To really watch something, such as how anger affects you, you have to plant yourself firmly in the present moment.
The past and the future, where our thoughts so often dwell, must be abandoned in favor of the here and now.
This is the place you are anyway, and where your life is lived out.
How to stay in the present moment?
You do this by following the ways listed below.
By deciding to do it:
You decide you want to understand the heart of the struggle, to fully experience everything that happens when you get angry. You can make this choice any time and commit to it.
Listen to your body:
The second way to stay in the present is by listening to your body. This is achieved by noticing your breathing, your beating heart, your posture, and your areas of tension.
You observe any significant sensations in your body: areas that hurt or feel hot, heavy, or shaky.
This is not an easy skill to learn, which is why you will be given exercises throughout this book for you to practice everyday, so that you can apply these skills when anger arises.
If you want to apply these skills in the heat of the moment, it’s best to practice them at other times first.
Keeping track of your conscious mind:
The third way to stay in the present is to notice and keep track of your conscious mind; your thoughts, emotions, and drives. Throughout an anger episode, you need to keep asking yourself these questions:
- What am I feeling besides anger?
- What judgments am I making—what good or bad; right or wrong thoughts are going through my mind?
- What am I driven to do right now?
Use simple phrases to remind yourself:
The final strategy for staying in the present is to use a simple phrase to remind yourself of your role as observer. Something such as, “Listen and watch; do not judge.”
For the observer, there is no right or wrong—there is just seeing and learning. And if you find yourself judging, then simply observe that—without judging the judging. In the end, a judgment is just another thought.
What an observer can observe?
- As an observer you can simply observe what is going on (your experience) without having to take sides or decide what is good or bad, right or wrong.
- Being an observer allows you to end the struggle; it’s one way of dropping the rope in your tug-of-war with anger.
However, this is easier said than done.
Anger thoughts versus feelings:
- Anger thoughts and feelings are so strong and powerful that they can seem to rule you.
- In the moment you experience them, anger thoughts and feelings are difficult to distinguish from your own separate identity.
- It becomes difficult to see that, while thoughts, worries, and feelings are part of you, they aren’t you. They come and go. You don’t own them. You can’t make them go away if you dislike them. You can’t hold on to them, even if you like them.
- A “good” thought such as “I am confident” is not more like you than a “bad” thought such as “I’d like to hit this guy.” They are both part of you, and they come and go all by themselves.
Try to think of yourself as being like a house. Just as a house provides the space for people to live in along with all their furniture and other belongings, we provide the space in which our experiences can occur.
The structure of the house remains the same, regardless of who lives in it, how it’s furnished, or how it’s decorated. The house doesn’t care about who lives in it, how people furnish it, or what they think or feel. The house simply provides the space in which all that living can occur.
Mental DVD-to recover anger experience:
Sometimes it is impossible to watch and pay attention to everything that is happening during one of your anger episodes. Things just move too fast and furiously. You get swept in to the anger and stop noticing key thoughts and feelings.
But you still want to understand what happened; to look beneath the surface of that anger and see what’s hidden there. Mental DVD is an effective technique for recovering forgotten details of a recent anger experience.
Following mental DVD technique:
- Begin by closing your eyes and taking a deep breath. As you release it, try to let some of the tension flow out of your body.
- Now imagine a white circle of light just above your head—kind of like an oversized halo. The circle of light starts to descend, first surrounding the top of your head, then moving down to your face, neck, and shoulders.
- Try to relax each part of your body as the circle passes. Take another deep breath and watch the circle descend to your hops, thighs, and calves, then disappear beneath your feet.
- With your body more relaxed, take one last deep breath, and focus your attention on the anger episode you want to understand.
- Start in the middle—where you’re fully angry—and imagine you are watching everything on a DVD.
- Observe the scene for a minute. You’re really angry. On this disk, there’s a voice-over of your thoughts—listen to what is going on in your mind.
- Now hit the button that takes you back to the beginning of the episode, before the anger started. Press Play.
- Watch the action; listen to what is being said. What are you feeling in that moment before the anger? Are you hurt, ashamed, scared, hopeless, guilty, feeling wrong or unworthy? Pay attention to your posture and your voice.
- Try to make contact with what is happening inside you just before the anger erupts.
- Now watch any memories or images that have been triggered. What are your thoughts? Do you have trigger thoughts that paint the other person or the situation as bad or wrong? Keep listening until you hear the words of this inner voice.
- Now the anger is coming. Watch as it grows. Notice what if feels like, what it makes you want to do.
- Be aware of any impulses to speak or act on your anger. Don’t do anything about your feelings. Just be the house and let your feelings be. Just observe them.