Meditations on Anger

Excerpts from the teachings of Eugene Halliday

Every experience that we undergo leaves inside us a record of it. Some experiences are pleasant, some unpleasant, to some degree. Those that are so weak that their degrees of pleasure or displeasure does not force us to pay attention to them, we call “indifferent” because they do not compel us to react differently to them; we can ignore them fairly easily. When an experience record is so strong that we cannot comfortably ignore it, we are not indifferent to it. It commands us to react; it makes us behave differently to the way we would react if this record were not inside us, or did not replay.

Usually we tend to replay the records of our pleasant experiences and to suppress our unpleasant records. We do this, as we say, naturally. We can say that our nature is pleasure-preferring and pain-avoiding. This is true not only of human beings, but also of animals. Naturally we prefer happiness to unhappiness, pleasure to pain. But we cannot live always in such preference, because the world is not only a place of joyous action, but also a place of danger. Some things in the world threaten our existence. Death strikes at thousands in an earthquake or a volcanic eruption. Floods can drown us; plagues bring painful ends to what were before happy lives. And not only natural events may destroy our pleasures. Human beings may act against each other, individually or in groups. Members of the same family may struggle against each other. Fathers and Mothers, sons and daughters, brother and sister, the elder and the younger, may engage in damaging conflicts of no profit to any one. Why do such conflicts arise?

When pleasures are being pursued, impedance to these pleasures may come. Not everyone likes the same things, or likes them to the same degree, and where there is a difference of opinion about what is and is not pleasant, conflicts may arise.

When energy is set on a course of action in an animal, if this action is impeded, the animal tends to become angry, and to try either to slip around the impedance or to attack and destroy it. It is not different for human beings. When they are pursuing pleasure, and are impeded in this pursuit most human beings become angry. They may for certain reasons conceal for a time their anger, but concealment does not annihilate it. Concealed anger continues inside the impeded pleasure pursuer and bides its time. It waits for an opportunity to spring forth and destroy the impeder.

Civilised people have been taught that they must control themselves, that they must not react destructively every time that they cannot immediately get what they want. Civilisations could not exist without controls placed on their members. We all know this, but knowing it does not mean that we like it. We accept the controls placed necessarily on us by civilisation, but we do not always accept them gladly, and whenever possible we try to slip out of them. Where we do not gladly accept them we fret under their demands, and from our fretting arises the conditions that psychologists call neurosis. Under continuous impedance, nervous energy cannot run freely along the nerve-pathways, and tends to pile up in certain centres in the body. Because impeded action tendencies result in unpleasant sensations, we tend to hide these from ourselves. The results of this hiding process, continued over a long period of time, is the creation of our so-called “unconscious mind“. The hiding is an act of suppression or repression, a pushing or pressing down out of our consciousness. Our unconscious mind contains records of experiences that we do not wish to remember either because we find them unpleasant or painful to think about, or because we have little or no interest in them. Apart from lack of interest, or real dislike of our experience records, we would have no unconscious mind. Our mind-stuff is naturally a good rememberer.

To remove these destructive tensions, we must learn to face the experience records that naturally we do not desire to face. We must dare to re-examine our unpleasant and painful memories. To dare to do this is to enter our personal Gethsemane. Only when we have done this will we have gained the courage fully to love life, to tell the truth, and to live in accordance with it.