Managing Anger: The Vulcan Way
In two recent shareposts, we looked at anger, first in terms of how our illness may be a contributing factor, then at how some manufacturing defects in our brain circuitry may set us up for system overload. Your comments indicated that we have hit upon a hot topic.
But fine, I also hear you saying. "How do I deal with bipolar anger?" That was Fire Magic's question over at BipolarConnect's Ask feature.
You picked a good week to ask that question, Fire Magic. You see, two days ago I saw Star Trek and developed some good insights into how the Vulcans do it. Spock and his pointy-eared brethren are celebrated for not displaying their emotions, assuming they have any.
Let's put it this way: A Vulcan who has just found out he's won the Powerball lottery while in the embrace of Uhura, the hottie from the Enterprise flight deck, would react no differently than a Vulcan who's just been told he has phase 4 cancer as he was getting his fingernails ripped out by renegade Romulan psychopaths.
These Vulcans are pretty cool customers.
Spock happens to be half-human, and therefore is vulnerable to expressing his rage. But penetrating that thick rational Vulcan hide of his to get to his emotional core is no easy feat. A major plot point in the movie centers on Kirk having to accomplish just that.
It's fairly obvious that the Vulcan brain is wired far more efficiently than ours, which places them at a great advantage. But we also know from the original TV series that they used to be a far more passionate race that apparently benefited from some kind of therapeutic intervention.
I'm guessing there was no secret Vulcan technique, here, that they simply applied principles well-known to us here on earth. Perhaps they were smart enough to listen to a Buddhist teacher. I'm bringing up Buddhism in the context of a psychology. The principles are universal, but Buddhists teachers excel at tying them together and wrapping them in a bow.
So, what are we looking at?
Think of the mind watching the mind, a sense of heightened awareness. Through being microscopically attuned to our thoughts and feelings, we can often pick up baby angers in the bud and deal with them while they are still manageable, before they escalate out of control.
The same principle applies to stress, which tends to trigger anger.
Generally, when we are symptomatic, we have no insight into our condition. Mindfulness is the exact opposite. We are talking about a state of deep insight. We know what's going on. Nothing is going to sneak up on us.
Considerable discipline is required, but not necessarily an iron will. For instance, if you spot rising discomfort this may be the time to "pop a klonnie" or raise your standard meds doses.
Other times, it may be as simple as stopping to smell the roses or to remove yourself from your immediate situation.
This is very much a part of mindfulness. A thought is just a thought. On its own, it has no power. It is harmless. You are in control. All that changes when you lock into a juicy thought. Now your thoughts are controlling you.
Think how you feel when someone is giving you a hard time. If only we could view the situation with the same sense of detachment as we do when watching the grass grow. That's the object, but we can settle for far less. We may not be adept at cultivating a detached mind, but we don't have to unnecessarily nurse grudges, either.
We all know individuals whose minds are virtual petrie dishes for negative thinking. Literally, they are growing their own prisons.
Okay, this isn't exactly what Vulcans are known for. But give them credit for being the polar opposite of the warlike Klingons. Basically, if you find yourself hating most of the individuals on your planet, you're going to have a lot to feel angry about.
Maybe you don't have it in you to love your enemy, but we can all work on having less enemies. A common feature of all faiths is taking time out to calmly reflect on the well-being of others. We also seek to cultivate an understanding of those we perceive as different than us.
Two or so months ago, I blew up at the person next to me. It was a horrifyingly scary experience. I had lost control of my brain. Complete control. Something snapped. Suddenly, there wasn't a single neuron standing between my primitive emotions and whatever was going to happen next.
None of us want to be Vulcans. But we've all wished we could have borrowed a bit of Spock-like self-control for a just a few minutes. We're never going to be perfect, but we can get better. Practice-practice-practice.