Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames by Thich Nhat Hanh, Riverhead Books, New York, 2001; 227 pages, ISBN 1573221872, hardcover $23.95.

Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh writes simply and directly about how to understand and deal constructively with anger. His ideas center on recognizing anger for what it is, dealing with it constructively through mindfulness -- that is, by being calmly aware in the present moment -- compassionate listening, and loving speech. Instead of striking out or blaming, we need first to turn inward to deal with our anger through various practical methods, and then seek to understand its nature and origin. We begin to see that the other person is only a secondary cause, since others might not have gotten angry in the same situation. We may see that we ourselves have brought about the problem, or we may not have perceived or understood things correctly. The author suggests hanging up a paper saying "Are you sure?" as a reminder that we might not always be right, even when we feel sure we are. In any case, through this process we can stop blaming others and try instead to help them, transforming anger into compassion.

While anger often makes us want to punish, reject, and withdraw from people, it is important to honor one's relationships faithfully, particularly with those close to us; to continue to share ourselves with them; and to seek to restore loving communication even when we feel they have hurt or wronged us. Because there is fundamentally no duality anywhere, we do not need to fight or reject any aspect of ourselves, but rather to transform ourselves. It is important not to deny our feelings and pretend that we are not angry when we are. The author also feels it is vital to tell the other person calmly that we are angry and suffering, and that we need their help and support to get out of this state; or if we are too upset to talk to them within 24 hours, to write them a note and set up a later time to discuss matters. The other person then is apt to reflect on the situation, and once we have expressed our feelings honestly and kindly, and the other has listened with the sole purpose of alleviating our suffering, rather than to analyze or criticize us, then the relationship can heal.

Peace, happiness, and understanding all begin with us and come from within. They are rooted in recognizing the interconnectedness of everything. Moreover, in the author's view anger is not solely a psychological phenomenon, because mind and body cannot be separated. The things we read, watch, and listen to can be toxic, affecting our total well-being and predisposing us to anger and other negative emotions. So can the type and amount of our food and drink; as one instance, chickens kept in inhumane conditions are filled with suffering, anger, and frustration, "So when you eat the flesh or egg of such a chicken, you are eating anger and frustration" (p. 16).

Thich Nhat Hanh's advice and intentions are very practical. As he says, "A good teaching is the kind of teaching that you can apply directly to your life, so that you can transform your suffering" (p. 3):

If the practice is correct, if the practice is good, you don't need five or ten years, just a few hours may be enough to produce transformation and healing. . . .
. . . If, after several months, the practice we are doing has not brought about any transformation and healing, we have to reconsider the situation. We must change our approach and learn more in order to find the right practice that can transform our life and the lives of the people we love.
. . . If you practice very seriously, if you make the practice a matter of life and death, . . . you can change everything. -- pp. 10-11

This review covers only a few of the many useful suggestions in this book which can increase happiness and help in maintaining positive relationships with others. -- Sarah Belle Dougherty (from Sunrise Aug/Sep 2002)