None of us want to admit that we get irritated, bitchy, or lose our temper. We much prefer to think of ourselves as wonderfully tolerant and serene. Yet getting angry can arise out of nowhere and often out-stays its welcome, like an unwanted guest that moves into our house.
Anger may be an effective demand for justice, for basic rightness, and for what is appropriate and humane. But it can also be like a single match that burns down an entire forest, causing tremendous damage and hurt. It can make enemies out of friends or family, can lead to greed and self-deception, or cause wars. The fallout can be huge and we may have no control over the repercussions.
So how do we deal with this intruder, this thief that steals our sanity? How do we let anger know that this is not the way we want to live, that enough is enough?
Soon after Nelson Mandela was released, Bill Clinton asked if he was angry when he walked away from twenty-seven years in jail. “Surely,” Clinton said, “You must have felt some anger?” Mandela agreed that, yes, alongside the joy of being free, he also felt great anger. “But,” he said, “I valued my freedom more. I knew that if I expressed my anger I would still be a prisoner.”
As psychotherapist Deepesh Faucheaux says, “Ducks don’t do anger. Ducks fight over a piece of bread and then they just swim away.” For, although we may have a good reason to be angry, retaliation just gets us into further negativity.
“Rev James Lawson, who was a cohort of Dr. Martin Luther King, shared with me an experience when he and Dr. King were sitting in an auditorium,” says Michael Bernard Beckwith. “A man came up and said to Dr. King, ‘Are you MLK Jr.?’ When he said yes the man spat on him. Dr. King took a handkerchief, took the spittle off of his suit, and handed it back to the man saying, ‘I think this belongs to you.’ He didn’t hit the man, he didn’t cuss the man out, he didn’t say how dare you, he had this ability to just be in the moment.”
There’s no compromise with anger, no chance for dialogue, just ‘I am right and you are wrong.’ This puts our heart out of reach, we lose touch with our feelings and connection with each other. In our longing to reconnect we end up hurling abuse instead. And yet we are the ones who suffer the most, particularly from the affects of anger in ourselves. Only by going beneath anger do we get to see whether there is hurt, grief, or fear trying to make itself heard, for invariably anger is a hidden cry for love.
Trying to eradicate anger is like trying to box with our own shadow: it doesn’t work. Getting rid of it implies either expressing it and creating untold emotional damage, denying its existence, or repressing it until it erupts at a later time. Instead, making friends with anger is like growing roses out of rotting compost, using the passion without the destruction.
By naming and recognizing the many faces of anger, we can stay present with it as it arises, keeping the heart open, breathing, watching emotions come up and pass through. Often anger has little to do with another person but more with our expectations and needs. We can watch as anger fills the mind and makes such a song and dance, and we can just keep breathing and watching as it goes on it’s merry way. We can see it, name it, breathe into it. As you breathe, silently repeat: soft belly, open heart, soft belly.
Originally published at medium.com