Albert Einstein warned, “The illusion that we are separate from one another is an optical delusion from our consciousness.” Just as we are not separate from one another as humans, our mind, and body are not separate.

Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese Buddhist Monk, (Author of several books, for the purposes of this article, “Anger, Wisdom for Cooling The Flames”,) states in his book on Anger, “In the teaching of the Buddha, we learn that our body and mind are not separate. Our body is our mind, and, at the same time, our mind is our body.” For the purposes of this discussion on anger and learning how to handle our anger, we will view anger through this paradigm. To pay attention to our anger, we need to concentrate on the physical aspects, as well as the mental details of our anger.

Western medicine is beginning to pay attention to what happens to the body, as well as, what happens to the mind and vice versa. The eastern world has known this for some time now. Modern scientific medicine is beginning to see the sickness of the mind and body, are one. They are not a separate entity.

To examine our anger or consume our anger, Thich Nhat Hanh says, “We must pay more attention to the biochemical aspect of anger, because anger has its roots in our body as well as our mind. When we analyze our anger, we can see its physiological elements.” To start, I want to share a tale that originates in the Mideast, The Withered Trees.

The Withered Trees

There was a soul whose very bad temper had cost him more wasted time and loss of good friends than any other element in his life. He approached an old wise man in rags and asked, “How can I ever bring this demon of rage under control?” The old man instructed the younger man to post himself at a parched oasis far off in the desert, to sit there among all the withered trees, and to draw up the brackish water for any traveler who might venture there. And the man, trying to overcome his rage, rode out to the desert to the place of the withered trees. For months, garbed in robes and burnoose against the flying sand, he drew the sour water and gave it to all who approached. Years passed and he suffered no more fits of temper. One day a dark rider came to the dead oasis, and gave a haughty glance down at the man who offered him water from a bowl. The rider scoffed at the clouded water, refused it, and began to ride on. The man offering water was immediately enraged, so much so he was blinded by it, and seizing the rider down from his camel, killed him on the spot. Oh la! He was immediately aggrieved that he had been consumed by such rage. And look what it had come to. Suddenly, up rode another rider at great speed. The rider looked down upon the visage of the dead man and exclaimed, “Thank Allah, you have killed the man who was on his way to murder the king!” And at that moment, the cloudy water of the oasis turned clear and sweet and the withered trees of the oasis blushed green and burst into joyous bloom.

We understand this tale symbolically. It is not a tale about killing people. It is a teaching about not unleashing anger indiscriminately, but at the right time. The tale begins when the man learns to give out water, life, even under drought conditions.

I recognize many of us never learned how to deal with feelings, much less anger. In many cultures, men were socialized to stand up and fight, that it was the masculine thing to do and God forbid, if they exhibited tears. A woman, on the other hand, was socialized to put a good-looking face on the surface, not express anger outwardly, and if a woman did speak out, as a rule, she was labeled a “bitch”.

Clarissa Pinkola Estes, in her book, “Women Who Run With The Wolves,” states that, “Men and women may carry a form of scattershot rage that compels them to pick, pick, pick, or use coldness like an anesthesia, or give out sweet words while meaning to punish or demean. They may force their own will on those who are more dependent on them or may threaten them with severance of a relationship or affection.” Like the man in the story, many of us decide to embark on a cleanup campaign, vowing to be nicer, not to drink, swear, yell, and be abusive or whatever our vice may, be. I can remember, prior to finding my sobriety through Alcoholic Anonymous, I was “Born Again” several times as a Christian. Apparently, I felt it did not work the first time, seeing that I would revert to using mood altering chemicals and all the detrimental behaviors that came with it. We find, as the man in the story did, that the cleanup campaign does not generally work. We cannot extinguish the flame of anger and rage by sitting on it or medicating it with alcohol and drugs. What happens with the man in the story, will happen with us. “The man offering water was immediately enraged, so much so he was blinded by it, and seizing the rider down from his camel, killed him on the spot.” This man thought he had conquered rage after years passed, and he suffered no more fits of temper, but that was not the case. You cannot extinguish your rage by hiding out by withered trees or in a bottle of alcohol.

Countless times when an individual has said and done something to injure us, we want them to suffer as we do. We want vengeance. We think that if they agonize as we do, it follows that will make us feel better. In truth, what generally happens is the other person wants to hurt you back. It perpetuates the vicious cycle of anger and hate. Thich Nhat Hanh proposes that when someone hurts us, we should go back to our suffering, to our anger and pay attention to it. Even so, most of us don’t want to do that. We want to go with our anger, follow our suffering. We want to pursue the person who hurt us and hurt them back.

Thich Nhat Hanh states that if your house is on fire, the most urgent thing to do is to go back and try to put out the fire, not to run after the person you believe to be the arsonist. He suggests that when you are angry, if you continue to interact with or argue with the other person, if you try to punish her/him, you are acting exactly like someone who runs after the arsonist while everything goes up in flames.

I introduced this article by saying you can’t separate the body and mind. Clearly, the story of, “The Withered Trees”, illustrates this. We can separate our body from drugs and alcohol, but if we don’t work on cleansing our mind, healing our soul, our demise will be like the man in the story, what we call “dry drunk” in the recovery world. Moreover, as stated earlier by Thich Nhat Hanh, “We must pay more attention to the biochemical aspect of anger, because anger has its roots in our body as well as our mind.

The Buddha gave us an effective means to put out the fire in us: it is called mindfulness, living in the moment. One must embrace the anger, listen to what it says, and learn from it. Anger can and will be a teacher if you allow it.

I want you to try this for a week: Thich Nhat Hanh says, “to breathe in consciously is to know that the air is entering your body, and to breathe out consciously is to know that your body is exchanging air. Thus, you are in contact with the air and with your body and because your mind is being attentive to all this, you are in contact with your mind too; just as it is.” This is mindful breathing. This is tool to use to help embrace your anger and learn from it.