This exercise describes a visualization process, which can be applied to anger management problems, as well as other difficult emotional states. Time involved: approximately 10 minutes.
Visualization is a common practice in both eastern and western psychology and can provide many benefits to its practitioners. The visualization outlined below is based on the work of Jack Kornfield, Buddhist Teacher and Psychologist. It uses the practice of “internalizing a sacred figure” – figuratively speaking, embodying the spiritual essence of a virtuous person, with all of the wisdom, inner peace, and compassion they contain. This exercise can help quell strong emotions and increase skillful responses to challenging situations, such as those that provoke anger.
THIS PRACTICES CONTAINS 4 STEPS:
1.) STEADY THE MIND: The first step involves getting into a state of mindfulness. This can be achieved by spending a few minutes in a quiet setting, engaged in breath awareness, or some other type of focusing activity that steadies the mind.
2.) NOTICE ANGER: after you’ve gotten into a relatively quiet inner state, intentionally bring up images in your mind related to the conflict or anger in your life. Perhaps it’s a particular relationship that is frustrating; a new stressor, such as unemployment; or some other situation that feels beyond your control. Notice the thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations that arise when holding these images that trigger anger. Spend a few minutes on this step, exploring the components of your anger.
3.) PICTURE SACRED FIGURE: as you notice the anger and frustration, picture someone that you associate with highly positive qualities, like peace and nobility. Perhaps it’s a spiritual figure, such as Mother Teresa, the Dalai Lama, or Jesus Christ. Or, it may be somebody else. It doesn’t have to be a religious figure; it can be anybody that symbolizes characteristics of tranquility, dignity, or wisdom, like another historical figure, family member, friend, or teacher that you’ve known.
Take a few minutes to picture this person in detail, observing their characteristics and the type of energy they emit. Notice how you feel with this image of a sacred or special being in your mind.
4.) INTERNALIZE SACRED FIGURE: once you have a clear image of the sacred figure in your mind, imagine that you’re able to defy physics and bring their essence of peace, love, and respect, into yourself. Picture this energy flowing throughout your body and mind. See that sacred person as a part of you, living inside you, as an extension of who you are. Spend a few minutes on this step of “internalizing” this being.
From this place, revisit the anger provoking situations from step 2 and see how you would react emotionally, cognitively, and behaviorally with this new essence of say, Mother Teresa, the Dalai Lama, or your wise friend, essentially by your side. How would you/they react in that situation? Notice what thoughts, feelings, and images follow. Explore this data for several minutes.
Note that this is an experiential exercise; there’s no right way to do this. Just use your imagination based on reading this and let it flow. You can practice this visualization every day for a week and see how it impacts your life. Use other tools in conjunction with this, like the Anger Meter [LINK] to monitor the impacts of this practice on your daily anger level.
The more you practice using anger management tools like this visualization, the easier it will be to tap into your own peace and wisdom in the heat of the moment.
Remember: anger is not the problem; it’s how you relate and react to the anger that can create problems for you and others. Feeling anger is part of being human and like all emotions, there’s wisdom in it – the anger is trying to tell you something. Perhaps the message is that you’re feeling anger because you’re being mistreated, misunderstood, or because something in your life is no longer satisfying. Learn from the anger, but first, learn to respond to it in a skillful manner, so that you avoid hurting yourself and others in the process.
Source/Reference: Presentation “The Wise Heart & the Mindful Brain: Buddha Meets Neurobiology,” by Jack Kornfield, PhD. and Daniel Siegel, MD., Boston, Massachusetts, 2009.
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