods, meats, dairy, sugar, alcohol and caffeine. These all put tremendous strain on the liver, slow down its function and eventually weaken it. Reduce protein to the basic needs, especially if the liver has already been compromised (and since you’re struggling with your anger on a daily basis I would hazard a guess it might be). Too much protein in a diet can be very taxing on the liver. Consider a range of about 10% of your total calorie intake each day, which for an individual weighing 160 pounds would be about 60 grams.
Modern farming practices are also gravely problematic for the liver, since the preponderance of chemicals, pesticides, antibiotics, growth hormones, and genetically engineered cell formations found in industrially produced foods have a deleterious impact on it. The liver struggles and largely fails to cleanse these compounds from our bodies, and when it can’t the combination of all those accumulated toxins comes together in the perfect molotov cocktail for anger that might already be itching to ignite. The easy solution here is to buy organic.
Lastly, if you’re really serious about removing anger from your life, though this might be the most difficult of the three, you would help yourself greatly by disconnecting from the full circuit of testosterone-driven media, since it is orchestrated in every way to play on your anger, your sense of righteousness, your insecurities and fears. We’re talking here of any number of talk shows, news shows, sports and reality shows, the body-bludgeoning medical porn of primetime programming, and on and on and on, including the endless barrage of commercials that drive the entire masquerade forward.
Know this: Six corporations own the vast majority of all media outlets in the world. They control nearly everything we see, hear and read. They are the gatekeepers of information and entertainment, and their job is to ramp up our fear, anxiety, anger, as well as send us all the wrong messages about how we should think, feel, eat, and live.
The interest of commercial media is to destabilize us at every turn so that we — afraid, angry, wanting so much more than we have or can ever have — will spend more and more of our hard-earned cash on their products and their crafted lifestyles so that we for a very brief moment can feel better about ourselves and our lives. Your own experience will affirm the truth of this. You need do nothing more than watch, listen and feel. Sit back and observe the circus that is commercial media today. How much violence are you seeing each day — verbal, physical, psychological, potential? How many possible threats are you warned against? How many murders, either fictional or real, spill from their airwaves every minute? How much anger? How many men are either crazed demons reduced to silly fools? How many women are either neutered or wholly unrealized? How many freakishly perfect bodies, lifeless and dull, are our unfortunate eyes subjected to each second?
Most importantly, how does it all make you feel?
Perhaps the only way to truly understand how the totality of media affects you is to disconnect from it for, say, two weeks (one, at the very least). Think of it as going on a diet, except this one is an “information” and “entertainment” diet. Then, at the end of that two weeks, switch it all back on. At that moment, you’ll either find yourself immediately sucked hard to the glass and relieved that the fix is once again back in, or you’ll feel immediately anxious or even ill. There will be no middle ground. The fact that a middle ground doesn’t even exist should tell you that you’re connected in a very unhealthy way to what’s nearly become a living, biological entity. This all-pervasive entity steeps you with more anger than you even know, anger that isn’t even your own. So let it die out there before it can enter you, which will allow for greater success in addressing the anger that actually belongs to you.
Christopher Hassett is a life coach and teacher of self-awareness. You can reach him through his Web site at www.threeperfections.com. Do you have a question you’d like Christopher to respond to in his column? E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.