The more I meditate, the more I see just how easily triggered I can become. It’s not that I’m getting angry any more than I used to, in fact it’s the opposite; but rather I’m aware of the ridiculous number of triggers there can be in a single day. Did I just say triggers? Really? This has become the socially acceptable word for feeling pissed off.
Our anger can have lots of different dance numbers. If you’re willing to pay attention, you can become intimate with the clever and not so clever ways these little boogie-woogie movements can make their appearance. It’s nothing like Dancing With The Stars.
Being a successful psychotherapist, I confess, does not always make this easy to admit, but my dance card is fuller than I would like. My daughter is probably my number one partner. My husband, always ready to do the Tango, is swaying behind as a close second. Arrogance and lack of humility can motion the Cha Cha into full swing. Add clothes tossed on the floor, and the card keeps growing.
Note to Self and everyone reading this: get to know all the Mambos and Rumbas of your not so pretty anger dance.
I’ve written about how important it is in getting to know your own toads - meaning the ways in which we react to our own anger.
It’s important that you learn what actually triggers these toads, and then the ways your toads can hurt others.
My daughter has a more-the-merrier mentality, and I come from the school of ‘less is more.’ She loves a good time, while my idea of a perfect moment is meditation in my sauna. As you might guess, our drastically different approach to seizing the moment can land us on opposite ends of the dance floor.
My friend called last night just as we were easing our way into the bedtime ritual, asking to borrow some milk to make an after dinner shake for her son. “Sure, come on over”, my daughter rejoices. “Can you make me one, too?” She adds. “Of course,” says my friend, who shares the more the merrier motto with my daughter. Within three minutes they are standing in our living room, and as far as I can tell, I am the only one in this party NOT in the party mood. My daughter is standing there ready to do the jig, and I’m seething. “Breathe, breathe, count to ten, twenty, whatever it takes - tape over the mouth, just don’t say a word,” I say to myself.
Earlier that morning we had planned a movie date after I picked her up from camp - just she and I. I couldn’t wait. As I drive up, she runs over and invites her new friend (that she’s known for all of two days) along with the girl’s father (I kid you not). Politely I decline, let it go, and say nothing. After all, we have a date and I don’t want to spoil the mood.
So here we are now at the end of the day, I’ve sent our friends home with raw milk in hand and I can feel my toads wanting to take a spin. But I’m on my best behavior because she has been “triggering” me so often the past few days, and I can’t bare another discussion where I see her eyes rolling back into her head as the life force leaves the room.
“ I think we should consider seeing a therapist,” I blurt out. Best laid plans. Toads, toads, toads.
“Noooo. You CAN’T be serious! YOU’RE a therapist. YOU help us. I WON’T go,” she responds emphatically.
At least there is one of us acting like an adult.
Let me give a few additional examples of the ways we act out, just to see if you recognize yourself anywhere.
The most obvious for some is lashing out when angry, (even in the name of truth) which can feel so good and oh so bad in the very same moment.
Withdrawing your love from others when you’re triggered, and the holier than thou attitude of how much more conscious it is than screaming things that you will later regret.
Lying and sneaking – even if it’s for there own good – or for yours.
Blaming – because of course it’s always their fault.
Mind games – like when the therapist mom says to her daughter that they should go to therapy. Good God.
The more we are attached to something (say, needing my daughter to ask me before inviting people over just before bedtime), the more likely it is to make us angry when we perceive a threat to the object of attachment (my daughter being asleep quickly so I can curl up and read my book). And in an instance, the toads can destroy all the positive yummy imprints created over 1000 eons, or at least for that day.
Anger destroys peace of mind. I know it does mine.
The medicine for our anger comes to us when we develop both patience and tolerance. Anger acts as the single obstacle to the development of patience. And patience is the medicine. Cultivating this a revolutionary act that goes against our knee-jerk reaction to harden our hearts when we get annoyed, hurt, and afraid.
When I'm talking about patience or tolerance, you should understand that there are varying degrees, such as being able to tolerate a certain amount of discomfort - say heat and cold, hunger pangs, digestive stuff…to progressing toward the highest level of patience - which is to remain in a state of equanimity regardless of your stressors.
Like when you’re exhausted and your child wants to throw a smoothie party just before bedtime, and starts running around like a wild banshee for the five millionth time. Being able to hold calm in these moments would be considered the, “I see the light” of patience.
How do we become less prone to strong reactive emotions? The motto is simple, yet the work is anything but: Discipline your mind.
Healing your anger is a process and does not happen overnight.
It’s like the notion of beginning a meditation practice in the middle of a panic attack. Not such a good idea. Having expectations of immediate results can set you up to be disappointed, and perhaps more angry. And please, we certainly don’t need that.
I don’t believe in the possibility of only one way or solution to any problem. You want to draw extensively from the whole shebang of inner resources. Get to know the things that help you to pause, like having the wherewithal to walk out of a room before you suggest therapy to your nine year old. Whatever works best, use it.
Is it true that people who are angry have less joy in their lives? You might not really feel that that's the case, so it would be interesting every time you get angry or anytime aggression arises to actually ask, “Is this making me happy? Am I feeling joy right now?”
It’s important to find out for yourself if what's being said here is true so that when you're experiencing tumultuous relationships, or losing friends, or whatever is happening, you know that your habitual ways of responding do not work for you any longer.
We have a plaque in our living room that says, “Love is my religion.” But loving is the easy part. Taming the toads from leaping out of my mouth, NO MATTER WHAT is trigging them, is the trickier part.
Let's call it, Dancing With Your Toads. And like anything worthwhile, it takes patience my friend.