When dark clouds rush across the sky, you instinctively pull your jacket collar tighter against the falling temperature. You do what you can to comfort yourself when the sun is temporarily obscured. The sun is hidden but not gone. We know it will return. The discomfort of the storm is temporary. Knowing this we can watch the storm in awe and wonder. In the same way when rage shows up it is temporary. It comes and goes, only temporarily obscuring the innate well being and wisdom we all possess. Rage will pass: innate well-being is a constant.
What is rage?
Rage is an emotion. A highly stoked, physically felt emotion. People talk about seeing red, feeling possessed by something, being unable to control themselves. If you’ve been on the receiving end, you know how scary it can be to witness rage. What isn’t always understood is that the person manifesting the rage can also be full of fear, another visceral emotion. But what is the source of such powerful emotion?
Where does rage come from?
The Three Principles of Mind Consciousness and Thought, as expressed by Sydney Banks tell us that our feelings are only ever a reflection of our thinking in the moment. So rage comes from our thinking in the moment.
What kind of thinking could provoke such a powerful emotion?
That’s a tricky question to answer. Anyone who has experienced sudden and explosive rage, will tell you there is no time to notice its onset. It seems to appear from nowhere.
Traditional anger management self-help books will suggest you try to notice the thoughts and feelings that precede rage: the tensing of the neck muscles, the shallow breathing and the tightening of the chest; the irritation rising. This advice is unhelpful if one minute you are minding your own business and the next you are in a towering rage.
Those who experience explosive rage will struggle to explain the cause. They may say it was the over flowing bin or because another person wasn’t listening or didn’t understand or was thoughtless but even to themselves, these reasons sound hollow.
Deep down they likely know the response is out of proportion to the supposed trigger.
With an understanding of the Three Principles there is no such thing as ‘a trigger’ out there. As all of our felt experience is coming from our thinking in the moment, it isn’t what anyone does or doesn’t do or say that causes the rage, it is our thinking about what is happening.
The thinking may not even be about something in the present moment. It could be thinking about a past event.
The thinking that can provoke sudden, explosive rage, can be hidden, submerged. There can be no tangible, verbalised ‘thought’ expressed as a neat sentence. Rather a mini tsunami of thoughts and feelings rise, it seems, instantaneously, resulting in the experience of the emotion we call rage.
Just as people talk about an iceberg of thoughts with only a small proportion in our conscious awareness so a similar analogy has been used for anger or rage. The illustration below shows what might be lurking under the surface of the rage you are experiencing or facing in someone you love.
Any number of thoughts could be producing that range of emotions but from my experience fear is often a major culprit.
Fear that our wellbeing is under threat: either from without: the gas bill the government, your partner or loved one or from within – you fear you are not okay, you are damaged, you are not loved, you are not worthy of love, you can’t cope.
That fear may not be expressed as a coherent thought in the moment but it lies at the root of so much anger. At a superficial level we may feel disrespected, not heard, powerless but very quickly a dreadful feeling of desolation will kick in behind the rage especially if we realise the behaviour is not helping.
Why do we think rage is coming from out there?
That fear about our own wholeness comes from a fundamental misunderstanding of where our wellbeing comes from. According to the Three Principles we have innate wellbeing. At our essence, our core we are whole and healthy. This isn’t at the level of the physical body but the spark, essence or spirit of ourselves that lies beyond the physical. That is inviolate. It cannot be damaged or undermined by our parents, our partners, our children, the government or anyone else. Neither can it be undermined by our own thinking unless we take that thinking seriously, believe what it is telling us and act on it.
There seems to be a conundrum in this, I know.
We see daily evidence on our screens and perhaps in our own heads too of the damage we humans do, to ourselves and to others. According to the first World Health Organisation report on suicide prevention in 2004, more than 800 000 people die by suicide every year – around one person every 40 seconds. More people die from suicide worldwide than from war. Clearly thoughts can be immensely powerful (if we give them life).
Never underestimate the power of thought.
Yet I believe no-one gets up in the morning with the intention to cause misery and suffering for themselves or others.
Culturally and educationally we have been told our wellbeing comes from outside of ourselves yet at the same time and in direct contradiction that if we are not happy with our lot, we should ‘just pull ourselves together’.
The truth, as ever, lies somewhere buried in this apparent conundrum. From a quiet, settled, clear mind we are likely to make choices that propagate peace and joy for ourselves and others. Many of our thoughts are not telling us anything useful or true about ourselves, the world or other people. Left to their own devices, thoughts pass through our minds. We don’t have to listen to them or act on them. We are not our thoughts. Thoughts are not real until we give them life.
How do we realise where wellbeing is coming from?
When we realise we have innate well-being within. We’ve always had it. It is what we come from. And when we realise our experience is only ever created by our thought in the moment, we see we don’t need to be afraid of our emotions.
What happens when we realise where our wellbeing is coming from?
Once we realise our experience is only ever created by our thought in the moment we find we begin to notice our thinking. And we see we don’t need to worry about any of our thoughts, we relax and from the place of relaxation we might look more towards the ‘nice feeling’ thoughts and act on those rather than the yucky and crappy thoughts.
The moment you realise you are not experiencing what’s out there but simply your thinking in any given moment, you’ve already loosened your grip on that thinking.
You might be wondering, if someone provokes you, how can you not angry? Surely to not get angry would be acting like a doormat? There is a lovely story in the Lotus Sutra of a Buddhist monk known as Bodhisattva Never Disparaging. He took his name from the fact he treated everyone he met with reverence, seeing in each person the innate potential for enlightenment.
This was sometimes met with hostility and people would scorn him and throw rocks and stones at him. Bodhisattva Never Disparaging would move out of range but bow respectfully.
When we too can see beyond the momentary thinking of ourselves and others (and the subsequent actions), it gives us the clarity and wisdom to know how to act. We can choose to ‘step out of range’ rather than either picking up the rocks and hurling them back or just standing in the firing line and being pelted.
Just as you know dark clouds overhead mean a spell of bad weather but the sun will come out again, so too even powerful emotions are only passing through. The less we invest in the story they are trying to tell us, the quicker they pass and the quicker we return to our natural state which is one of wellbeing and peace.
Juliet Fay is a facilitator working for social change. With New York author and transformational coach, Mary Schiller, she runs programmes for families in conflict and social care workers experiencing stress and burnout. Their work is based on the Three Principles as expressed by Sydney Banks.
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