Reluctant Arsonist and Compassionate Firefighter

Anger is like fire. Fire hurts if you touch it in the wrong way and the more you let it burn the more damage it does. If you suffer from anger, think of yourself as both a reluctant arsonist and a compassionate firefighter. The arsonist part of you keeps setting fires by accident. The firefighter part of you notices fires and puts them out.

Whether you get angry at some petty nonsense, or great injustice, you set a fire. To break the arson habit, to stop anger from arising, you have get good at putting out the fires. When you get good at putting out fires, eventually you will skip the step of starting them.

It is harder to put out fires when they have spread. Think of that first moment of anger as lighting a match. You can blow out a burning match or you can touch it to something to set the house on fire. The trick is to use your breath as soon as the match is struck. When you notice the first impulse of anger, breathe out all of the air in you lungs. Be careful what you do, say and think. If you indulge your anger, you set the house ablaze.

That happens. Once the house is on fire, then it takes time with focused attention and compassionate breathing to stand in the flames. Your thoughts feed the fire. Your long steady breaths protect the house by dousing it with water. Steady breathing in the face of anger brings your body back to a state of rest.

When you are angry, you experience narrow vision and can only see things from one perspective. When you become calmer, your mind opens up and you can see the problem from other perspectives. That is like bringing in help to fight the flames. When you bring in different thought perspectives, the thoughts that were feeding the fire diminish and the thoughts that extinguish the fire take over. Your steady breathing brings you back to calm as the anger passes.

The thoughts that extinguish the fire are not about the right and wrong of whatever made you angry, they are about working with anger and regaining your mind to better approach the right and wrong. They are the thoughts of the firefighter, compassionately observing the fire, isolating it, and putting it out.

The firefighter is filled with compassion. They do not blame the arsonist for starting the fire. They feel their pain as their own and use their available tools, their breath and their thoughts to stop the fire and soothe the pain.

As you learn to inhabit the firefighter you can also fight fires in other people’s anger. When you see anger anywhere, you respond with calm, compassionate breathing rather than by lighting more matches. You notice anger in others as pain and discomfort and you practice isolating and containing the anger rather than blaming the arsonist. The more time you spend inhabiting the firefighter, the better you get at it, and with enough practice, eventually, you can save the arsonist the trouble off all that fire setting.

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2 comments on “Reluctant Arsonist and Compassionate Firefighter

  1. Susan

    Really enjoyed the metaphors around anger. Helps with workability around that intense emotion. I’m also familiar with controlled burns that help sustain forests, or fires for roasting marshmallows. With the breath as a tool of the compassionate firefighter, we can feel that fire, look at it and sometimes put the flames to good use when called for.

    Thanks!

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