When anger is all the rage

The toll of road rage is harmful to yourself and other living things. One spiritual driver steers his emotions with a lesson from A Course in Miracles, Guy Finley and Leo Tolstoy


GUEST COLUMN: BRYAN WALTON — The dense traffic was inching along the highway and once again I was resigned to being home late that night. In the rear view mirror I caught a glimpse of a vehicle, about six cars back, sneak out onto the shoulder and accelerate past the slowly moving convoy. As the SUV drove by, I felt a wave of anger and resentment towards the inconsiderate driver.

But, almost immediately, I had a twinge of guilt for having such intense negative feelings; I consider myself a nice guy, laid-back, and tolerant. The guilt must have had an effect on me: within a couple of minutes, the feelings dissipated and I was back to my normal self.


Maintaining a positive self-image and not harboring negative thoughts are equally important to me. By trading the ‘punishment of guilt’ to assuage the ‘pain of anger,’ I seem to have created a balance of sorts and avoided the anti-social act of expressing anger.

But have I really let go? Or have I just suppressed the resentment and actually reinforced my belief that deep down, I am an angry person and need to control my negative self? If the latter is true, my so-called positive image is a sham and a lie.

This notion is underscored in A Course in Miracles (lesson 21) which suggests:

“You will become increasingly aware that a slight twinge of annoyance is nothing but a veil drawn over intense fury.”

I realize my self-image is totally made up, an artificial creation of my mind. It consists of a number of adopted attributes to which I have become attached and use to form my identity. Proud when any of my achievements are publicly recognized, I am, however, threatened when things don’t go the way I planned or reality doesn’t follow my rules. I find myself anxious, upset, and angry as I try to regain control.

I find it interesting to notice how my defense routines kick into place immediately when my identity is threatened. I either blame the circumstances or the person for my upset. I can then rationalize that any counter attack would, of course, be justified. If external blame doesn’t work, and blaming myself would be an even bigger threat to my identity, my fallback position is to deny the problem exists. I then cover up the denial and forget.

While this deceit does not guarantee peace and happiness, it does have benefits. For example, when I am annoyed, though this is a destructive state, adrenalin is rushing through me and I feel very much alive. Vernon Howard counters in his book  Cosmic Command, # 932

“Self-centeredness is incapable of learning a lesson from an experience, having only a wish to feel a neurotic thrill.”

Some reinforce this view by defining their anger as strength and will simply describe themselves as outspoken — folks who call a “spade a spade.” Teacher and author Guy Finley adds:

“Negative emotions cannot exist without having something to blame for their punishing presence.”

balanceWhat am I supposed to do if I am in the thrall of a pseudo self, a false identity? I turn again to Howard’s solution:

“You can give up your pretentious picture of the anger without identifying with it; we must not call it our own. Simply watch it come and go, without shame or comment. . .”

This sounds like split-personality, but that is just the point. Rather than a futile fight to control this fearful part of myself – which is artificial anyway – I could stand aside and dispassionately observe. Count Leo Tolstoy echoes this thought with:

“But if men. . .would only approach nearer to the phantoms which alarmed them, and would examine them, they would perceive that for them also they are only phantoms, and not realities.”

When first experimenting with this new approach, I was disturbed to find out just how frequently I became irritated with little things, and how intense those feelings I had previously hidden. On the other hand, I was amazed at how disowning these same feelings calmed me. Now, I am able to inwardly chuckle at some of the foolish triggers of my rants. No sooner did I cease being the victim of my own anger, than its handmaiden, guilt, disappeared. In addition, I am far less likely to be drawn in by other people’s anger and building damaging stress.

However, it is still a work in progress. Just the other day an idiotic driver pulled to a stop right behind me as I was backing out of a parking spot – the nerve of the guy!

bryanwaltonBryan Walton is the author of Dancing in the Mirror, a book of inspired writings relevant to current life situations.  Bryan publishes audio podcasts of excerpts from the book available for listening.

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25 Responses to “When anger is all the rage”

  1. Lindsay K. Fryer Reply 20. Aug, 2009 at 9:13 am

    This is a technique that I try daily…when you can avoid becoming frustrated or upset with people you really are much happier on the inside.

  2. The best antidote to Road Rage is taking public transit…the best antidote to Public Transit Rage is walking – the best answer to Walking Rage (from all the a-holes on bikes who ride on the sidewalk) is staying home in your room crying :) lol

  3. Linda Gatenby Davies Reply 21. Aug, 2009 at 5:17 am

    And the best antidote to crying is…look to the worst you can think of in your life…then look to the best…focus on the best and say to yourself ‘things can only get better’ nooo…say WILL get better, and after that I’m sure with positive attitude you won’t be enraged whilst on the road.

  4. Jo-Ann Alquist Langseth Reply 21. Aug, 2009 at 5:34 am

    You won’t get even the slightest bit angry on the road if you really deep-down know and fully “realize” that there’s nothing PERSONAL going on out there…

    To others, you and your car are mere obstructions. This is perhaps the only area in my life in which I am….Ta dah! Fully realized!

    I’m a fully realized driver now, though I’m not sure how it happened. When the kids (3 of them) were little, I’d frequently shriek, “My BABIES are in this car!” and I would throw, on average, three fingers per diem. Now, it’s a magic carpet ride all the way, regardless of what people do or don’t do…

  5. Chris, et al, I do most of my “spiritual practice” either while I’m driving on 101 or riding public transit in San Francisco. Both give me plenty of opportunity to watch my impulses to react or judge. (The third big place is the grocery line. The world “out there”keeps giving me plenty of material to look at how my ego works and to pull away from it to a deeper place. I admire those here who have afound that place and, apparently live/drive in it. I’m still reading the map and finding directions – and yes, I am a man who will ask for directions!


  6. Anna-Marie Ganje Reply 21. Aug, 2009 at 11:08 am

    I remind myself of the mantra: Anger only hurts those who carry it.

    Oh, and I imagine myself with a paint ball gun shooting anyone on the roads who makes me mad. It would make me feel better to shoot them and it would serve as a warning to other drivers as well!

  7. Re: The road to rages

    I’ve heard many global expressions of this . . .

    The U.S. – commercially, legally and in the labor market – is a very unforgiving society.

    Its structures are calibrated to a hyperactive rate that overwhelms we fragile humans, and our millennial rhythms.

    In that sense, some of the homeless we judge are simply people who have opted out of these forms, and gone back to a semi-stone age way of being.

    Your site ties all of these threads, from the healthcare debate to cars, into a beautiful awareness and perspective.

  8. What did it for me is getting dogs. I have become an all-around more careful driver since we got them and hence more inward focused. If there is someone behaving badly in a car now my intention is to get away instead of get revenge.

    Dogs tend to stand up, look out the window and flop on the edge of the seat and since there are no safety belts for them I’m always aware that fast stops and starts can knock them around. I’ve shifted my priorities, I guess. Same concept with kids!

  9. I take my rage out on my laptop.

  10. Alison Kynaston-Jones Reply 22. Aug, 2009 at 9:04 am

    Try this -it works every time!

    Short Meditation for those Red Traffic Light Moments.

    This exercise works best if you are late, in a hurry – and the traffic lights turn red just as you approach.

    Here’s what you do:

    If you feel frustrated, smile at yourself.

    You have been given perhaps a whole minute to stop and do nothing.

    Let body and mind slow down and relax.

    Take a deep sigh, lingering on the out-breath.

    Let your face and tummy soften.

    One whole minute to breathe softly.

    Be aware of excess tension in your body.

    Gently shake it free, as you settle back into the seat.

    Look around you slowly.

    The exercise finishes as the light turns green. Now devote all your attention to the task at hand: driving safely and well. And look forward to the next red light!

  11. I take deep breaths and try to think of something in my life that is positive. If you take road rage personally, it will hurt you, not the inconsiderate driver. When someone is speeding, weaving in and out of traffic, etc. I slow down and try to get as far from them as possible. Keep in mind that some people with road rage may be so angry that if they have the opportunity, they may attack you and may actually use their car to attack you. I really concentrate as best that I can on what is important in life and getting angry and negative about inconsiderate drivers just is not worth my time.

  12. To chuckle at one’s self – or notion of self, is very lightening. Likewise, when I see my “selfsame” actions, helpful and hurtful, In other people, I learn a little more about not blaming people for being themselves.

    Gently laughing at myself is an act of forgiveness, I think. With a friendly pat on the shoulder I allow myself to be, just as I am. Even as I strive toward enlightenment.

    Peace-filled awakenings.


  13. Thank you all for the wide variety of responses. The road story was just one illustration of how I so easily lost my cool. But then, as the article explores, who is the ‘me’ that that gets upset?

    Some are suggesting techniques for escaping from the upset: avoid, substitute, replace, ignore, etc. How about using these events as opportunities for our learning and growth? To observe without judgement? To be the witness?

    Or, as Stephen suggests, “With a friendly pat on the shoulder I allow myself to be, just as I am.”


  14. Thank you for this excellent article. Yes, we are all work in progress. I am a very calm and positive person myself and traffic rarely gets to me, but I still have moments when there is such anger and/or sarcasm popping right out of my mouth that astounds even myself. I try to face it as soon as possible and noticed that just the act of recognizing dissipates the intense feelings. Now I am learning to immediately talk out loud about my negative reaction in a laughing manner, taking full responsibility; something like this: “wow, this really pushed my buttons, I need to take closer look at this..” and this way nobody feels hurt by my reaction.

  15. Carlos Gutierrez Reply 22. Aug, 2009 at 4:05 pm

    In the law of attraction we all attract what we are. In other words, whatever we hold the most in our minds (our personalities/perception) that is precisely what we are going to attract and experience.

    I have learned throughout my life that when we stop reacting to the outside world or people, they will not get in our way. For example, when we are angry, we will attract anger or the experience to be more angry about something or someone, or when we experience peace, we will attract peace. If I am in a rush going some place I will get impatience and push people to get out of my way and get more red lights, or if I take time going anywhere I will have an easy drive.

    Rage is anger repressed for many years and this emotion will control us. We have taken lives out of rage, we have take lives out of jealousy, we have take lives out of greed, we have take lives out of survival, and we have take lives out of depression. We are living in a very repressed society because of the system. The system of this society is to take advantages of their people.

    Life is a matter of perception!

    Hugs, Carlos

  16. For my previous job, I used to commute one to one-and-a-half hours each way, frequently encountering traffic. This would have made me go crazy with impatience and frustration, except that I decided after the first few weeks of commuting that there is nothing you can do about it, so why get angry. It is what it is. Accept it.

    In our modern condition, we’re always trying to control every little aspect of our lives, and get frustrated and angry when we can’t. But some things in life are just beyond our control. So we can choose to explode in rage, and rail against the Universe. Or, we can just realize that our anger isn’t going to get us any more control. So you might as well just relax an accept your situation. This isn’t denial. It’s embracing our reality, and being “mindful” our lives.

    Besides, if you embrace anger, anger will come back to you, as well.

  17. There is a Taoist perspective on anger that says “punishing people is punishing work”. I used to find that getting angry with others, especially whilst driving only served to worsen my mood and distrupt my normally controlled actions and thoughts. My body becames agitated and my language negative and colourful. I felt embarrassed at ‘losing my cool’.

    I think everyone has a point at which, for reasons they cannot always fathom, just ‘lose it’ – albeit for a second or two. One day we can absorb considerable amounts of aggravation and others hardly any. It a trait that has fascinated me for years. There are many theories and potential solutions, but when the ego gets in control – watch out !

    My solution came when listening to someone on the radio talking about how they were only one of three people to survive a plane crash that killed over 120 people. They were asked “What impact has it had on your life?” The answer they gave was how their response had changed to beiong ‘cut-up’ when driving. They said, “Thank you. Without me seeing you, you might be dead now. Don’t mention it. I am glad to help.”

    I suddenly felt the power of acceptance and appreciation for just ‘being’. There is no greater sense of conection. I practice it every day.

  18. Marguerite Barnett Reply 24. Aug, 2009 at 9:13 am

    i keep one of our leftover samunprai herbal massage poltices in the car. Whenever i feel the rage, i grab it from under the seat and take a deep whiff. The mix of ginger, lemongrass and other fragrances helps me to chill.

  19. I was a rage-aholic until I began taking yoga. My teacher was so unflappable…even when cell phones went off.

    One day after I became a teacher, my gentle yoga class was over and my students left the room. When I drove away, someone in front of me did a bonehead move and I realized it was one of my students.

    I was ready to rage and I thought about it. This was the person that was in class with me a few minutes ago and I love her!

    Since then, when anyone does something on the road that could endanger me, I imagine it is one of my students and they just made a mistake.

  20. As human beings we tend to cling onto material things and our ego…Yoga teaches us to let go of such attention-seeking, masturbatory self-gratification as these are the fluctuations of the citta that prevent one from attaining inner peace.

  21. For me it’s the conscious decision to constantly challenge and remind myself to live each moment fully, i.e. with heart & mind, mentally paying attention to how i feel, what’s my attitude and mood, my reactions and their motivations, as well as that of those around me.

    This continuous analytical state of mind may sound like i’d be constantly on guard or not able to let my feelings come out freely, but i have come to realize through years of genuine interest in the matter that not only has it proven beneficial to my peace of mind, joy of life and health, but it also became like second nature, in that those positive thoughts, healing mantras, “little” expressions wisdom etc., i’ve come across at each step of the way (and decided to take note of), enter my conscience spontaneously and direct my actions accordingly.

    Some of the books which have been inspiring me on this journey have been Living In The Light (Shakti Gawain), Man’s Eternal Quest (Paramahansa Yogananda), Metaphysical Bible Dictionary (Charles Fillmore).

  22. Pilar Arthur-Snead Reply 26. Aug, 2009 at 7:28 am

    I am sometimes prone to get a little annoyed on the road. But with practice off the road you can soften your responses.

    There is a Tibetan Meditation practice called Tong -len or sending and receiving. In this practice while on the your meditation cushion you visualize another being or beings sitting across from you, you can start with yourself or someone whom you love.

    With each in breath you image that a black cloud of smoke which represents that person’s negative emotions, pain, hurt etc leaves them from their navel. It fills the air and you imagine that you breathe in this dark cloud of smoke. With the out breath you imagine that you have transformed it into a white cloud of smoke. This white cloud represents your own goodness, happiness, positive emotion. You imagine that you give all this positive emotion and goodness to the other person. It is not forced just follows naturally on your in and out breath.

    You can repeat this process/visualization over and over (maybe 10- 15 minutes) and eventually, with practice, you should be able to expand this practice to include not only those you love, yourself, but to those individuals whom you don’t like so much and even those whom you consider to be your enemies and to beings whom number the vastness of time and space.

    Tong-len is a wonderful practice which helps with anger in all situations. It helps to transform it.

  23. Carmen D Cisneros Reply 27. Aug, 2009 at 7:49 am

    Through diet and detox. According to TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) our health and emotions are connected. Getting your body/organs clean does absolute wonders for anger and other issues.

  24. Rage is less a problem for me than it once was, but I still struggle with being judgmental. When I find myself judging others, I do one of 2 things:

    I remind myself: And I am that, too. (Or, I do that, too.)

    I ask my spiritual guides to allow me to see that individual through the eyes of the divine (fill in the blank w/your own spiritual guide).

    When I can manage these responses, I find it difficult to remain upset with others for long.

  25. Kees van Amersvoort Reply 11. Sep, 2009 at 11:48 am

    To me, anger or rage indicates an imbalance within myself. Otherwise there would not be a reason for me to get angry. Something is being triggered.

    So, when I get angry, I start an inner (soul) search. The anger (like with pain) is a beacon for me.

    “What is the (emotional, psychological, spiritual) pattern that is being played out here?”, I sort of ask myself. The ‘answer’ always comes to me in terms of just ‘knowing’, sometimes accompanied with images, thoughts etcetera. Basically, I could say that I try not to live with anger, but try to deal with it from the perspective that anger is a state that triggers an unbalance within me and hence represents another opportunity to learn and grow.