Choice is a wonderful thing! Surprisingly, many of us go through life not realizing we actually have choice about most things that happen in our life.
Stop and think for a minute – about life, your life. What’s been happening? Is it the life you want to have? Is your behaviour supporting the best you, is it supporting your journey towards being the best you possible? Often it isn’t and, while we sometimes realize this is the case, we rarely know what to do about it!
Let’s talk about this a little.
Each day we are provided with many opportunities that can allow us to move forward in the process of transforming into our best selves – I call it choosing between life and death! That does sound a bit dramatic, but each time we make a choice about something, even something small, we choose the good for us or the not good for us – and when we choose something that is not good it doesn’t lead to growth and life. I think we all realize that. In fact, rather than moving us forward and towards our better self, our choices may take us in a seemingly never-ending circle where our actions and choices lead us nowhere but to where we’ve already been. It’s during these moments that awareness can be the first step towards change.
Awareness is when we realize what we are doing. We are able to stand back from ourselves, noticing our reactions, actions, and choices and not get caught up in them. It’s as though we are an observer who has no attachment or concern about what we are doing.
Awareness is the first step to change because it means we are aware that change needs to happen – without it change is impossible. With awareness comes understanding of what we are doing and why we are doing it, and once this happens, and we see the truth behind our behaviours, and realize that they just do not support our best self, it makes it difficult not to change! And, we also realize that we are the only ones who can change us. It’s up to us if we want to grow and be transformed.
Awareness brings freedom – it allows us to see that we can play a part in changing our lives; in creating the life we want to have. Whether aware of it or not, our behaviours and choices are ours to make. Our past and present don’t have to dictate what happens to us in the future when we choose to be aware. We can move beyond old limitations, make new choices and take new actions. With awareness our journey becomes a forward one rather than a continuing around the mountain, and it opens us up to new and creative experiences, a new way of being. Through awareness we continue to consciously grow into our best self as our mind is renewed and our brain changes.
When we lived in Ecuador, road rage wasn’t a term in common use. However, we frequently saw angry people do dangerous things because of perceived or real incidents on the road. One afternoon, late in the day, a close friend and her family were waiting to cross a very busy four-lane road. A car pulled out from behind a taxi and zipped in front of the taxi to stop at the red light – not unusual. The taxi driver leapt out of the car, shouting expletives at the driver who had dared to cut in front of him. It was horrifying for her to see him waving a gun around – this was not usual - and to imagine them all being shot dead because someone didn’t like losing prime position for taking off from the lights!
The object of the taxista’s rage at first pretended he didn’t see the taxi driver, and then suddenly he leapt from his car and attempted to knock the gun from the taxi driver’s hand. It was a blur after that; a shot fired, people screamed, car horns honked, and there was a man lying on the ground. The taxi driver jumped into the man’s car and drove off. I don’t know if he was ever apprehended. The man who was shot did survive, perhaps because there was a hospital not far from where the incident occurred. I wonder if he ever dared drive a car again.
So this is how wars start, I think, as I remember that incident, while at the same time reflecting on the havoc anger has wreaked in my own life at times. There would be very few who can honestly say they never get angry.
Every day I am reminded of the destruction anger causes. I only have to watch the news or read a paper. And if you choose to watch television you will find that many of the popular shows are about angry, vengeful people - one of the reasons I don't watch it!. A few years ago I was supporting my daughter in a custody case and took time to watch, and listen to, the people milling around waiting for their hour in the courtroom. Dark, threatening looks flashed back and forth across the waiting area while savagely destructive words were muttered and hissed in intense conversations amongst supporters of the person perceived to be the wronged in the relationship. There were hundreds of angry people in that one building and that was only one of hundreds of buildings where the same scene was being acted out across Australia. Anger and rage is toxic and we need to “guard our hearts”, bearing in mind that all the world’s hatred, rage and violence can be traced back to a single source: us.
Most of us realise, but need to be reminded again and again that our anger is our responsibility. Not the bus driver’s for being late, or our partner’s for being imperfect, or the waitress’s for keeping us waiting to place an order when we are hungry!
Sharon Salzberg tells the story of two wolves: there are two wolves that live inside us and you decide which one grows strong - it is the one you feed. You can watch it here. You can choose what you hang onto, what you feed, and what you let go of. Rather than being controlled by anger, you can be empowered. It just takes practice.
Following are some steps you can take to help you do this:
1) Acknowledge and experience the anger. Many people mistakenly believe they never get angry which usually means they’re suppressing it (about 20% of the general population has levels of hostility and anger that are high enough to be dangerous to their health – that’s one in five people).
2) Feel the anger, which is different to experiencing it. Only then will you discover that anger is an emotion, an arising energy, not the hatred and violence it has the potential to become if we fuel it by dwelling on how we think things are. Feel where it is in the body; notice how your breathing has changed. Doing this helps turn your attention away from whatever it is that’s annoying you back towards yourself, helping defuse what otherwise might be a blind, knee jerk, and emotion-driven response.
3) Analyse why you’re angry. What are the different thoughts that make up all your “stories”? Take those thoughts captive and don’t let them run riot. Which of your buttons are being pushed? If what’s really going on is more about you – and it often is – why lash out?
4) Remind yourself that anger is temporary (unless you feed it) and will pass, just like all the other emotions.
5) Respond wisely to your anger. Having stopped to feel your anger as simply an arising energy, it’s easier to then pause, take a deep breath and consciously decide what you’re going to do next: start yet another war or … make peace.