We are currently looking at the five traditional hindrances to meditation. These are five challenges that often come up, and seem to get in the way of our meditation practice. These are: craving and desire; anger and ill-will; restlessness and anxiety; sloth and torpor; and doubt and indecision. This week we will be exploring the second of these in more detail:
Anger and Ill-will
Firstly, is anger necessarily a bad thing? Is it wrong to feel angry? As a counsellor I feel that anger is often important and necessary. Indeed, many of us feel unable to feel and express anger, and this can be problematic. Perhaps you were criticized as a child for expressing anger and were told that this was ‘naughty’? This can leave us feeling guilt and shame for simply experiencing our emotions. It is also important to recognize when we have a choice. We don’t choose the initial feelings of anger – so we have nothing to feel guilty about – but we do have a choice about how to respond. We can feed the anger or we can respond in a way that is more compassionate, more constructive, and more mindful:
1. Cultivate the opposite.
If we are feeling anger towards another person, why not try and focus on anything that you might appreciate about them. This doesn’t mean denying your irritation, but making a choice to focus on something else. Or perhaps you can focus on a sense of compassion for them – often people behave in a way that we don’t like because they are suffering in some way. Reminding ourselves of this can help to cultivate compassion.
2. Be kind to yourself!
Anger and ill-will can feel very unpleasant. It is a form of suffering. Acknowledge that this is unpleasant but is also normal. Instead of criticizing yourself, see if you can imagine your breath as soothing the fire of your anger, and bringing comfort.
3. Reflect on the consequences.
What would happen if you fed your anger? What would happen if you acted on your ill-will? Would this lead to further suffering? When we feed our anger, it makes it easier to become angry again – we are paving the way for further anger. Our brains are ultimately lazy and we repeat familiar patterns. Every time we feel angry we have a choice about what to do with it.
4. Become fascinated
Anger is a strong emotion that we can feel in the body. We can observe these sensations with interest and curiosity. Notice your heart rate, notice any sense of tension, and notice how these sensations change, moment-by-moment. In this way, your anger becomes part of your meditation, rather than a distraction from it. Instead of breathing against your anger, investigate your anger and breathe with it.
5. Plan a course of action.
Perhaps you are angry because of something that is unresolved and some action needs to be taken. Meditation is not necessarily the time to do this! However, if you are particularly distracted then you might keep a notebook beside you and pause your practice for a moment to write down a course of action. Maybe there is somebody you need to speak to, to raise your concerns. And your meditation can help you to raise your concerns in a more thoughtful and measured way, rather than reacting.
Next week we will be looking at the third hindrance: restlessness and anxiety.