People wish to be settled. Only as far as they are unsettled is there any hope for them.
--Ralph Waldo Emerson

Two monks were traveling down a road beside a river. They came upon a woman sitting on the bank with her head in her hands and tears streaming down her face. One monk asked what was troubling her and she responded that her child was on the other side of the river, alone and afraid. She told the monk that she had lost her way and could no longer find a shallow crossing. Immediately, the monk invited her to sit on his shoulders and he carefully forded the river, depositing her on the opposite bank. She thanked him with a big hug and ran off to find her child. The monk returned to the other bank and his fellow monk. They continued on their stroll. As they continued, however, the fellow monk angrily chastised his friend for assisting the woman. "You know it is against the rules of our order to have contact with a woman", he said. "And to have such close physical contact, at that!". The monk simply shrugged his shoulders and continued to walk. Displeased with the lack of response from his fellow monk, the chastising monk repeated his consternation with greater emphasis. Realizing that this upset would likely not end for the fellow monk, the monk looked at him and replied, "I deposited that woman on the opposite bank. Why do you still carry her?"

It is not so that anger is an unhealthy emotion. Anger is one of our most useful emotions and deserves great respect. Anger is both a warning to us and a teacher.

When anger surfaces, it is a time for serious attention to our thinking process. Something has processed incorrectly and needs to be observed for clues. A lesson is being presented and we have an opportunity to grow.

A part of our path to growing is letting go of denial, blame and judgmentalism. Years of such thought do not dissolve simply because we agree that they should. They do not disappear simply because we practice meditation. They do not end simply because we walk away from a situation. We need to practice releasing anger and can do this through observing it and questioning our investment in its outcome. For this purpose, we can establish a simple mantra for anger and practice the direction it establishes for us.

Stop. Assess. Act rather than React.

Becoming aware that feelings of anger are a warning, we can stop. Stop our reactive mind. That part of the mind that is much like the mind of the animal. At this point, we now become able to assess. That is, we can examine the stimulus which has presented and to which we find ourselves reacting. Through this examination, we ask ourselves what judgments we may be making, what assumptions we may be forming, what blame we might be ascribing. We have an opportunity to ask ourselves what demands we are placing upon others or the world. We have a chance to examine whether we would truly be happier if our demands were met. Met without mutual understanding or acceptance. Uncompromisingly. We have a chance to examine whether we would truly be unhappy if our demands were not met. We have an opportunity to look at mutual solutions. Compromises. Alternatives. From examining our anger and assessing our investment in it, we have a greater chance to act upon the stimulus rather than react to it.

Stimulus - Response

If we look at how an animal processes stimulus in its environment, we will find that the animal responds from a place of automatic response. Reaction. This is learned behavior which is protective. It is representative of the lower forms of thinking regarding security, sensation, and control. In fact, because it is a learned behavior and has had considerable practice, there is little if any thinking actually occurring. This is often referred to as the fight or flight mechanism.

Stimulus - Response - Thought

Humans have a greater capacity for processing stimulus, however, this does not mean that this capacity is always put to use. As human animals, we also have learned behaviors. Learned responses. Reactivity. We, also, have thinking which comes from the lower levels of understanding security, sensation, and control. In lectures, I have often used the example of children. Children, in their learning process, initially begin by learning the tricks. Take, for example, the child in his crib gleefully playing with his rattle. Suddenly, the rattle escapes his hands and the crib and tumbles to the floor. At this point, the child’s security and sensation become threatened. The child reacts with its only learned expression for fear and discomfort. Crying. Hearing the noise, mother enters the room, finds the rattle on the floor, realizes the child’s angst, and swiftly returns the rattle to the clutching hands of the baby. Along with this, the mother coos to her child and gives soothing attention. The mother then returns to whatever she may have been doing. The child, absorbing the response from mom, acquires a new, yet simple, understanding. Suddenly, the rattle is sent flying out of the crib and the crying inevitably ensues… awaiting the return of mom and her attention. As simple as this sounds, it is actually the beginning of a complex processing of stimulus. It unfolds, in brief, as stimulus - response- stimulus - thought - stimulus - response involving the processes of two separate individuals. Eventually, this process ceases to be effective and the parent and child must create a new, and initially, uncomfortable association.

Examining the stimulus - response - thought process a bit further, we find that it is a typical relationship which develops, also from learned behavior, and lingers ineffectively in adulthood. It is most easily described as the impulsive mechanism. In early adolescence, a child sees a cookie, wants the cookie, and despite having been told not to have a cookie before lunch takes the cookie and eats it. Guiltily, he then concocts a story of how the cookie disappeared. Here, the impulsive thought was acted upon and then the guilt emerged. Retaining this dysfunctional process in adulthood, we all too often find ourselves having said or done something and immediately afterward asking ourselves, "Oh, God, why did I do that?" At this point, we either take ownership of our actions or we attempt to somehow justify them. Usually, this means that denial, blame, and judgmentalism are present. Either way, we typically find that the original stimulus and our reaction to it has turned into a new, and often, more uncomfortable stimulus.

Stimulus - Thought - Response

Realizing that we have these learned behaviors and understanding that they do not serve us well is the beginning of conscious communication with others and the world. It is here that we become able to practice our mantra and use our anger for its intended purpose. In viewing the above heading, notice how closely it resembles the mantra. We accept the stimulus. We consider all aspects of it.. especially our connection to and investment in it. We create a sense of respect for the stimulus and respond to it from that sense. Stop. Assess. Act rather than react.

This process can only begin when we fully accept that our anger, like all of our feelings and emotions, comes directly from us. We are the source and it is our perception of any given stimulus that creates the feelings we experience.

Like our other behaviors, this new behavior must be practiced until it becomes second nature. We use the mantra until we no longer need to do so. Through this practice, we effectively raise our level of thought and discover that our need for security, sensation, and control is met in the most effective and rewarding manner. Our understanding of these needs is dramatically altered for the betterment of ourselves, others, and the world. And it takes getting angry to get here!


(The above is excerpted from a series of lectures on Anger, Happiness, and Conscious Communication)

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Paul is the owner of M. Dennis Paul, LLC, Professional Conflict Management Services and is the Founder of the Quan Yin Counseling Ministry. With over 20 years experience in counseling individuals and couples in the areas of relationships, sexual dysfunctions, and addictions and offering Conflict Management for Parent/Child, Families, Couples, and Business, Dr. Paul is considered by peers to be an expert in Thought Addiction. He is now offering training courses for Relationship Surrogate/Coaches and Thanatological Surrogate/Coaches. He continues to offer Thought Addiction recovery programs and maintains client hours by appointment only. His information can be found by visiting: and

He can be contacted through those sites as well as and 1-617-682-8299