The Intoxication of Anger
whoever keeps firm control
as if with a racing chariot:
I call a master charioteer.
a rein-holder —
For some reason the wording of this makes me smile, in that it feels like a bit of a put-down - are you a master charioteer or just a rein-holder? Ouch! But the point is well made - are we masters of our mind, and able to rein-in our anger with skill, or do we let the horses run out of control?
Make no mistake, anger is addictive. And this isn't just a concept in meditation, it is well known in psychology too. Jean Kim M.D. in Psychology Today says:
[...] anger can lead to similar “rushes” as thrill-seeking activities where danger triggers dopamine reward receptors in the brain, or like other forms of addiction such as gambling, extreme sports, or even drugs like cocaine and methamphetamines. Anger can become its own reward, but like other addictions, the final consequences are dangerous and real, and people follow impulses in the moment without regard to the big picture.The images we saw this week were the extreme examples of people drunk on anger. But let's be careful here, and be sure that we don't just look outward at them. Did we choose to be angry in response, and how did we work with that anger? Did we choose be be master-charioteers and control it, or did we choose to feed our own anger in response?
As a Brit we often joke that there is no problem so big or scary that it can't be solved by a 'nice cup of tea' (famously in the movie 'Sean of the Dead' the very English response to a zombie invasion is to 'have a nice cup of tea and wait for this all to blow over'). And while that is obviously a self-deprecating joke there is truth in it. When anger arises, can you sit with a cup of tea and work with you feelings, or do you choose to doomscroll and feed the anger? Sadly I know I chose the latter a few times this week.
So as we head into another challenging week I'd like to encourage us all to work on our skills as charioteers. We may not be at a place where anger never arises, but we can work on keeping firm control. Maybe with a nice cup of tea.
I have linked below a fully guided half-hour meditation on working with anger. A few of us have committed to press 'play' on this together at 7pm PT on Sunday, January 10th. You are welcome to join us then, or of course listen at any time.
"Kodhavagga: Anger" (Dhp XVII), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (BCBS Edition), 30 November 2013, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/kn/dhp/dhp.17.than.html .