Spirituality for Today – October 2011 – Volume 16, Issue 3

When It Comes To Anger, Take A U-turn

By Rabbi Mitchell Hurvitz

My wife and youngest son joined my parents in traveling to Marbella, Spain, last week. This had been a dream trip to Roseanne for many years prior, and during her combating of cancer over the past 18 months, she had pledged to finally make this trip as soon as possible after her recovery was complete.

A photo of a U turn sign

While Roseanne and Ezra shared many joys and pictures from their travels, what bought about the most engaging conversation was the seemingly mundane traffic sign reads "cambio de sentido." This type of sign was prevalent in southern Spain indicating rotary or traffic circles. To the Spanish speaker, the phrase means "U-turn" or "change of direction," but to the linguistic delight of a non-speaker who translates literally, cambio de sentido is "change of heart/feelings."

With each seemingly mundane traffic signs, Roseanne grappled with how it is we actually succeed in changing our feelings. With our own follow-up discussion and my own challenges in this regard, I wondered if cambio de sentido is the fundamental divine sign. Are we seeing the "warning" in how to change our present path? Why, when validating our present feelings, do we nevertheless choose to pursue different feelings and actions?

Feelings are a tricky aspect of our humanity. Denial of feelings can lead to maladavtive behaviors that can be harmful to both us and others. Feelings can be "wrong," and we need to figure out how to recognize and evaluate the emotion and not necessarily transform feelings into facts.

Once of the strongest feelings that challenge us is our anger. With anger, we can have feelings that overwhelm us and cause us to make choices without real thought of consequences, and subsequently risk irreparable harm.

Anger grows into domestic violence, road rage, physical, spiritual or verbal assault – all acts that are an anathema to us. The world is littered with anger like mine fields.

God holds up to us the divine sign: cambio de sentido – Make a heartfelt change in your feelings so you can change your present course of direction.

We begin this process of changing course and feelings with prayerful meditation whenever we feel the onset of anger. By definition, anger is like a fire that burns within. The flames burn, and the desire is to let out the angry fire. But, the problem is that anger burn both us and others who are exposed to the flame. Rage leads to little positive results and usually has negative consequences. Prayer allows a person to stop and take control of the parameters by which the fire will be allowed to burn.

The "heat" can be lowered with a discipline of self-examination.

We ask questions:

  • What was really said or done to me?
  • Why is this upsetting?
  • What was the intent of the other(s)?

The spiritually healthy person manages to recognize feelings quickly, take the time to prayerfully reflect and appropriately control or change both the feelings and direction of the choices to come.

When we ignore the Divine sign of cambio de sentido we face danger and possibly irreversible consequences. Anger can lead to human relationship accidents that result in horrible injury which can be sometimes spiritually deadly.

How many marriages have ended because of a refusal to appropriately address feelings that led to actions?

How many estrangements between parents and children, sibling to sibling, friend to friend?

The inability to prayerfully stop, recognize feelings and change direction results in wanton destruction of relationships, if not worse. Indulging in unexamined feelings, following dangerous passions, can result in permanent brokenness – the exact opposite of Shalom (peace/wholeness/completeness).

Prayer lets us slow down our feelings and take the time to examine if our feelings are "facts" or "myths". We take our prayerful reflection and sit with our feelings. We don't give into losing control; rather, we ask ourselves the hard questions.

Perhaps we write down the feelings and list the pros and cons of acting on them. If we see that the risk outweighs the potential gain to a relationship we value, then we pursue the mitzvah of Cambio de Sentido and change the course of both our feelings and our presently set human direction.

Anger is part of our human frailty. Choosing a path of prayerful calmness defines our Divine humanity. If we struggle with control of our feelings then we need to more vigilantly pursue our reflections and reactions.

Prayer disciplines us and strengthens our authentic actions. Mom and Dad's simple advise to "count to 10" was a good start, but perhaps we need to count to a thousand, wait a day, if not a week, or make sure we carefully avoid scenarios that we know especially challenge us.

It's not possible to rid ourselves of "bad" feelings, but we can learn how to master the "changing" of both our feelings and the direction of our lives. May God give us the strength to be successful in this holy endeavor: Cambio de Sentido.

B'Shalom (In Peace).