_________________________________________________________________ VOLUME 6, ISSUE 1 PSYCHNEWS INTERNATIONAL May 2001 _________________________________________________________________ SECTION D: ARTICLE TRANSFORMING THE ENERGY OF ANGER Ron Leifer, M.D. ABSTRACT Anger is both a form of suffering and a cause of suffering because the angry person suffers and often inflicts mental, emotional or physical pain on others. From the traditional Buddhist point of view, suffering is generated by three mental factors -- the Three Poisons: Desire, Aversion and Ignorance. To transform the energy of anger it is necessary to understand its mental and physiological dynamics. Anger can be understood and transformed through seven steps: (1) Becoming Aware; (2) Taking Responsibility; (3) Understanding Anger; (4) Reflection; (5) Decision; (6) Relaxation; and (7) Opening the Heart. Anger is a normal human emotion. Our bodies and minds are born with the capacity for anger. We have all experienced the energy of anger rising within us and projected towards us by others. Anger in itself, is neither good nor bad. It can arise in protest against injustice, unfairness, cruelty, and other harms done by humans against each other, against other living beings, and against the earth itself. Anger has fueled just protests and revolutions against tyranny and racism. Anger can make us aware that a grievance must be addressed. Anger can also be the most destructive of the human emotions. When it flames out of control anger can generate aggression and violence. Aggression and violence can occur without anger, as in the technical operations of war and athletic competitions. But all aggression and violence are linked at the root with the emotion of anger. Anger can harm ourselves as well as others. Unexpressed, it can lead to depression. Expressed it can lead to war, murder, physical and mental abuse, and all varieties of vengeance from overt to subtle. The experience of anger itself is painful. No one can be happy while angry. We must understand anger if we are to transform its energy, heal ourselves, repair out broken loves and friendships, and reconcile ourselves with those who may have harmed us, or who are different from us. To solve any problem, physical, mechanical, or human, we must first understand it. To fix a broken car, we must first know something about automobile mechanics. To heal our anger we must first understand ourselves. To understand anger we must open our minds to it. We must look into it honestly and become aware of its causes, dynamics, and remedies. To transform our anger we must transform ourselves. UNDERSTANDING ANGER Anger is a form of suffering because it causes pain to the angry person as well as to his or her victims. It is not possible to be happy while one is angry or to be happy in the company of an angry person. Many people who suffer from anxiety and depression also suffer from their anger. To understand and transform the energy of anger it is helpful to understand the causes of human suffering. In the Buddhist view, these causes are known as The Three Poisons. (For a more detailed discussion see Leifer, 1997). THE THREE POISONS In traditional Buddhist teachings, the causes of human suffering are called "The Three Poisons" - Passion, Aggression and Ignorance. Each of the three has familiar synonyms which will help us to understand their meaning. The first poison is often called by various names such as " Desire", "Greed", "Lust", "Attachment" or "Clinging." The second poison is sometimes also known as "Hatred", "Aggression" or "Aversion". Ignorance is also known as Delusion or Illusion. For the sake of simplicity and conceptual harmony, we shall refer to the Three Poisons as Desire, Aversion and Ignorance. Let us first consider the first two poisons from a western perspective and then consider the third poison in relation to the first two. The first two poisons, Desire and Aversion, are a dialectical, or polar, pair which are best understood in relation to each other. Each pole is fundamentally similar to the other. Yet each pole differs diametrically from the other. Each is a desire. One is the desire to have, the other is the desire to have not. Understanding primal words dialectically, or antithetically, is a pattern in ancient languages. Viewed in this way, the first two poisons, Desire and Aversion, refer to the same polar phenomena that western behaviorists recognize as the basic motivations of the human mind: the desire for pleasure and the aversion to pain. And these are the same fundamental psychological polarities to which Freud referred in his enunciation of The Pleasure Principle. People are motivated by their desire for life, in all its overt and subtle forms, and the desire to avoid death, in its reality and meanings. Powerful as they are in shaping our lives and destinies, we do not see our desires clearly because they are complex, often subtle, and fearsome. Suffice it to say for now that Desire is not only a feeling of wanting accompanied by thoughts and images, it is a way of relating to objects, events, situations, substances, persons, and even to life itself. In its extreme form Desire represents the motive to incorporate and merge with. In its more moderate and subtle forms it represents the desire to move closer to, to associate with, to identify with, to cling and attach to, to mark as a reference point, to use as a source of pleasure, enjoyment and security some external object, event, situation, substance or person. The second poison of Aversion is, antithetical to the first, a set of feelings, thoughts and images but also a way of relating through avoiding, evading, escaping and, failing these, destroying that which it fears, dislikes and hates. In this sense, anger, aggression and hatred are forms of aversion. They differ from milder forms of aversion only in that they are so strong and destructive. Aversions need not be extreme, however. They can take the milder forms of disgust, disapproval, dislike, or disdain. Any repulsion, avoidance, defense or attack against that which is disliked is a form of aversion. Described in this way, it can be seen that the first two poisons represent the fundamental motives of life: to attract and repel, to seek and avoid, to open to and to close to, the phyllic and the phobic, the desires to have and have not. Together, Desire and Aversion represent the fundamental polarity of the universe: attraction and repulsion. While it may seem at first that anger should be understood in the context of the second poison, we shall see that the situation is not so simple. The first two poisons work in such close interaction with each other, that desires may create aversions and aversions may create desires. For example, the desire to have a national identity often involves aversion or antagonism towards other ethnic or political groups in antithetical relationship to whom self is defined. In this sense, recent wars in the Mideast (Jews vs. Arabs), the former Yugoslavia (Serbs vs. Croats etc.), and Northern Ireland (Protestants vs. Catholics), are identity wars. In a contrasting case, the fear or aversion to strange, open spaces may dialectically create the love of the familiar territory of home and the desire to stay home. As a dialectical pair, each pole of Desire and Aversion contains shadows and reflections of its opposite. The third poison, Ignorance, refers to the denial, repression or lack of awareness of the truths of existence and the facts of life, including the social-mental-emotional facts of one's own personal life. Buddhist's call these basic truths "The Three Facts of Existence" -- suffering, impermanence and emptiness. One should carefully reflect on these facts because the denial of them is the basic cause of anger, aggression, and violence. The truth of suffering refers to the fact that all conscious beings inevitably suffer. We all suffer the trauma birth. We all suffer, at times, from not getting what we want. We all suffer, at times, from getting what we don't want. And we all suffer from old age, sickness and death. These facts are difficult for us to accept. The truth of impermanence refers to the fact that all compound objects, including ourselves, are constantly changing and eventually decay, disintegrate and die. Scientists tell us that, someday, even our sun will die. The truth of emptiness refers to the fact that all compound objects lack essential, independent, inherent existence. Everything is composite and, hence, interdependent. Nothing has an intrinsic identity or substance. The failure to understand these facts and to live in harmony with them are the causes of our suffering. The search for eternal life and continuous pleasure and the striving to resist change and find stable reference points creates the conditions for the thoughts, feelings and actions which are the root cause of the suffering we inflict on ourselves and others through anger, aggression, and violence. Ignorance is the key factor in the generation of anger in the sense that it is not merely a lack of awareness, a failure to understand the three facts of existence - the facts of life - it is also the projection on to self and phenomena of something which is not there, namely inherent substance, permanence and eternal happiness. Confused and panicked by our own ineffability, we strive to create the illusion of a solid, immortal self, or ego. In psychoanalysis the term "ego" refers to the executive functions of mind that mediate between the desires and aversions of the "id" and the desires, ideals, aversions, prohibitions, and inhibitions of the super-ego. In ordinary parlance, ego refers to self, to a sense of substantial personal identity, or soul, who ascribes to itself supreme value and importance, and who feels entitled to the selfish pursuit of happiness and the avoidance of discontent, often at the expense of others. THE DYNAMICS OF ORDINARY MIND To understand anger we must understand the ordinary, normal, human mind. In Buddhist parlance, the term "ordinary mind" is used to denote normal mind which is considered "neurotic" as opposed to awakened or enlightened mind. In this usage, "ordinary", "normal" and "neurotic" refer to the same mental qualities since what we consider ordinary, normal mind is usually neurotic. The term "neurotic" has the same general meaning in both Buddhism and psychoanalysis. In psychoanalysis, neurosis refers to conflicts between the desires and aversions of the id and the prescriptions and prohibitions of the super-ego and ego-ideal which the ego struggles to mediate with all kinds of self deceptive maneuvers. The failure to honestly and gracefully resolve these conflicts results in anxiety and other painful neurotic symptoms such as depression, aggression, guilt and shame. Buddhists use the term "neurotic" to refer to a complex of desires, aversions, ego and suffering (Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche, personal communication). To say that ordinary mind is neurotic is to say that it is dominated by the Three Poisons: Desire, Aversion and Ignorance which are the causes of the suffering that we inflict on ourselves and each other. Ordinary mind, or ego, functions in the service of the survival, prosperity, and pleasure of the individual by pursuing the satisfaction of its desires and avoiding or attacking that to which it is aversive. To phrase the same idea differently, ordinary mind functions selfishly in the pursuit of its own pleasure and happiness and the avoidance of its own pain and unhappiness. Ordinary, neurotic mind is like a cocoon in which everything we like and want is inside and everything we don't like, fear and despise is kept on the outside by a secure, defensive wall. We strive mightily to let in only those people, objects and situations that we want, approve, and take delight in. And we try to keep out all the people, objects and situations that we reject, fear and loathe. My cocoon room is me in the sense that it contains all that I desire, hope for, and identify with and has walls and defenses to keep out everything that I don't like, don't want, and don't think of as me or mine. Keeping my room my way is my Happiness Project (Leifer, 1997). The cocoon of ordinary mind consists not only of persons, objects and situations that we cherish but also of our sense of self -- our national, ethnic, group, family and personal identities. It also includes our habitual patterns conditioned by past experiences, conflicts, and traumas, which shape our thoughts, feelings and actions. Our cocoons are our self-territories. We identify with them, defend them, strive to make them safer, more comfortable, and more durable. Any threat to our ego rooms - any perceived possibility of losing what we desire, are attached to, and identify ourselves with or of being invaded, intruded upon, or negated by that which we dislike and fear - is regarded as a threat to our very existence. This is the basic set-up, or psycho- biological context, of anger and aggression. Healing anger requires us to understand the setup of normal mind. This means becoming aware of our selfish desires, aversions and ego defenses. Before we are ready to hear, accept and integrate this understanding, however, we must be willing to look at our anger and to take responsibility for it by turning our attention inward to the mind, which is the source of it. STEP ONE: BECOMING AWARE Understanding our anger is partly intellectual but mostly experiential. It is important to learn about the mental dynamics and physiology of anger but it is more important to look within ourselves at our own experience of anger. Looking within means becoming aware of the activities of our minds, including our feelings. All the world comes to us through our minds, our senses. Our sense data is processed and organized by our minds. And our feelings and actions depend upon how we view ourselves and the world and what we want and don't want from it. Awareness has a healing quality of its own. Looking within means becoming aware of the workings of mind empirically and logically, by direct introspection and logical analysis. The classic Buddhist technique for developing awareness is meditation. The Tibetan word for Buddhist is "nang-ba" - insider, or one who looks within. The Tibetan word for meditation means "becoming familiar with". Meditation is a technique for becoming familiar with our minds and with the nature of mind and of phenomena, including ourselves, as they are perceived by mind. Establishing a meditation practice is the best way to develop awareness and self discipline. Healing anger requires becoming familiar with it. This is tricky because the inner landscape of anger is subtle and complex. At the deepest level, the sheer energy of it is so volcanic that it could come only from the life force in defense of itself, which explains why taming anger seems to be such a Herculean task. Anger is fueled by the energy of frustrated desire and aversions. Our desires and aversions, projected into the future, take the form of "Happiness Projects" - our desires, plans, hopes, visions, and pursuit of happiness and our avoidance of unhappiness. Our frustrated Happiness Projects are the basic motivations of our anger and aggression. When our Happiness Projects are frustrated a cascade of feelings are unleashed -- frustration, humiliation, helplessness, fear, anger and depression. The idea that whatever we think will make us happy is what we will likely suffer from is a difficult pill to swallow. This is why courageous, honest, self-reflection is a necessary condition for understanding and healing anger. STEP TWO: TAKING RESPONSIBILITY Becoming aware of our anger is only the first step, however. We must also take responsibility for it - complete responsibility. This means not blaming anyone or anything else. Our anger is our own, generated by our own minds. This is extremely difficult to do. Our natural tendency is to blame outside factors for our anger -- We tend to believe that if only they didn't exist our anger wouldn't arise. This may be true. If we always had our way we would never become angry. The fact is, however, that anger arises not as a necessary, mechanical reaction to a frustrating outer event but as a mechanism of defense against feeling threatened by our frustrated desires and aversions. Blaming others is an attempt to excuse or justify our anger and, thus, is an evasion of responsibility for it. Taking responsibility for our emotions means not blaming anyone or anything else. Unfortunately, the tendency is for people to make excuses and attempt to justify their anger by blaming other people, social conditions (e.g., poverty or injustice), or mental illness due to past traumas, genetic defects or neurochemical imbalances. This serves only to justify and perpetuate anger. Blaming others may seem justified when the offense is outrageous. But the biblical lesson of Job, indeed of all religious teachers, is that to rage against what is and cannot be changed is the sin of pride (the assertion of ego) which is in itself a cause of suffering. To the degree that we fail to take total responsibility for our anger we cripple our ability to heal it. Taking responsibility for our anger requires us to realize that anger is a function of mind. It originates in the mind and is experienced by the mind. It follows from this that anger can only be healed through the mind. Past history, external circumstances, other people's actions, genetic endowment, and the misfortunes of life are factors in the generation of anger, but they are not the cause of it. This does not mean that frustrating social injustices or inequities should not be addressed and reformed. It means that, ultimately, anger can be reduced and healed only by taming and training the mind. Only the angry person can heal his or her anger. As Buddha said: "No one can wash the hands of another". STEP THREE: UNDERSTANDING ANGER Once we are willing to take responsibility for our anger we are ready to understand its dynamics. Refer to Figure 1 and notice that anger begins in our desires, aversions and self- protective mechanisms. Visualize a situation in which you were angry and asks: "What did I want that I was not getting? What was I getting that I did not want". This is the key question. Reflect on the fact that the more rigid and insistent our desires and aversions the more vulnerable we are to becoming angry and aggressive. On the other hand, the more flexible we are, the more we are willing to give up what we cannot have and to accept what we cannot change, the less likely we are to become angry and aggressive. When our desires are obstructed, our aversions intrude, and our sense of self is violated, we feel frustrated. Frustration is the feeling of a desire and an obstacle to its satisfaction. Things are not as we wish them to be. People differ in the degree of frustration they can tolerate. Indeed, the ability to tolerate frustration is the hallmark of a mature, civilized person. Various factors may influence an individual's ability to tolerate frustration, including temperament and other inherited factors, early overwhelming emotional traumas, training in frustration tolerance or the lack thereof and, most importantly, self-discipline and moral fiber. The experience of frustration has several subtle but significant strands. It is permeated by a powerful feeling of helplessness of which the angry person is often unaware or in denial. Feelings of helplessness are always associated with frustrated desire. Indeed, the feeling of helplessness may be defined as the perceived inability to satisfy one's desires. No desire, no feeling of helplessness. The reader can confirm or falsify this through introspection by recalling a feeling of anger, identifying the feelings of frustration and checking for a simultaneous feeling of helplessness. One of the most important facts about anger which is usually denied and repressed is that the angry person feels helpless. FIGURE 1. THE DYNAMICS OF ANGER AND AGGRESSION DESIRES ARE BIPOLAR I WANT <-> I DON'T WANT I LIKE <-> I DON'T LIKE DESIRE + OBSTRUCTION = FRUSTRATION --> (THIS LEADS TO) FEELINGS OF HELPLESSNESS, VULNERABILITY, FEAR OR ANXIETY --> FIGHT-FLIGHT REACTION --> ANGER --> This fact cannot be emphasized too strongly because when we are angry we are striving and straining to deny our helplessness and to assert its opposite - a sense of mastery, or might, or macho, a word which means power, or might. Indeed, one of the psychological functions of anger is to reduce the sense of danger by denying and repressing the feelings of helplessness and replacing them with feelings of pseudo-power. The power of anger is pseudo because it is born in helplessness and is motivated by the desire to deny feelings of helplessness. Without being aware of the feelings of helplessness that underlie anger, it is extremely difficult to manage the anger energy. It has often been noted that the male of the human species seems more inclined to anger and aggression than the female. Certainly, the historical record would confirm this. The explanation often given is that male and female hormones differ, the male's testosterone, in particular, being associated with aggressive behavior. There is another, compatible explanation, namely, that while women are trained to be helpless, men are trained to deny helplessness and, instead, to assert their power - the tradition of Macho, which means "might" or "power". Thus, while women have benefitted from assertiveness training workshops to overcome feelings and beliefs about helplessness which they have learned, men could benefit from learned helplessness workshops to overcome Macho. Feelings of helplessness give rise to feelings of vulnerability and danger. If one feels helpless to satisfy a desire, one may feel a loss of control over one's life and destiny. This is experienced as a threat to the organism. The experience of threat stimulates the fight-flight reaction which explains the physiology and subjective physical feelings of anger. The question is often debated whether human anger and aggression are innate or learned, whether they are instinctually or culturally determined. In my view, they are both. The capacity for anger and aggression are built into the animal body. Animal aggression is a manifestation of the fight-flight response, an automatic, physiological response to the perception of danger. It involves preparing the body for action - either fight or flight. Physiologically, this involves a neuro-hormonal response which differentially shifts the distribution of blood in order to bring oxygen and nutrients to the muscles and carry wastes away. The heart beats faster, blood pressure rises, respirations increase, metabolism accelerates, the skin becomes flushed to carry away heat, the stomach and intestines are drained of blood (causing the fluttering butterfly feeling in the pit of the stomach) and the muscles become tense and active. In both fight (aggression) and flight (anxiety) neural, hormonal, vascular, respiratory, and metabolic changes prepare the body for muscular activity. The inhibition of muscular activity in human anger, which is due to the moral constraints against aggression, result in the experience of tension which is the hallmark of modern stress. The difference between human and animal anger lies in the difference between the human and the animal mind. The animal becomes aggressive in order to eat, to propagate, and to defend life, family and territory. Human anger and aggression serve not only these animal ends, but also the sublime, selfish, egoic interests of ordinary mind to establish a secure sense of identity and meaning. Human anger is fueled by the selfish-self, striving desperately for happiness by pursuing what it wants, avoiding what it fears and asserting, promoting or defending itself. STEP FOUR: REFLECTION Once one has gained some familiarity with the dynamics of anger, it is then necessary to reflect upon anger as it arises. This is not easy and may not be possible for the beginner. It takes patience and self-discipline. Anger has the capacity to overcome and disable our powers of reflection and logical analysis. To begin, the best most people can do is to reflect on anger after it has subsided. After an incident of anger, as soon as one is able, reflect on it and try to vividly visualize the situation in which the anger occurred. Then ask: "What did I want that I wasn't getting?" "What was I getting that I didn't want?" "How did I feel that my sense of self was being negated?" After the desires have been identified, try to identify the obstructions to the satisfaction of those desires. Once these dynamics have been identified, one can then focus on the complex compound of the feelings of frustration. One must go slowly here. It is essential to become fully aware of the feelings of frustration, vulnerability, helplessness and fear. Focus on each feeling and observe its qualities. Anger involves the denial of these feelings. Healing anger requires opening to them, becoming aware of them, accepting them. The feeling of helplessness, in particular, is a key to anger. The subjective sense of danger aroused by the feeling of helplessness stimulates the fight-flight response. One can check for one's self how feelings of anger blot out feelings of vulnerability, helplessness and fear. STEP FIVE: DECISION Once one has become familiar with the dynamics of anger as it arises, one must make a commitment, an assessment and a decision. The commitment is to not act out feelings of anger, to not repress them, rather to become aware of them, reflect on them and find another way of responding to the underlying feelings of frustration and helplessness. Once one has made this commitment it must be activated the moment one is aware of a rising feeling of anger. This involves the development of self control, as every discipline does. As Pema Chodron advises: Right at the point you are about to blow your top, Remember this: You are a disciple being taught how to sit still With the edginess and discomfort of the energy You are a disciple being challenged to hold your seat and Open to this situation with as much courage and kindness As you possibly can The assessment is a search for an alternative to the satisfaction of one's desires or the amelioration of one's bruised ego. The question is: "Was (is) there some way I could have gotten what I wanted or avoided what I didn't want, or some satisfactory level of either, without becoming angry?" This is both a practical and a moral assessment. Finding alternatives to anger and aggression depend upon finding alternative means to satisfy our desires. There is nothing wrong with satisfying our desires provided that we are not hurting ourselves or others. On the other hand, perhaps we cannot think of any other way to get what we want except through intimidation, manipulation, scheming, cheating, or other immoral or illegal means. Some people do pursue their Happiness Projects with no regard for morality, ethics, or law. The consequences of these actions is our karma, or fate. As Sophocles sagely observed of Oedipus (and all of us): the greatest griefs are those we cause ourselves. Finding alternatives to anger involves making a moral evaluation of the situation: "If I pursue this course of action to satisfy my desires will anyone be hurt by it? Will I be hurt by the consequences?" The limitations on the satisfaction of our desires imposed by nature, civilization, and circumstances create the frustrations we must all bear without anger and with good cheer (Freud, 1958). When, as often happens, we cannot find a satisfactory way to satisfy our strong and insistent desires, when we feel that there is nothing we can do or say to ameliorate our painful and humiliating feelings of frustration, helplessness and anxiety, we are vulnerable to being overcome by anger. The solution to this dilemma is best expressed in the famous Serenity Prayer: "Give me the courage to change what I can, the serenity to accept what I cannot change, and the wisdom to know the difference". If we have the insight and moral fiber to find a legal and ethical way to satisfy our desires, then we need the courage to pursue that course. If there is nothing we can do, however, how do we achieve serenity in the face of frustration, fear and a feeling of vulnerability? STEP SIX: RELAXATION It is difficult enough to achieve serenity when everything is going our way. The challenge, which is not for the faint-hearted, is to remain serene when things are going wrong. Most people are stressed out, to one degree or another, by the fear of things going wrong. This is a good working definition of stress - "the fear of things going or staying wrong". Picture poor ordinary mind, mindlessly pursuing its insatiable desires, strenuously avoiding its unavoidable aversions, and struggling to maintain a modicum of cheerfulness and hope in the face of bewilderment about life and the knowledge of certain death. A heroic task! (Becker, 1973) It is likely to fail. Things are bound to go wrong, and regularly do, not because evil exists in the world, but because life doesn't always work out the way we want. Obstacles to our Happiness Projects constantly arise. The project creates its own obstacles. The precariousness of life means not only that no one knows the time or manner of their death but also that no one can satisfy the demands of ordinary mind to fulfill every desire, to avoid everything unpleasant, and to be regarded with value by everyone, forever. This is the context of the anxiety which plagues civilization. The increased complexity of modern society has magnified the normal anxieties of the human mind into the stress syndrome - a chronic state of anxious worry that things will go wrong, which keeps the sympathetic nervous system activated until it becomes exhausted and causes the breakdown of the body. The energy of anger can be tamed by turning down the fight-flight response, by calming the sympathetic-adrenal axis. This is the well-known relaxation response (Benson, 1977). The relaxation response is, essentially, an intentional turning down of the sympathetic-adrenal response through a bio-feedback mechanism. It has a physiological and a psychological component - relaxing the body and relaxing the mind. To experience the feelings of frustration, helplessness, anxiety and anger with self-discipline and equanimity one must first learn how to relax the body when not angry and then learn to apply this technique as anger arises. Relaxation turns down the fight-flight reaction which provides the physiological fuel of anger. Relaxation of the body is muscular relaxation, often known as progressive muscular relaxation. Sit in a chair, or cross-legged on a cushion and focus on the body. To understand the technique it is necessary to become aware of the difference between tension and relaxation. Press your toes into the floor and feel the tension. See how effort creates tension. Now let go of the effort and feel the muscles in the bottom of your feet relax. Relaxation is the withdrawal of effort from the muscles. Now go up each major muscle group (lower legs, upper legs, abdomen, chest, upper arms, forearms, hands and fingers, jaw, face and brow) visualizing yourself withdrawing effort from each group like allowing a stretched rubber band to come to its resting position. Practice this exercise many times a day in order to become proficient and ready to invoke it at the moment you are aware of anger arising. Relaxing the muscles in this way turns down the sympathetic nervous system response in the same way but opposite direction that exercise turns it up - in this case by feeding information to the central processing unit that the muscles are not needed, not going to be used and, therefore, that the preparation of the body for action - the fight-flight response, can be disabled. Once the technique of muscular relaxation is learned, practiced and mastered, it can be applied in the moment of anger, particularly when it has been decided that no satisfactory alternative action is possible and that one must open to the feeling of helplessness. The technique is to focus awareness on the feeling of helplessness while relaxing the muscles. This de-conditions the anxiety associated with frustration and helps create the feeling of serenity. The second component of relaxation is relaxing the mind. The traditional method for calming the mind is meditation. Beginning mediation (shamatha) is also called stabilizing or tranquilizing meditation. The Tibetan name is "shi ne" which means "calm abiding" or "dwelling in peace". As with muscular relaxation, it is important to understand the difference between a tense mind and a relaxed mind. A tense mind is a busy mind. A busy mind is thinking about the past and future, scanning the life- field for problems and, inevitably, finding them. According to an old Buddhist saying, a person with a busy mind is bound to suffer. This is because busy mind looks for problems and finds them, stimulating the fight-flight reaction and other negative emotions. A frightening thought can trigger the physiology of fear. Shamatha meditation calms and quiets the mind by bringing awareness into the present moment without agitating hypermentation, without busy mind. The basic technique is to sit on a cushion in a relaxed but alert posture and let mind rest on the breath. When intruding thoughts distract, gently bring attention back to the breath. There are many variations on this method. It is best learned from a qualified teacher. Relaxing body and mind means relaxing into existence. Physiologically, it means turning off the fight-flight response which is, essentially, combat with or flight from existence in the service of the survival of body and ego. Psychologically it means accepting existence as it is in the present moment, without struggling to change anything to satisfy the demanding ordinary mind's Happiness Projects. Relaxation and meditation are the antidotes to anger and the keys to serenity. STEP SEVEN: OPENING THE HEART As we persevere patiently, working with our anger through one episode after another, the cumulative effect is an opening of the heart. Opening the heart is also referred to in Buddhist circles as "softening ego". It means relaxing one's defenses, opening to the pain of not getting what one wants and of getting what one doesn't want with patience and fortitude. Softening of the ego refers to lowering the protective walls of the cocoon of ordinary mind and developing a more flexible and skillful response to life. As the heart opens, one learns to gracefully let go of desires that are impossible to satisfy and to accept that which one does not want but cannot avoid. As we open to feelings of frustration, helplessness and vulnerability, we becomes less frightened of them, more willing to experience them, and increasingly able to relax into them. The effect is relaxing into the maelstrom of existence with a calm and tranquil mind. And, as one voluntarily opens one's heart, the cumulative effect is the reduction in the frequency and intensity of anger. In the Buddhist tradition, the antidote to anger and aggression is patience. Patience is suffering without aggression. It means experiencing without anger or aggression the pain of frustration, anxiety and helplessness that come from not getting what we want when we want it and of getting what we don't want when we don't want it. The practice of patience means enduring the unwanted without aggression. As we open to the unwanted, the insistent energy of selfish desire weakens. Tolerance for the dissatisfactions and frustrations of life is strengthened. And the vulnerability to anger and aggression is reduced. SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS The Buddhist approach to healing anger and aggression is based upon the principle that anger is generated by mind, not by external circumstances or physiological processes. This implies that certain conditions are necessary for the successful healing of anger and aggression. First, we must turn our attention to ourselves, to our own minds. We must develop an awareness of The Three Poisons, the causes of anger which lie within ourselves. Second, we must take responsibility for our own anger. This often presents many obstacles. Taking responsibility may feel like blaming one's self. The temptation is to resist, deny responsibility and complain about others. The third step involves understanding the psychological dynamics of anger and aggression. At this point, we learn how anger arises through the frustration of our desires, aversions and ego defenses. This awareness matures, as we move through the fourth and fifth steps into a self transformation. We learn how to reflect upon our anger, to analyze it, to identify our desires and the obstacles to their satisfaction, to change what we can and to accept what we cannot change. Acceptance is learned through the sixth step of relaxation, meditation and opening to the pain. The seventh step is a life long process of responding to life events with awareness, self-discipline, equanimity, and compassion for ourselves and others. REFERENCES Becker, E. (1973). The denial of death. New York: Free Press. Benson, H. (1977). The relaxation response. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc. (Personal communication.) This definition was given to me by Kehenpo Karthar Rinpoche, Abbot of the Karma Triyana Dharmachakra, a Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Woodstock, New York. Freud, S. (1958). Civilization and its discontents. New York: Doubleday Anchor. Leifer, R. (1997). The happiness project: Transforming the three poisons that cause the suffering we inflict on ourselves and others. Ithaca, New York: Snow Lion Publications. RECOMMENDED READINGS H.H. The Dalai Lama. (1997). Healing anger: The power of patience from a Buddhist perspective. Ithaca, New York: Snow Lion Publications. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. (1993). Enlightened courage. Ithaca, New York: Snow Lion Publications. Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. (1998). Universal compassion. London: Tharpa Publications. Geshe Rabten and Geshe Dhargyey. (1997). Advice from a spiritual friend. Boston: Wisdom Publications. Pema Chodron. (1991). The wisdom of no escape. Boston: Shambala Publications. Pema Chodron. (1994). Start where you are. Boston: Shambala Publications. Smith, J. (1998). Breath sweeps mind: A first guide to meditation practice. New York: Riverhead Books. Sogyal Rinpoche. (1994). The Tibetan book of living and dying. San Francisco: Harper. Thich Nhat Hanh. (1992). The miracle of mindfulness. Boston: Beacon Press. Trungpa, Chogyam. (1993). Training the mind and cultivating loving-kindness. Boston: Shambala Press. - - - Ron Leifer, MD, is a psychiatrist in Ithaca, New York. His email address is email@example.com. He is the author of "The Happiness Project: Transforming The Three Poisons That Cause The Suffering We Inflict On Ourselves And Others," published in 1997 by Snow Lion Publications.