Review: ‘Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames’


Review at a glance: “Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames” gives practical steps and exercises based on ancient Buddhist teachings to become more mindful and compassionate in tending to a dark emotion.

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I have a temper. It is part of being a Kwon.

Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames, by Thich Nhat HanhManaging it over the years has been an ongoing challenge. Suppression and expression are options that have been my only two options for a lifetime. And they’re not working that well.

I’ve been exploring why I’m angry and how to find the paths to forgiveness. A friend recommended the self-help book “Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames,” by Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh. Delving into the techniques of Westernized Buddhism may not only provide a path for me to balance my disruptive passion, but also serves as a template for making peace between neighbors down the street or across the border.

I didn’t get here overnight. But my eyes have been opened to alternatives to slogging through the feelings of hate, jealousy, insecurity and fury. One source of inspiration has been a documentary called “The Buddha,” directed by David Grubin. It first aired on PBS in April 2010.

Video: “The Buddha”

Learning about the Buddha’s life and teachings made me want to learn more about Buddhism in practice. How do I become more mindful, more compassionate?

Hanh lays out “Anger” by showing that this emotion is a part of us, one that shouldn’t be suppressed but nurtured. The root of this belief is that anger is a part of each of us, a seed that is planted deep inside. We could no more easily remove our anger than our own left arm.

He shows how to nurture it through mindful breathing and mindful walking. It sounds deceptively simple: Take time each day to breathe in and breathe out while meditating on each breath. Take time to be deliberate in each step we take.

This mindfulness brings body and mind into harmony, though the two are never really separate. Hanh goes on to explain how nurturing anger should be a starting point of compassion. Anger is a selfish emotion, causing us to dwell on the hurts we receive. But as I suffer, you suffer. Compassion recognizes that as you suffer, I suffer.

I can either work to ease your suffering, and thus my own, or continue to dwell in that unhappy place.

The chapter, “David and Angelina: The Habit Energy of Anger,” resonated all too well. It shares a fable of selfish, spoiled young man who has everything but love, who his unable to hang onto friends for very long. He meets Angelina, and the two fall in love. But as before, she leaves him, unable to deal with his cruelty.

Is there hope for David? Of course. And so the book gives me hope that as I make mindfulness part of my life, I can overcome my basest instincts.

“Anger” provides a solution worth exploring. It connects ancient Buddhist wisdom with practical steps forward. Hanh is caring in his words and suggestions in helping the reader understand that anger isn’t to be conquered, but acknowledged and embraced.

I may feel I suffer alone, but now I know better. It’s up to me to move forward.

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