A few weeks ago, Dr. Brooks posted a blog about love, and the importance on keeping love alive by working on it and cultivating it. This blog was based on teachings by the Vietnamese Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh. It so happens that I was also listening to these same teachings, presented in the audio series Living Without Stress or Fear. Dr. Brooks will be posting a review about this series soon.
Today I would like to share with you some of Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings on working with anger, and how mindfulness can be used to transform anger. Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention on purpose, in a gentle, non-judgmental way. You can develop mindfulness through the practice of sitting meditation and paying attention to the breath, but also through walking meditation and paying attention to the sensation of your feet touching the ground, mindful eating, mindfully doing the dishes, etc. You can use any activity in your life to develop mindfulness.
The way to transform anger, according to Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings, is when you notice that you are angry, to bring in the energy of mindfulness and hold your anger like a mother holding a baby. The idea is not to suppress the anger, or that mindfulness is good and anger is evil and mindfulness has to win the battle with anger, but to tenderly hold the anger with your mindful, non-judgmental attention. Thich Nhat Hanh describes that it is like turning on the air-conditioning in a hot room. The cool air does not chase out the hot air, but the cool air “tenderly embraces” the hot air and after fifteen minutes the room feel a lot cooler and more comfortable. Similarly, by paying kind, non judgmental attention to the emotional feeling of anger, the sensations in your body, but without buying into the thoughts that fuel your anger, you are adding cool air to the heat of your anger. Like a mother tenderly embracing a crying baby, the act of paying loving attention to your anger can help you soothe it.
Below is a video of Thich Nhat Hanh explaining mindfulness.
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