Anger can be caustic: harming our bodies, compromising our judgement, inflaming public discourse. But Rod Owens — a lama in the Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism — explains that, if we learn to harness the feeling, anger can become a powerful and transformative teacher.
"I have had to learn to love my anger," he writes in Love and Rage: The Path of Liberation Through Anger. "And to treat it as I would treat anyone or anything that I consider precious and beautiful."
Anger is a complicated emotion that many of us try to suppress rather than examine — a desire often reinforced by societal narratives that dictate who is allowed to hold and process the sentiment.
"Depending on our gender, class, race, and culture, we've gotten very different messages around anger," Owens, who also holds a Master of Divinity from Harvard University, explains. "When I talked to my female-identified friends, they often told me that they've never been given permission to be angry; when I talk to my white male friends, it's a very different narrative. They've never been policed around their anger."
As a Black person in the United States, Owens writes in Love and Rage, "I have never been taught to use my anger in a constructive way. Matter of fact, I have learned that my anger can get me killed. My anger is the single greatest threat to my life." Despite this, his anger is a constant companion — something that, over time, he began to understand as a "secondary" emotion brought on by something buried inside him: "I looked deeper and began to see that anger was the bodyguard for my broken heartedness, for a fundamental hurt that I've been born into [a system] that's not aligned with my intentions to be free, safe and happy."
This realization helped Owens re-orient his rage and learn how to create space to forge a "responsive relationship" with anger and other feelings. Through decades of reflection, he has come to appreciate the lessons the fierce emotion holds and suggests a practice comprised of six steps that he links through the acronym SNOELL. You can listen to the meditation at the top of the page, here, or try it on your own.
It is a practice that takes time, one that we never perfect. "I can't say I'm less angry," he writes, "but I can say anger is something I see as important ... not an inconvenience I'm trying to wish away. This has helped me to not only survive the world, but to have incredible experiences of thriving."
SNOELL Practice from Lama Rod Owens
1. See it.
Observe the emotion.
2. Name it.
"You have to name the things that you want to transform," Owens says. Call the anger what it is.
3. Own it.
This is a critical step, Owens explains. "We have to understand this is happening in our experience, to own it is happening in our mind and our body, not in someone else's. That helps us to take responsibility for it."
4. Experience it.
This is different from reacting. Experiencing anger is about getting curious and intimate with the sensation and exploring "how the energy shows up in our bodies and minds."
5. Let it go
What this curiosity and awareness allows for, Owens says, is a reference point for our psyches: in the heat of the moment, we can remain somewhat steady and have agency. Anger becomes something we can choose to hold onto or release.
6. Let it float
"This simply means that I am reminding myself — over and over again — that there's an incredible amount of space that can hold everything. And the space will be present as long as I'm choosing not to react, but to stay within a practice of responsiveness."
The audio portion of this episode was produced by Andee Tagle.
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