A few weeks ago, a very intuitive friend asked me what the deal was with me always being so nice (just to be clear: this was not intended as a compliment). As I sat with that I realised she was tuning in to something I’d been thinking about recently; that somewhere down the line I had ditched anger in favour of eternal zen.
Except that it doesn’t quite work that way seeing that I’m not a fantastically enlightened yogi (I’m working on it), which means that my zen is sometimes just a veneer with anger bubbling beneath it. Which is obviously not very healthy, not to mention inauthentic.
Anger and Depression
I wasn’t always so peaceable, diplomatic and politically correct. As an adolescent, anger was an addiction; I spent most of my teenage years embroiled in a righteous rage, aggressively pursuing what I believed to be important and true, and arguing anyone who was reckless enough to disagree with me into the ground.
And while I must have been really (really) annoying to other people (I was for example, a renowned recycling nazi at school), I fought for what I believed in. I was full of passion, and it gave me courage, something close to invincibility – a kind of defiant belief I could, in fact, get everyone to behave in an ethically responsible manner through the force of my own convictions.
Of course experience (and other people) eventually disabused me of that notion, and at some point I stopped fighting. I became jaded and despondent and ultimately depressed. Then, in an attempt to alleviate my depression, I got into Buddhism. As I began to read about Buddhism, I learnt about…
Acceptance, Compassion and Impermanence
…and I thought, “I must accept that there are things I cannot change.” “And I must be compassionate towards all the assholes in the world who know not what they do.” “And anyway, nothing is permanent and it’s all just a random game on this crazy little blip in the universe so really it’s just not worth getting that stressed out about.”
Somehow these lessons translated into Anger is a refusal to accept things you don’t like, so I became an expert at jumping into a posture of ‘letting go’ every time I felt the slightest hint of anger. For years.
Anger and Love
As I started to become more conscious of my relationship with anger over the last few months, I realised that this is not true; that anger can be a worthy emotion, a useful emotion, an emotion that is needed because it has a lot of power in it. Power that, when used with a pure intention, can bring about massive change. When used with impure intentions however (as it currently very often is), it can bring massive destruction.
The only way to experience anger constructively is to remain anchored in your heart.
When we are angry and go into conflict, the only way we can reach a solution that increases the value of the end effect (the energetic level of the interaction, if you’ll forgive my using such woo-woo sounding terms), is to stay anchored in our hearts. The minute we lose that heart connection we are at serious risk of losing sight of the bigger objective (to find a healthy solution) and becoming enmeshed with the anger itself (so that “winning” the argument becomes the primary motivation).
When our motivation shifts from finding a heart-centered solution to “winning” (because the other person is “wrong”), we lose the healthy power of anger and relapse into what essentially boils down to 5-year-old behaviour (come on human race, do better).
Something I’ve found very helpful maintaining the heart connection is to always differentiate between being angry at someone, and being angry at their behaviour. The first makes it hard to maintain a loving posture towards the person as you are directing your anger at the person themselves, whereas the latter allows you to remain accepting, compassionate and loving towards the person whilst honouring your anger about something they’ve done.
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As we begin to grow into our spiritual nature as a species, it’s important for us to begin by integrating all that we are, and taking it with us in integrated form as a valid part of our past learning experience. Anger, due to its power, is one of the most critical aspects of human nature that needs to be brought into a more mature state of being, and the only way we can do this is through love.