Like many people, one of the reasons I began studying Buddhism and practicing meditation was to help deal with some of my anger management issues, so when my new truck (new to me) was involved in a hit and run accident before I had even made the first payment on it, I was presented with a whole new list of things to sit with. My vehicle was struck so hard that it was pushed into another vehicle parked in front of it, causing further damage, breaking my tie rods, and it’s unsure if the frame or the axle was bent during the collision. As I’m waiting for the insurance adjustor to come out to inspect the vehicle and tell me whether or not it’s completely totaled, I naturally feel my anger coming to the surface.
I disdain cowardliness. While I can understand how the accident might have happened, what I can’t comprehend is why the person left the scene without so much as a note. My mind quickly places all types of negative judgements upon a person I do not know, based upon this one simple action. I don’t like this, which adds even more anger to the mix, and now we have a self-amplifying feedback loop or rage that does nothing to improve the situation.
As I began to sit with my anger, I asked myself what I would do if the person were to come back and apologize. I’m embarrassed to say that my initial response wasn’t that compassionate and certainly didn’t resonate with loving kindness, but then, as with all emotion, the longer I sat with it the more the sharp edges of the anger wore down and were no longer able to snag me with its barbs. I was able to look at the situation with more Banner and less Hulk.
Maybe the person was having some type of stroke and was trying to get to a hospital (I live about one mile from a hospital so it’s not completely unreasonable).
Maybe the person swerved to try to avoid hitting a dog, but couldn’t avoid it and had to rush the animal to a vet.
Maybe the person received a horrible text message about an emergency at home which caused them to ram into my truck and then they had to race home.
Maybe this person is growing old and shouldn’t be driving anymore, but wasn’t ready to face up to that harsh reality until this accident occurred.
Maybe at some point a child in my neighborhood was being bullied and this person slowed their vehicle down in passing long enough for the bullying to stop.
Maybe the person is fully intending on making this situation right, but just hasn’t had the time or the opportunity to do so yet.
Or maybe, just maybe this person was afraid to tell his ex-Marine, MMA fighter, weight lifting neighbor with anger management issues they had just crashed into his truck.
While I doubt any of these situations are what actually happened, none of them are impossible scenarios either. These ‘what if’ options allow me to think of this person as a human being with real fears, regrets, possible lack of insurance and money issues, and a thousand other attributes that I myself either currently have or have previously experienced at some point in my lifetime.
The ‘what if’s’ are the key that unlocks the cell to our anger. There is always more than we can see, there are variables we will never know, and aspects we might not ever understand. They give me the option to view this person with a sliver of compassion and not just see them as an irresponsible ass hat. Maybe this person isn’t always like this. Maybe this incident is causing them pain also.
I don’t know and may never know what caused the accident to happen, and even though they acted in a way I perceive as irresponsible, opening myself to possibility enables me to choose how I’m going to deal with the emotions that arise from it. Between stimulus and response there is a gap, and if we can utilize that gap to generate a correct and mindful response, we will have much less regret and less apologizing to do. The secret is using that gap before we react in an unmindful or hurtful way. Like they say in London when getting on the subway…Mind the gap.
Pee Wee releasing anger.