Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.
Sadness and anger are often misunderstood human emotions. With our culture and society so bent on having fun and being happy, we’ve turned sadness and anger into the lepers of the emotional world.
Now this is not to say that continued sadness or anger are valid and valuable emotions to dwell on. Not at all.
In fact, if you are sad or angry for too long they can have real adverse effects on our health.
But the full gamut of emotions should be experienced for no other reason than being able to appreciate the more “fun” or happier emotions. If we never experienced sadness would we appreciate or even understand joy, love and happiness? Perhaps not.
But sadness and anger are very often grouped together when they are in fact very different emotions and very often spring from different experiences.
Sadness to a large degree is an emotional response to loss of some kind.
Anger can be a response to loss but it is very often and usually a response to acts of nature, humanity that are beyond our control and frighten or infringe upon our safety or security.
For example, when a beloved pet dies we feel sad because we are experiencing a loss. And most often that loss is a loss of another emotion, very often love and happiness or joy. A dog who loved us and brought great joy to our lives will greatly missed and we will experience sadness at that loss.
A dog that barks at us or bites us will often elicit anger from us as he has frightened us, hurt us or otherwise infringed upon our safety.
And in the example above, the dog could be our own beloved pet who for whatever reason turned on us at that moment.
It is important to experience both sadness and anger but to work through them. A wonderful book that explores anger and how we can learn from it is Thich Nhat Hanh’s Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames.
Neither sadness nor anger is a valuable ally if we allow them to linger longer than we should. The same is true for any emotion.
In fact, the goal of living life as the Buddha suggested is to limit our attachment to things.
It is attachment he suggested that brings about suffering and I’d be inclined to agree.
Attachment to loved ones brings us both joy, love as well as sadness and anger at times. This is not to suggest that we should become unattached to anything, but rather the goal is to learn to dwell as much as we can in equanimity in our response to what life throws at us.
In order to do this, the emotions we experience can help us learn to become more even-keeled as we mature and grow in life.
I find this to be especially true for what we might consider the more “negative” emotions.
Let us see how this might work in learning through sadness. My grandmother passed away some years ago and as such I experienced great sadness. I was very close to her.
If you allow yourself time to swim and dwell in that sadness you can uncover some great truths about yourself. For example, I found that my sadness was increased when I learned that guilt of not having spend as much time with her as I would have liked made feel like a bad person. Or reflection on those occasions when perhaps I was not patient or used curt words with her because she was old.
Learning from this I came to understand more about myself and the importance of letting the little things go.
Practicing virtues is often a very good lesson to be learned from digging through the emotions of anger and sadness.
If we were all more patient and kind and understanding we would be less prone to anger for sure and perhaps also less likely to dwell in the very dark depths of sadness. Sure we would still experience sadness but we would be more resilient in bouncing back from its clutches.
Becoming more self aware is another way of learning through the emotions of anger and sadness.
Taking a minute when we spring to anger when some driver cuts in front of us, we might realize the uselessness of that emotion on that occasion.
Perhaps we felt personally attacked when in fact they might have been distracted and not thinking through their actions. Anger can be helpful when we need to spring to action to help someone or ourselves, but rarely are we put in such situations nowadays.
In summing it up. Allow yourself to experience anger and sadness but dig deeper than the basic and quick response that these emotions elicit. Take a moment to explore them and find the lessons that they are trying to teach. If you take just a minute to do that, not only will you grow as a person but you will learn some valuable insight into how to achieve greater peaces and contentment for longer periods of time.