Cooling Off Anger

My last blog was about making this month of November more joyful. However, an eruption of anger one morning took me by surprise at its intensity and refusal to be calmed.

It was a busy Saturday with Jessica home for the weekend from university. She took advantage of a break after a tough set of mid-terms to come home. We planned to make our traditional holiday cookies (snickerdoodles), watch a Christmas movie, and decorate her mini tree with the ornaments she’s collected over the years. It was her ‘taste of Christmas’ before final exams. I was excited to have her home, and as much as I wanted to jump into the day, I took some time to meditate – to set a tone of joy.

I told the girls to give me twenty minutes. I went to the spare bedroom, closed the door, sat comfortably, set a timer, lit a candle, and closed my eyes. I thought briefly if I should have locked the door because Sophia will seek me out if she needs something, and it feels like it happens just when I carve out some time for myself. However, I could hear the girls talking in the living room, and I rationalized they would respect my meditation time.

Halfway through, I heard, “Mommy, are you in there?”

“Please,” I thought,” don’t come in – you know I wanted to have this time.”

Then I heard the handle press down and felt this rush of annoyance. I knew I was being a bit dramatic and tried to will the frustration away. (That didn’t go so well.) Still, I kept my eyes closed and hoped the interrupter would leave, which they did.

I tried returning to mindful breathing, but my mind started going off, the thoughts getting angrier and louder. I had just read about a meditation technique to turn towards the feelings that arise, be curious, and watch them fully.

What came were thoughts like, “Sophia never gives me space. She takes away my peace of mind.” I practiced asking, “Is it true?” and knew instantly it wasn’t. Even this admission didn’t take away the anger, but it cooled a bit.

I watched my feelings and saw how they shifted, almost like they wanted me to learn something.

One insight arose that I’m not the only parent who sometimes fails and thinks negatively of their children, and I should be a little less demanding to be a perfect parent.

Another insight was to look at the root cause of this cascade of angry emotions. I realized I felt smothered as a child and hated when people crossed my boundaries.

I gave compassion to the inner child and let them know it’s okay for my children to need me. I gave compassion to my image of being a mother and let her know it’s okay to want space as a mom. Caring for the inner child and the inner mother was what I needed to do this morning, and the anger faded away until I could barely sense it.

It wasn’t just that I willed a positive attitude – I healed something. This process of responding to anger with compassion takes practice, but it pays off in a more peaceful life.

Sunita Alves

I went downstairs, thankful I wasn’t angry because kids often pick up on a parent’s emotional state. I wondered what was so important, but I was determined to ask Sophia kindly without traces of annoyance in my voice. When I walked into the living room, just before I spoke, Jessica said, “Sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt your meditation!”

Oh. My. I blamed the wrong kid.

I knew truthfully if I had opened my eyes when the bedroom door opened and saw it was Jessica, I would have been more forgiving – because I was so filled with joy for having her home for a few days. But I assumed it was Sophia because we annoy each other as some daughters and mothers do. My assumption wasn’t valid, but it didn’t matter. My stomach, solar plexus, heart area, and the base of my throat all tensed up, and I felt the effects of anger. This experience gave me a first-hand lesson on a universal truth.

The body’s truth is what the mind thinks – regardless if the thought process is based on reality. It makes no difference – if the mind believes, the body feels accordingly. Positive for positive. Negative for negative.

Sunita Alves

The truth of this statement hit me between the eyes. My body truthfully suffered from the false thoughts my mind produced. It was only through my meditation practice that I diffused the suffering and brought positivity back to my heart. Imagine if I had stormed into the living room full of anger at Sophia and tried to walk it back once I knew I was wrong. I would have tainted the day and likely worsened my relationship with my younger daughter. After Jessica set the record straight, I told the girls of my fury in meditation. I finally acknowledged something to Sophia that she had tried to communicate to me many times– that I did wrongfully accuse her of things. I could tell she was a bit surprised I could finally see something I had refused to believe. Funnily enough, I think it bonded us more because I wasn’t a mother discounting her daughter’s dissenting opinion – I was a mother willing to see her daughter’s viewpoint.

These are the gifts, fruits, or boons of meditation–to cool off anger and see past egoic assumptions. And we pay it forward when we use our heart space to heal any negativity we have brushed aside or pushed down.

Sunita Alves

Once I spoke this truth and admitted to both girls that I would try to do better in my assumption-making, we had a great weekend filled with way too much cookie-eating and positive memories. Even Harvey the Doodle liked the cookies, but we had to say no to this face (well, he did get a few crumbs).

Harvey’s “Please More Treats” Face

This experience reminds me to pause when difficult emotions arise because (1) they might not be based in reality, and (2) they might hold a deeper truth that can bring more integrity into the relationships that truly matter.

As we head into December, the month of peace on earth, do the work of mindfully sitting with turbulent emotions – see if there is a message of peace-making or compassion-building within them.