We can use the method of contemplation to think through things differently, to change our habit of reacting to anger. Since it is difficult at first to think clearly in the midst of an altercation, we begin by practicing at home, alone, imagining confrontations and new ways of responding.
Imagine, for example, that someone insults you. He's disgusted with you, slaps you, or offends you in some way. You think: "What should I do? I'll defend myself--I'll retaliate." Now try another approach. Say to yourself: "This person makes me angry. But what is anger? It is one of the poisons of the mind that generates negative karma, leading to intense suffering. Meeting anger with anger is like following a lunatic who jumps off a cliff. Do I have to do likewise? If it's crazy for him to act the way he does, it's even crazier for me to act the same way."
Remember that those who are acting aggressively toward you are only buying their own suffering, creating their own worse predicament, through ignorance. They think that they're doing what's best for themselves, that they're correcting something that's wrong, or preventing something worse from happening. But the truth is that their behavior will be of no benefit. They are in many ways like a person with a headache beating his head with a hammer to stop the pain. In their unhappiness, they blame others, who in turn become angry and fight, only making matters worse. When we consider this predicament, we realize they should be the object of our compassion rather than our blame and anger. Instead of giving up on those who cause harm, we need to realize that they are seeking happiness but don't know how to find it.
Another approach we can use is to develop awareness of the illusory quality of our anger and the object of our anger. If, for example, someone says to you, "You're a bad person," ask yourself, "Does that make me bad? If I were a bad person and someone said I was good, would that make me good?" If someone says coal is gold, does it become gold? Things don't change just because someone says this or that.
As we practice in this way, we begin to realize that things lack solidity, like a dream or illusion. We develop a more spacious state of mind--one that isn't so reactive. Then when anger arises, instead of responding immediately, we can look back on it and ask: "What is this? What's making me turn red and shake? Where is it?" What we discover is that there is no substance to anger, no thing to find.
Once we realize we can't find anger, we can let the mind be. We don't suppress the anger, push it away, or engage it. We simply let the mind rest in the midst of it. We can stay with the energy itself--simply, naturally, remaining aware of it, without attachment, without aversion. Then we find that anger, like desire, isn't really what we thought it was. We begin to see its nature, to realize its essence, which is mirror-like wisdom.
It may sound easy to do this, but it's not. Anger stimulates us and we fly--one way or the other. We fly in our mind, we fly to a judgement, we fly to a reaction, we fly to this or that, becoming involved with whatever has upset us. Our habit of lashing back in this way has been reinforced again and again, lifetime after lifetime. If our understanding of the essence is only superficial, we'll find out that we aren't capable of applying it to real-life situations.
There is a famous Tibetan folktale of a man meditating in retreat. Somebody came to see him and asked, "What are you meditating on."
"Patience," he said.
"You're a fool!"
This made the meditator furious, and he immediately started an argument--which proved exactly how much patience he had.
Only through continual, methodical application of these methods, day by day, month by month, year by year, will we dissolve our deeply ingrained habits. The process may take some time, but we will change. Look how quickly we change in negative ways. We're quite happy, and then somebody says or does something, and we get irritated. Changing in a positive way requires discipline, exertion, and patience. The word for "meditation" in Tibetan is a cognate of the verb "to become familiar with" or "to acclimatize." Using a variety of methods, we become familiar with other ways of being.