Overcoming Anger with the Practice of Patience


Whenever we don’t get our way, fail to obtain what we want, see others who have what we want, or get what we don’t want – which means nearly all of the time – we get angry. When we are full of pride and people don’t give us the respect we feel we are due, we get angry. When we are full of jealousy and we see others enjoying the life we want, we get angry. Anger is the default mode for dealing with anything unpleasant we encounter in our lives. Without mental training, anger can easily take over.

Anger is one of the most common and most destructive states of mind we endure. An angry mind focuses attention on a person, situation, or object, feels it to be unattractive, exaggerates its bad qualities, and wishes to push away or harm the person, situation, or object. Anger arises effortlessly; in fact, anger is so easy to generate and maintain that meditating on anger is second nature to most people. Have you ever been angered and thought about the incident over, and over, and over again for hours, days, weeks? Hatred and resentment are the fruits of meditating on anger as are the negative behaviors of spite, retaliation, and harmfulness.

Anger is by nature a painful state of mind. Whenever we develop anger, our peace of mind immediately disappears. Our body becomes tense and uncomfortable, and we are often so restless that we find it difficult to sleep. It’s nearly impossible to enjoy ourselves when we are angry. Generally, when we are angry, we grow more and more miserable, and we can’t control our emotions. Anger is like a fire that spreads until it burns out of control scorching everything – and everyone – in its path.

Anger robs us of our reason and good sense. Wishing to retaliate against those who’ve harmed us, we expose ourselves to personal danger merely for petty revenge. To get even for perceived injustices, we jeopardize our jobs, our relationships, and even the well-being of our family. When anger boils over into full-blown rage, we lose all control of our behavior, and we become capable of hurting other people, even our most cherished loved ones.

Anger is poisonous to all relationships. Habitually angry people are avoided by everyone who knows them. Angry people die bitter and alone, and in their final days, abandoned by everyone, they suffer the despair of their loneliness with only their seething anger and hatred to occupy their minds. Hell is analogous to the final days of an angry mind. Anger is an extremely destructive state of mind that serves no useful purpose at all. Anger isn’t something to be managed; it’s something to be abandoned.

To solve the problem of anger, we first need to recognize the anger within our mind. The seeds of anger are planted every time we find something unpleasant. If we don’t cultivate this seed, it will not sprout and grow into the poisonous fruits of hatred. Just like a fire, it’s much easier to extinguish a spark than it is to fight an inferno. Whenever anger arises, we must apply the opponent power of patience.

Patience is a mind that accepts, fully and happily, anything that occurs. It is much more than just gritting our teeth and putting up with things. Patience is wholeheartedly accepting whatever arises and giving up the idea that things should be other than what they are. Patient acceptance doesn’t mean we don’t try to remedy bad situations. If a situation can be improved, we should do what’s necessary. Patience is about dropping the resistance generated by our anger.

There are two primary practices of patience: (1) patience of not retaliating, and (2) patience of voluntarily enduring suffering. The patience of not retaliating is a commitment to not seek revenge under any circumstances. If our minds know we will never take revenge, it won’t generate vengeful thoughts, and anger will subside. The patience of voluntarily enduring suffering releases our minds from the negative mental judgments that accompany pain or other unpleasant situations. Pain isn’t the problem; resistance to pain is what causes real suffering.

Patience takes practice – lots of practice. Unfortunately, anger gives us plenty of opportunities to practice patience. It takes determination to recognize the negative emotion of anger when it arises, recall its disadvantages, and willfully call upon the opponent, patience, and put it to use. Over time, through the application of the practice of patience, the negative emotions of anger will arise less often, the negative power will diminish, and eventually, anger will stop arising at all.

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I am Anattā. Not my real name, of course, but that’s the point. I selected the moniker Anattā because in Buddhism, my primary spiritual practice, the term anattā refers to the doctrine of “non-self”. In more practical terms, I chose the name Anattā because by writing anonymously, it’s far easier to be completely candid and honest. Further, there is no danger of my writing becoming tainted by any desire for self-aggrandizement. I write primarily to improve my own understanding of these topics, but my deepest desire for writing on this site is to help others.