What a Perfect Moment Can Teach Us About Anger

One of my fondest memories is from one night in Thailand. I was alone at a café on the banks of the Mekhong River, looking across into Laos on the other side. The weather was perfectly clear where I sat but, over in Laos, a storm was moving slowly along the river’s edge. Peacefully, I watched the storm safely from afar, the moon overhead in an otherwise vacant sky. While I sat comfortably sipping my coffee, I marveled at the storm’s dozens of lightning strikes as it crept, like a mythical Goliath, along the distant shore. It was a truly beautiful hour of my life.

More than two decades later, during a counseling session, this memory unexpectedly resurfaced. It suddenly occurred to me that a confrontation with someone who is “storming” can be very much like that night in Thailand was for me, and just as peaceful. This was quite a surprising discovery!

After all, here I was comparing my favorite, most contently luxurious moment of my entire life to the types of moments most of us dread profoundly, moments that tend to be wrought with  feelings of tension, stress, and discomfort. The comparison seemed like a quantum leap in logic, yet it made perfect sense.

You see, whenever someone is in a state of anger or even rage, it’s as if they’re being a storm.  Even if this person is acting out towards us, yelling and screaming, calling us names, making accusations about what we did or did not do to their liking—as long as this person isn’t physically threatening us—we can remain safe and secure. We can observe this person, almost from afar, just as if we were watching a storm exert itself on the opposite side of a river.

We can imagine that a barrier separates us from this person, as the Mekhong divided myself from the storm in Laos. We can then give this person permission to be in a state of upheaval at the moment and, instead of paddling across the river to jump into their deluge, we can sit back and actually admire what we are witnessing.

And, sure, storms can be scary sometimes. But, if we realize that we aren’t the ones in the storm, we can shift our perspective from one of reactivity, fearfulness, defensiveness, or aggression to one of compassion instead. We can appreciate the storm for the beauty inherent within it—it’s dozens of lightning strikes—without forcefully trying to suppress, vanquish, or run away from it. Best of all, we can even allow ourselves to view the storm with a measure of reverence.

That people get angry upon occasion really isn’t such a horrible thing. Storms happen, and that’s okay. Obviously, apathetic people rarely (if ever) get angry. That someone becomes very emotional towards us reveals something important about them, even if the manifestation isn’t as mature as we would prefer. It shows us that they care, that they have a heart that is hurting and yearning for change. There’s actually something sweet and endearing about this, if we have the wisdom to interpret what we’re seeing accurately.

The key thing to remember is that, even if someone else’s storm is very near to us, it is not our storm, nor directly overhead of us, unless we rush heedlessly into it. If we want, we can remain free from a heavy soaking and possible electrocution just by staying put. We can best protect ourselves (and help others) by appreciating the beauty contained within the storm before us. We can savor such a moment completely, watching from the safe distance provided to us by our own emotional composure.

So, the next time you are confronted by someone in a fit of upset, let that be simply something to witness from afar. Sit back in your own contentment, breathing in a moment of deep appreciation. Understand this storm that you’re now facing isn’t your storm; it’s just another beautiful and normal expression of the natural way of all things. Fearlessly cherish the magnificence of this, another human being, little different from yourself, trying the best he or she can to live a life of love and wisdom.

If you do this, I guarantee that this person’s storm will more quickly diminish than if you were to fire off a battery of missiles into its clouds. Since stillness creates more stillness, your calm will invite an alternative pathway to escalating discord, such that the fleeting tempest cannot help but pass before too long. And, when it does, you and this person can again unite beneath the moonlit sky, laughing about the comical unpredictability of weather patterns and human emotions. This is what a perfect moment can teach us about anger.