Do people ever make you mad?
As the most social and loving species on the planet, we have the wonderful ability and inclination to connect with others, be empathic, cooperate, care, and love. On the other hand, we also have the capacity and inclination to be fearfully aggressive toward any individual or group we regard as "them." (In my book - Buddha's Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love and Wisdom - I develop this idea further, including how to stimulate and strengthen the neural circuits of self-control, empathy, and compassion.)
To tame the wolf of hate, it's important to get a handle on "ill will" - irritated, resentful, and angry feelings and intentions toward others. While it may seem justified in the moment, ill will harms you probably more than it harms others. In another metaphor, having ill will toward others is like throwing hot coals with bare hands: both people get burned.
Avoiding ill will does not mean passivity, allowing yourself or others to be exploited, staying silent in the face of injustice, etc. There is plenty of room for speaking truth to power and effective action without succumbing to ill will. Think of Gandhi, Martin Luther King, or the Dalai Lama as examples. In fact, with a clear mind and a peaceful heart, your actions are likely to be more effective.
Ill will creates negative, vicious cycles. But that means that good will can create positive cycles. Plus good will cultivates wholesome qualities in you.
Cultivate Positive Emotions
In general, really nourish and develop positive emotions such as happiness, contentment, and peacefulness. For example, look for things to be happy about, and take in the good whenever possible. Positive feelings calm the body, quiet the mind, create a buffer against stress, and foster supportive relationships - all of which reduce ill will.
Don't argue unless you have to. Inside your own mind, try not to get swirled along by the mind-streams of other people. Reflect on the neurological turbulence underlying their thoughts: the incredibly complicated, dynamic, and largely arbitrary churning of momentary neural assemblies into coherence and then chaos. Getting upset about somebody's thoughts is like getting upset about spray from a waterfall. Try to decouple your thoughts from the other person's. Tell yourself: She's over there and I'm over here. Her mind is separate from my mind.
Be Careful About Attributing Intentions
Be cautious about attributing intentions to other people. Prefrontal theory-of-mind networks attribute intentions routinely, but they are often wrong. Most of the time you are just a bit player in other people's dramas; they are not targeting you in particular.
Bring Compassion to Yourself
As soon as you feel mistreated, bring compassion to yourself - this is urgent care for the heart. Try putting your hand on your cheek or heart to stimulate the embodied experience of receiving compassion.
Meet Mistreatment with Loving Kindness
Traditionally, loving-kindness is considered the direct antidote to ill will, so resolve to meet mistreatment with loving-kindness. No matter what. A famous sutra in Buddhism sets a high standard: "Even if bandits were to sever you savagely limb by limb with a two-handled saw... you should train thus: 'Our minds will remain unaffected, and we shall utter no evil words; we shall abide compassionate for their welfare, with a mind of loving-kindness, without inner hate'" (Nanamoli and Bodhi 1995, 223).
Personally, I'm not there yet, but if it's possible to stay loving while being horribly mistreated - and from some of the accounts of people in awful circumstances, it clearly is - then we should be able to rise up in lesser situations, like getting cut off in traffic or being put down yet again by a teenager.
To the extent that it's useful, speak your truth and stick up for yourself with skillful assertiveness. Your ill will is telling you something. The art is to understand its message - perhaps that another person is not a true friend, or that you need to be clearer about your boundaries - without being swept away by anger.
Put Things in Perspective
Put whatever happened in perspective. The effects of most events fade with time. They're also part of a larger whole, the great majority of which is usually fine.
Use things that aggravate you as a way to practice generosity. Consider letting people have what they took: their victory, their bit of money or time, their one-upping. Be generous with forbearance and patience.
Cultivate Positive Qualities
Cultivate positive qualities like kindness, compassion, empathy, and calm. Nourish your own good will.
Rick Hanson, Ph.D., is a neuropsychologist and New York Times best-selling author. His books include Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence (in 11 languages), Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom (in 25 languages), Just One Thing: Developing a Buddha Brain One Simple Practice at a Time (in 12 languages), and Mother Nurture: A Mother’s Guide to Health in Body, Mind, and Intimate Relationships. Founder of the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom and on the Advisory Board of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, he’s been an invited speaker at Oxford, Stanford, and Harvard, and taught in meditation centers worldwide. A summa cum laude graduate of UCLA, his work has been featured on the BBC, NPR, CBC, FoxBusiness, Consumer Reports Health, U.S. News and World Report,and O Magazine and he has several audio programs with Sounds True. His weekly e-newsletter – Just One Thing – has over 100,000 subscribers, and also appears on Huffington Post, Psychology Today, and other major websites.
For more information, please see his full profile at www.RickHanson.net.