You can see it in the record-warm Northern Hemisphere winter that failed to bring enough ice back to the Arctic Ocean, through the exceptionally hot Southern Hemisphere summer that fed devastating wildfires in Australia – and in the fevers that have ravaged the world during an unprecedented pandemic: our world is too hot. When you become quiet and listen deeply, perhaps you can sense the unnatural heat that pulses through all things. For the sake of our inner and outer peace, we must each come to terms with the ways we fuel that heat with the fires in our minds. Last week, we began to explore the emotional reactivity that harms our personal and collective wellbeing. All of this is part of the shadow work that this workshop offers to help you find inner peace. We are digging into the unseen territories of our minds and hearts, the aspects that keep us in cycles of suffering. Stick with it. I promise there is light at the end of this journey. And I am with you in every step.
Our culture tends to praise those who push themselves hard. We justify this by saying these people are the best at what they do. But perhaps we do so at the expense of our greater well-being. In the process of aggressively reaching goals at all costs, we too often act out unresolved emotions on those around us, often on those we love the most, instead of finding the courage to go deeper and understand the root of what we really feel.
You have likely been on the receiving end of someone who cannot control their anger and blows up into a fury. It does not feel good. Nor does it feel good to do that to another person. But to sit on your anger and let it fester is painful too, like a lead weight that pulls at your very core. Whether outwardly expressed to singe your neighbours, or inwardly harboured and burning within, unmanaged anger hurts everyone.
Not acting on your feelings does not mean they will go away. As we explored last week, your emotions are like a river that must flow. Turning your attention away from the river does not stop it from flowing. It just may mean that your unattended emotions flow in directions that are not healthy for you or for others. Beyond the ways you may act out anger unconsciously, such as in passive aggression or fits of fury, anger left unresolved often results in inflammatory disease such as ulcers, bowel disorders, and even cancers. To be healthy, we need to learn what anger is, why it is in our lives and what to do with it.
WHAT IS ANGER?
The American Psychological Association defines anger as “an emotion characterized by antagonism toward someone or something you feel has deliberately done you wrong.” In other words, when you feel angry, you feel against something that you perceive as hurtful or threatening. Anger is considered a normal emotion, in that we all experience it from time to time.
Physiologically, when you feel angry, your heart rate increases, your blood pressure elevates, and various stress hormones enter your bloodstream. Your brow furrows, your body tightens, and you prepare to fight a perceived enemy.
In its volatility, anger can easily be used to further our own agenda at the expense of others. Though it is possible to express anger in a healthy way, there are unfortunately few role models for this today. Perhaps if you experienced toxic anger at some point in your life, such as with an abusive parent, teacher or spouse, you feel afraid not only of anger in others, but of your own capacity for it. Its intensity and destructive force may have felt too easy to slip into, and too dangerous to permit. Or perhaps you have been in environments where your feelings were unwelcome, and you still fear that your anger will displease others—destroying the fragile peace that seemed to keep you safe.
The problem with anger is that when we are in the heat of it, we lack the ability to discern objectively if our perceptions are accurate. This phenomenon has been well documented medically: in a state of anger, we misperceive distance and colour. Scientists have also found that in anger, we selectively listen to and remember that which supports our angry perspective. So, to act in a balanced and holistic manner, we must learn to manage this volatile emotion.
WHY DO WE FEEL ANGER?
What really happens when you blow up, yell, slam doors? It is as though your primal circuitry is on overdrive, defending yourself against an attack in the perceived jungle. Unconsciously, you have convinced yourself that you must display how terrifying and powerful you are in order to be safe.
Anger runs hot in our minds and bodies, and its heat can be destructive. As it courses through your veins, you feel the surge of adrenaline. For our primitive ancestors living in constant danger in the wild, that energy surge meant the difference between life and death. The boiling emotion lets you believe that you are all-powerful. You feel able to leap buildings, take on an army, even conquer the world. When you feel anger, you have awakened the beast within. You have become the lion that roars, the gorilla that thumps its chest, and the shark that lunges. All you see is the need to defend. It is instinctive to fight when you feel attacked. But the difference between animals and humans is in our ability to act with awakened consciousness. As we evolve, we understand that living in fear of attack comes at a great cost to our health and well-being.
In anger, you react unconsciously. As you lose the fullness of the moment, the primal instincts kick in. Tunnel vision becomes all you know, telling you how to get out of perceived danger—fast. When you are immersed in a boiling, surging instant of anger, you are convinced that the problem is “out there”. When you feel angry, you attack, because you feel attacked. You feel unsafe. You are not in balance.
HOW TO MANAGE ANGER?
Though anger can be a tremendous motivator, providing raw energy to make big changes, working with its surging heat is often best left to those who know how to stand in fire and not get burnt. For most of us, we learn instead how to let it cool down, and understand why we felt it in the first place. Once it has settled, we can go beneath it to its source and decide from a steadier foundation what is needed to restore balance.
When you look deeply into your anger with transparent self-honesty, you can hear in it a soulful cry for help. Though on the outside you may be pounding your chest, anger is showing you the ways you actually feel terrified and powerless.
If you were to continue to softly and gently open to your most humble truth, you would likely touch a most tender place within. Whatever triggered your anger has shown you a part of yourself that feels unloved, even unlovable. In this, you felt overly exposed and vulnerable. You didn’t like that feeling, so you tried to stop it, destroy it, and get rid of it however you could. Going to these depths provides you with an honesty that not only defuses a situation but provides you with the greatest amount of insight into it. As such, it gives you the tools to manage it with skill and compassion.
From this new-found vantage point, you see that your anger has been showing you the ways you believe yourself to be separate, the ways you don’t feel loved or supported, the ways you may not even believe love exists. While you thought your anger was a call to fight back against some perceived threat on the outside, you now see that it has been calling you to return to the abundance of possibilities available to you in each moment, regardless of circumstance, while you rest in the knowing that you are always loved. You are always connected to the universe and its abundance that never ceases. You are a natural being, like all things in nature, always within a compassionate whole.
Every emotion offers intelligent information and an opportunity to act with greater discernment. For example, perhaps your roommate is watching television while you are trying to sleep. At first, you may not care about the noise. As it continues, however, you begin to feel annoyed. Your irritation tells you that you value your rest. It may also signal that you don’t yet have good communication with your roommate and need to spend more time developing this. Or it may be letting you know that it is time to change your living arrangement.
Anger is an active energy. If you are afraid to stand up for yourself, say how you feel or support your soul voice, you may sit on the anger and become depressed. Most cases of depression are some form of suppressed anger. You soon find yourself listless, lethargic, grumpy and complaining. All that extroverted anger energy has just imploded, directed at yourself instead of others.
Any time you reactively direct anger towards something you don’t like, you harm yourself and others. As the saying goes, “You will not be punished for your anger; you will be punished by your anger.” Anger does not feel good for anyone. But when you look more deeply into the anger, behind the heat, beyond the knee-jerk reaction to attack, you find a guardian of your truth that can keep you honest and on your path. It can motivate change, help you hold healthy boundaries, and provide a safe space for you to grow and evolve. By noticing what you are truly feeling, you understand yourself more fully. Then you can act with greater clarity, take better care of your needs and feel happier and more fulfilled. Respecting yourself makes you more likely to be kind and respectful toward others, and participate in the world with balanced joy.
Just as you learn that your tendency to become angry is born out of a divisive mind, you learn to not be harsh with yourself for being angry. Part of managing anger is learning to be kind to yourself when you feel its heat rise. Take an immediate time out to cool down and tune in. Find healthy ways to self-soothe and remain rooted in the reality that even though you may not perceive it in the moment, you ultimately are loved and, more deeply, you are love itself. In that steadiness, you can find the courage to soften, look deeper within and understand the source of what you are really feeling.
When you unravel the anger you feel toward others, you learn to understand and accept their sense of fragility, their need for love, and their ignorance. You can do this because you know that you too can feel all the painful emotions—the terror, the powerlessness—that they are experiencing.
TAKE A TEMPERATURE GAUGE AND COOL IT
Like fire, anger is quick, sharp and hot. We can easily sense its hot constriction in our body as our thoughts speed up, our fists clench, our jaws tighten and our blood begins to boil. Because of this, we can take steps to defuse it before it explodes.
For the most part, anger begins with irritation, where something feels dissonant with what we want. If it increases, we feel more kinetic and agitated, with a mild sense of anger. If self-judgment, fear or pride leads us to stifle that energy, we feel more and more frustration. But once our anger surpasses frustration, it can swiftly escalate as though the lid we put on it has blown. Then our thoughts, words, and actions can become explosive, hurting ourselves and others. We may even become blinded by this heat, able to see nothing else. So the stages of anger are irritation, mild anger, frustration, escalating anger, and blind rage.
To heal from anger, we practice the three steps to transformation: understand what we are feeling, witness its heat, and let go of all feeling of “against” or “life happening to me”. In this, anger loses its attractiveness as we see life from a broader vantage point rooted in interconnection.
This week, notice any time that irritation creeps in through the course of your day. When you recognize the presence of this first indicator on the anger gauge, take a few long deep breaths. If you can, take a time out to give yourself the space to understand what you are feeling.
Is there something going on you find threatening?
Then ask yourself: is this an actual threat or a perceived threat?
Remember that you cannot find happiness in feeling life is “happening to me”. See if you can let go of any againstness. Go deeper into what you may find threatening. Instead of tightening in resistance to the moment, choose instead to soften to the truth that you are always within the loving support of Nature. Return to a feeling of rooted, vital expansion.
Then inquire more deeply into what you are feeling. Why is anger present? What is dissonant in your circumstances? Is there anything you need to say or do right now?
If the answer is no, continue to take deep breaths, and thank yourself for your presence. If the answer is yes, then take that action only when you can do so from the calm lake of your inner peace.
If a person acts in a way you find annoying, see if you can understand why they are acting as they are. Put yourself in their shoes and consider what their life feels like from the inside out. Managing your anger is not about trying to change anyone else, but about being compassionate to everyone, including yourself. If you feel the need to speak up or make any external changes, do so while feeling rooted, vital and expansive, acting in alignment with Nature, so that you can experience freedom from the scorching fires of anger. Through the peaceful coolness of your mind, you ease the burning of the world.
From my heart to yours,