balancing the fire

Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.
— Mark Twain

It is said that anger is the single greatest source of stress, imbalance and unhappiness. The seed of anger lies within us all. One’s ability to be aware of anger when it rises within, as well as how one generally responds to people, events and situations, is a great differentiator amongst leaders in all facets of life, including business. Uncontrolled, unconscious anger can be the source of broken dreams, ruined finances, loss of trust and often generates a strong desire to place blame upon someone or something.

How many times have we witnessed a person react with anger to an external event such as a rude driver? This person may suddenly “lose it” in the moment and even carry it with them for the rest of their day. Did the rude driver set out to ruin this person’s day? Was the rude person’s day affected by the driver’s response? Were there any positive outcomes to reacting with anger? Will this outburst change the future behavior of the rude driver? What does this person receive by taking this event or any event personally, as a victim?

We have seen “model”, high-profile, well-coached leaders, athletes, parents and spouses expose their anger, by reacting to an “inappropriate question” or lashing out at someone who has challenged their mental position. We have all seen dreams, relationships and lives destroyed as a consequence of simply losing it in the moment, for even just a moment. Anger is not only an overt expression, it can take on many forms. Based upon our individual life experiences, we may feel that any kind of anger is wrong and therefore deny that it controls any of our reactions; or we may feel uneasy when others express their anger openly. This perception of and reaction to anger, often results in passive aggressive anger. We will examine the destructive nature of this form of anger and discover that it has the potential to be as harmful to ourselves and others as overt violent behavior.

If we thoughtfully examine the times we become angry, what we feel angry about and who is present when our anger arises, we can then begin to recognize safe and productive ways to express our feelings. By accepting that sometimes we experience angry feelings and by giving ourselves permission to feel angry, we free ourselves to feel all of our feelings – not just the angry ones.

A searching self-exploration will help us recognize and understand our anger, as well as the anger of others.

Constantly apply cheerfulness, if for no other reason than because you are on this spiritual path. Have a sense of gratitude to everything, even difficult emotions, because of their potential to wake you up.
— Pema Chödrön


“I have two small boys, twins, who just turned five years old. They are beautiful, entertaining, and all consuming. Every so often they are defiant. So, repeated requests to pick up their toys, or come to the table, or get clothes on for school are met with crying, whining and sometimes outright screaming. Anyone who has kids this age knows what I’m talking about.

I have not always responded to this headstrong behavior in positive ways.

One day a couple of years ago, after hauling my boys out of a grocery store because they were misbehaving, I found myself in the parking lot, deep into an emotional tailspin, tears and all. As I struggled to get my tantrum under control so I could get my whaling 3 year-old toddlers into their car seats, I kept asking them, angrily: “Why are you doing this to me?!”

Wow. So not the right question. Asking barely verbal three year-olds “why?” underscores not only my limited parenting skills at the time, but also my lack of awareness, of taking personally what is not under my control.

I learned a lot from that experience, and subsequently, from taking a closer look at my anger. I never thought of myself as an “angry person,” but I have come to understand that irritability, passive aggressiveness, and asking toddlers to explain themselves (and fast!), are all forms of anger.

I see now that the right response to anger is, first, to never act on it. The next right thing to do with anger is to accept it, and finally, to let it go.

As I cultivate a mindful awareness of my emotions, I learn again and again that a flash of anger can pass, that I can take a single breath, and then another. I can open up to the way things are in each moment (even if it’s painful) without wishing anything to be different than it is. This investigation of my anger, coupled with the intention to be kinder and more compassionate, has made more room for happiness in all aspects of my life and work.

Now, whenever I feel anger rising inside me, instead of acting on it, or being resentful about being angry, I bow to it, let it go, and try to respond with a calm, clear and authentic voice that’s rooted in the present moment and the possibility of joy.”

Marianne H., Journalist


Questions for Self-Exploration

The content, structure and flow of this exercise are designed to guide you in:

  • exploring your earliest experiences with anger

  • examining your anger and how you tend to process, express and use it in your daily and business lives

  • recognizing and examining the people and situations that typically provoke your anger

  • applying this knowledge to accept and learn how to positively and productively release your anger