Choosing Nonviolence: Transforming Your Anger into Growth

By BijaB

Anger is an emotion that demands change.

Yoga Sutra, ch. 2, v. 35:

When one perseveres in non-violence, hostility vanishes in their presence.

Nonviolence, as an emotional practice, involves your ability to deal with the feelings of anger and its various subtleties. Anger is an emotion that demands change. When it's left to simmer, it can lead to all kinds of resentment, sulking, tantrums, and irrational fears.

Internalized negativity is the enemy within. No matter what degree of negativity or resistance you have, it is toxic. Chronic irritability or anger that stays in the physiology sends stress hormones throughout the body. Over time it can do a lot of damage. Anger is the emotion that underlies any level of hostility, outrage, or violent behavior, so it must be dealt with immediately and not be denied or ignored.

The good news is that anger itself can give you the feedback necessary to turn it around. If you can recognize and experience your anger simply as a kind of energy, you'll be able to see and then choose another way of feeling and behaving. The key is to come face to face with your intentions of violence, hatred, or fear, and accept them. Be conscious of them. Then you can deal with them. You can neutralize the hostility within you and your environment, break through your anger, and move on. Feeling fully what you feel lets you transform what you feel. When you are transformed, your whole world is transformed.

Use the following self-inquiry for transforming any negative or aggressive behavior:

Choosing Nonviolence

The first step is the most important one. Have the intention of noticing yourself in an agitated state (caused by feelings of anger, jealousy, envy, the need to control, anxiety, etc.) Then, as soon as the feelings of tension come up, try not to judge yourself. Simply observe and notice what you feel. This may be hard to do. But if you can, the moment you begin to notice a strong negative thought or feeling, pause for a conscious moment.

Take a few slow, deep breaths. Then find a quiet place. Sit down and respectfully become aware of yourself and what you're feeling. Include all sensations or negative thoughts, and ask yourself the following questions:

  • What do I think that I don't like thinking? Or, What do I feel that I don't like feeling?

  • Identify the feeling or thought by asking yourself again: What am I unhappy about? or, What am I angry about? Or, What am I uncomfortable about?

  • Once you identify your feelings, clarify them even more: Why am I angry, or uncomfortable, or unhappy about that? Is there a better way I can think or feel?

  • Sustain your questions and continue to see if there is another way to think or feel. If there is a better way, ask yourself: Is it all right if I am not angry, or irritated, or upset, or mad? What would happen then?

There is a skill to recognizing emotional choices. While it's true that one feeling is no less valid than another feeling, the best choices come when you face up to what needs your attention now. If anger is there, discover the how, why, what, when, and where of it. Pretty soon, if you keep on looking and asking yourself why this anger, fear, or sadness is the best way for you to feel, you may see it is the result of what you believe you should feel. If you look, you will see the options. Then you can embrace what feels most inherently right.

In the end, reducing the qualities of violence within you will result in your ability to diminish the hostility around you and to find inner quiet and peaceful action in the most challenging moments. This will open the door to your heart. It will even repair your heart, because the reward for transforming your disturbance is always healing.

At some point, it will become clear that the tensions you feel inside yourself are there ultimately to generate expansion — and love. Properly channeled, they will become the power behind your emotional growth.

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