Ahhhh…. Anger, the word for this energy coursing through me, wanting to shake and scream and stomp and throw punches. Something is wrong, something that is fundamental to who I am is being misunderstood, something I need right now isn’t present and I’m mad. I’m so mad and I know it because this tremor, this vibrating, caught, wild, natural pulse of red electricity is careening through my limbs and like the lightning bolt wants nothing more than the earth to ground it, but will spilt the tree in two if that is what it takes.
And all of this scares me, so I shun it, suppress it, argue it away, justify it, falsify it, marginalize it, and rarely, rarely do I feel the safety and confidence to explore it, to feel it, or to listen to it.
A couple years ago, long after I’d come to recognize anger as a part of my experience, but still struggling with the discomfort of it and my fears surrounding it, I decided to make it part of my morning practice to spend ten minutes a day being present and open to anger, being willing to feel it and interested in listening to this energy.
On the first morning I thought of some relationship I was struggling with and tuned in to my felt sense of anger. I sat there with this. This was okay, this felt relatively safe and tolerable. But I had the thought, “what if one day I can’t think of anyone I’m angry with?” My brilliant solution to this problem I didn’t have was to make a list of everyone I felt angry with so that if a morning came and I couldn’t conjure up a demon in my life I’d have a list to refer to. This list started slow, all the usual suspects, family members and others with whom I’ve been intimate, but then like a wheel gathering speed downhill the list went wild. I couldn’t write as fast as it was coming to mind—now I’d added colleagues, friends of friends, acquaintances, store clerks, mail men, all public figures… Children seemed to be absolved from “the list,” but everyone else I’d ever met, heard about, or walked passed on the street was there in name or spirit.
I began to feel the stirrings of joy and horror in my heart as I put my pad of paper down. Before I began this list I think I had some notion I could “work through” my anger in each individual relationship. Now I saw two realities come into focus: number one—the horror—I wasn’t the tolerant, non-judgmental, rarely angry person I thought I was or wished to be and second—the joy—the only constant in all the relationships I just put down on paper was my part in them. This energy is here right now and it is mine. To “work through” my anger is an inside job.
It is not that there isn’t a place to express anger, to speak out against injustice, to stick up for your needs, to say when something hurts or harms. There definitely is. Sometimes this energy is asking for expression. It is wisdom doing its best to communicate its needs in the moment. Sometimes when we listen to this energy it can express itself fully just through this open attention to it. Other times part of the movement is to share and express our anger, and say what we need, to another.
Some weeks or months after I sat down and wrote this impressive list I found myself at home alone of an evening as anger began to blossom. I’d asked someone to do something, he’d said he would and then he didn’t. I could feel the storm approaching and I couldn’t stop it, but also at that moment I wasn’t going to act on it. So there I was, a wreck. Finally I put myself to bed and once there was able to invite myself to drop the story of my rage and just feel the waves, the rain, the weather come. Resistance and fear loosened and I let go—I let the energy course through me while I stayed tucked safely in bed and breathed. I wasn’t fueling the storm with thoughts about wrongs done nor was I trying to change the course of the storm or deny it.
Being with this energy, allowing this inner storm was intense; I wondered how long I could stay with it. Then at some point after what seemed like a very long time it began to dissipate, my breathing lengthened, my limbs stretched out and it was over. And much as it is after the storm passes, I felt still and renewed and could hear the frogs singing in the marsh below my open window.
Are you able to sit with the energy of anger in your body? What does it feel like? Where does it rest or how does it move? This may be a very old energy seeking resolution and recognition through your presence and gentleness. Can you go slowly and give yourself the space to touch in to this part of yourself and the care to know when you have had your fill and need to shift your attention to something else?
This post is part of the series The Weeds of Listening.
Photo from Mamjodh’s photostream.