Meditation in Action – How To Be Assertive Not Aggressive

Illustration of aggressive man with fists up ready to confront

Last night I ran my usual Tuesday night Meditation Session and as always we have about 45 minutes of lively debate and conversation in between the actual sitting practice.

This is when the students will often ask me questions concerning their meditation practices. Usually they will ask about their posture or how to deal with runaway thoughts and questions of that nature.

Sometimes I will start off on a topic, usually about different approaches to the act of meditation. Occasionally, I will take them on an autobiographical journey and cite my own experiences and how I have been taught to handle situations that have occurred over the years.

Last night, for whatever reason, one of my students wanted me to share my thoughts on dealing with aggression:

How to deal with an aggressive person without getting overly aggressive themselves.

How to be assertive.

I didn’t want the session to turn into a Self -Protection session, but then I had a thought.

Meditation is an act of self- protection in many ways.

By meditating we learn to focus on what is happening in the present moment. Noticing that everything is in a state of flux. That everything thing is impermanent and connected.

We put aside thoughts of the future or the past and for that moment we just sit.

Sometimes we examine thoughts and then let them go. Sometimes we can run an internal dialogue and analyse these thoughts, breaking them down so we realise they have no inherent reality, they are just thoughts.

Through meditation, we learn that good or bad thoughts are subject to change. By letting them go we protect ourselves from making rash judgements based on these ideas and thoughts.

In fact, I find that meditation protects me against other peoples’ ideas that they try to put into my head every day. You know the ones:

“You don’t want to do that!”
“I think you should do this”
“If you do that it could go wrong”

And so on.

Being in the present moment and being able to examine these ideas and beliefs allows you to act in a more authentic way and in an appropriate manner.

Having a balanced internal state allows you to have an appropriate response to any situation.

So, what do we do when someone approaches in an aggressive way?

How do you deal with it?

It’s difficult to do justice to this subject on paper as aggression often has a physical component to it but I’m going to give it a go!

If you are mindful on a daily basis you will be tuned into the internal and external environment.

This is what meditation prepares you for.

When something changes in that environment we pick up on it and act. We observe what is happening. This allows us to orientate our mind and our body. Helps us make a decision and then we act.

We act appropriately.

If you are not aware you will inevitably find yourself being ambushed from every direction. This is how most people live and respond to the world. They lack awareness and have to react rather than act. This is simply down to lack of awareness in my opinion.

If someone behaves aggressively and you are prepared, there are a number of things you can do.

Run away and avoid the confrontation or face the threat.

I suggest you should never try to match their level of aggression, verbally or physically, as this can often exacerbate the situation.

You should however, take a strong physical position, which will in itself be dictated by your state of mind. This is the key.

This is where your meditation practice can come in useful. For hours you have learned to focus your mind and let thoughts go when you sit. This is the master skill.

When someone behaves aggressively towards you many thoughts will go through your mind.

For example, you may think that they look bigger than you, look dangerous, sound dangerous. These ideas will simply fuel your fear response and you will find yourself incapacitated or trying to match their aggression.

I suggest we do the opposite, but from a point of inner strength.

I’ve always maintained that a strong internal mental state is what creates useful outcomes.

People who have control over their thoughts tend to see things through, even when they appear physically less capable.

I’ll give you a clue to how I deal with an aggressor and let’s assume it’s starts with a verbal assault rather than a sudden physical attack.

The build- up to this situation will have been obvious to me and so I am going to assume I have had no time to leave the scene.

My main cue will be their physical status. No matter how big or small they appear to be, I reframe the internal image. For example I might make them appear smaller in my minds’ eye, or them with their thumb in their mouth. Anything that makes me smile internally. I might imagine them as Homer Simpson… I can’t take him seriously!

Then I change my internal dialogue. What I say to myself will also affect my state.

Most commonly people will say things to themselves like:

“Oh Shit!…I’m in trouble”… Or words to that effect.

These negative thoughts only build fear and put you on the back foot.

My internal dialogue is always the same. I simply imagine that this is my birthday, Xmas and Easter holidays all rolled into one and you have just made my day.

My verbal response will be to tell them in an authoritative manner to calm down… Or words to that effect. Maintaining space and not fidgeting about looking nervous. I find keeping a solid base makes me feel stronger internally.

Speak clearly, with the right volume for the space and speak with authority. It should come across like an order or a command rather than a plea, and generally if your internal mental state is right, they will back off, calming down or moving away, continuing to shout.

If they continue the attack then we need to take it to another level.

That would be the subject of another post however.

Thanks for reading and keep in touch with all your questions.