Asking for Help with Our Anger

Asking for Help with Our Anger

Discussion date: Thu, Dec 07, 2023 at our weekly Thursday evening practice

Dear Still Water Friends,

This Thursday Evening we will explore the Fourth Mindfulness Training, Loving Speech and Deep Listening:

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I am committed to cultivating loving speech and compassionate listening in order to relieve suffering and to promote reconciliation and peace in myself and among other people, ethnic and religious groups, and nations. Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I am committed to speaking truthfully using words that inspire confidence, joy, and hope. When anger is manifesting in me, I am determined not to speak. I will practice mindful breathing and walking in order to recognize and to look deeply into my anger. I know that the roots of anger can be found in my wrong perceptions and lack of understanding of the suffering in myself and in the other person. I will speak and listen in a way that can help myself and the other person to transform suffering and see the way out of difficult situations. I am determined not to spread news that I do not know to be certain and not to utter words that can cause division or discord. I will practice Right Diligence to nourish my capacity for understanding, love, joy, and inclusiveness, and gradually transform anger, violence, and fear that lie deep in my consciousness.

Loving speech and deep listening are important aspirations for me. Much of the time, I strive to use kind words, or at least refrain from saying things that are hurtful or divisive. But when I am angry, this intention is not just challenging but can be forgotten altogether. The smoldering of hurt and flash of outrage can easily obscure my aspirations around loving speech.

Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay) writes about the impact of anger when describing The Six Mantras of Loving Speech in The Art of Communicating:

But when someone you love says something that feels critical or dismissive, you suffer deeply. If we suffer, and we don’t look deeply into our suffering and find compassion for ourselves and the other person, we may want to punish the person who hurt us because he or she has dared to make us suffer. When we suffer, we think it’s the other person’s fault for not appreciating us enough or loving us enough. Many of us have a natural tendency to want to punish the other person. One way we think of punishing the other person is to show that we can survive without him or her. Many of us have made this mistake. I myself have also made that mistake.

In this passage, Thay observes that we are not just hurting another when we push them away in anger; we are also failing to take care of our own hurt feelings.

In fact when we suffer, we need others. When we suffer, we should tell others that we suffer and that we need their help. We usually do the opposite. We don’t want to go and ask for help. That’s why we need the fourth mantra: “I suffer, please help.” It’s so simple, and it’s also a little bit difficult. But if you can bring yourself to pronounce the mantra, right away you suffer less. I guarantee it. So please write that sentence down on a piece of paper the size of a credit card and put it in your wallet. It’s a magic formula: “I suffer. Please help.”

Thay’s suggestion to ask for help when angry is an invaluable reminder for me. When I feel hurt by my loved ones, I sometimes have the urge to retreat with my anger and even hide behind it, like a protective blanket. But it is only by letting down our guard that can we really heal and reconnect. It can be very difficult to be vulnerable with someone we feel hurt by. In a moment of conflict, we may try to protect our sensitive feelings by either retreating or lashing out in anger and blame. It is through our vulnerability, however, that our loved ones are most likely to offer us the caring we crave.

Sure, we must take some care of anger first, to calm and center ourselves enough to be able to ask our loved ones for help. But just calming ourselves and gaining greater clarity on the origins of our anger is not always enough. Sometimes we need help from the very person who has triggered the anger in us. I have found that this practice of learning how to take care of my anger, with mindful breathing and walking, and then asking for help with it, has been invaluable to strengthening my relationships with others.

On Thursday evening, after our sitting meditation, we’ll have the opportunity to share our experiences with the Fourth Mindfulness Training. Here are some questions to consider:

  • What parts of the training on Loving Speech and Deep Listening especially resonate with you? Why?
  • Are there aspects of the training that are particularly challenging for you?
  • How do you take care of your anger, both within yourself and in your relationships?

You are warmly invited to join us!

The Six Mantras of Loving Speech and an additional excerpt on anger are below.

Warm wishes,

Rachel Phillips-Anderson

The Six Mantras of Loving Speech from The Art of Communicating by Thich Nhat Hanh

I am here for you.
I know you are there, and it makes me very happy.
I know you suffer, and that is why I am here for you.
I suffer, and I want you to know it. I am doing my best. Please help.
This is a happy moment.
You are partly right.

From Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames by Thich Nhat Hanh 

Anger is like a howling baby, suffering and crying. The baby needs his mother to embrace him. You are the mother for your baby, your anger. The moment you begin to practice breathing mindfully in and out, you have the energy of a mother, to cradle and embrace the baby. Just embracing your anger, just breathing in and breathing out, that is good enough. The baby will feel relief right away.

in: Dharma Topics
Discussion Date: Thu, Dec 07, 2023


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