Pema Chödrön is an American Buddhist nun and a teacher at the first Tibetan monastery in North America established for Westerners. In her audio book Don’t Bite the Hook, Chödrön teaches that biting the hook of habitual anger is self-destructive. She explains that the more we strengthen the habit of anger, the less often we find things that please us. Chödrön recommends that we practice not getting hooked by small irritants — like slow drivers — to build our muscles for the big ones.
As I growled my complaint about the slow driver in the fast lane, Chödrön’s voice and wry sense of humor helped ease me into awareness of the negative energy I was creating. She encouraged me to get curious about what triggered my anger. Was I afraid someone would think less of me if I was late? That’s my innate shame trigger – not wanting to be shunned goes back to my ancestors who couldn’t survive on their own.
Once I became aware of my trigger, I could accept the need to change my response to it. Instead of getting hooked and making up stories that would fuel my anger (that person is such a terrible driver they shouldn’t even be on the road!), I needed to reframe my attitude toward the discomfort of going too slow. Practicing patience could help me strengthen my tolerance for the next time I encounter an annoying situation.
Chödrön acknowledges that resisting the urge to act on our anger causes us pain, but pain can wake us up and make us more compassionate. That worked for me — I was able to move from acceptance into action by using compassion and curiosity. I wondered what might be happening with the person in the slower car. Might they be lost or having car trouble?
Mastering this approach to avoid getting hooked by anger will take some of us longer than others. Chödrön’s advice is to get comfortable with the idea that things and people are changing all the time. Each new encounter gives us a fresh opportunity to practice awareness, acceptance and action.