I was feeling angry today. I don’t know about you, but for me, in this moment, the temptation is high to lead with all my sharp edges. I mean it’s hard not to when they feel like they’re poking up out of my skin like Wolverine claws.
Today, I saw anger expressed in multiple posts on social media. I felt the snap from an irritable friend’s message. I felt my own crocodile jaw open wide as my neighbor blasted her music, the bass aggravating the neuropathy in my hands. I tried not to hyper focus on the fact that I’d left her a note requesting she turn the music down because it was worsening my pain and symptoms, and that her only response to said note has been to play music louder and more often. I resisted the urge to unleash that frustration on my partner and took a shower.
While the water ran down my face and soothed the fire within, I thought about anger and remembered something.
Ten and a half years ago, when I moved to Portland, when my marriage had fallen apart, two of my best beloveds, Erin and Amy, flew to visit, comfort, love, and help me recalibrate. We laughed and cried so hard. They kept me afloat. Thank goddess for good friends.
One night during their visit, I shared a glimpse of how angry I was—at my ex-husband, at feeling stranded in a new city, at losing my job and my bearings. My wise friends suggested I yell and scream into a pillow and bang on the ground.
I positioned myself on the floor next to the couch and near the hallway and did both. I held that pillow up to my face and yelled until my throat was raw. Wow did it feel good. I also pounded my fists on the ground. More satisfying release (and no neighbors below).
However, my banging on the ground was so vigorous that I shook loose a beautiful ceramic cross I had hanging over the archway between the living room and the hallway. The cross fell and broke, cracked in two places. Superglue couldn’t mask the damage, two jagged and pronounce fissures.
In the shower today, I remembered that cross and had one of those insights that only can be revealed under running water. I thought about how anger surfaces because something sacred has been broken, and, if out of control, how expressed anger can result in something else sacred being broken, too.
As for the first part, anger surfacing because something sacred has been broken is, I think, a good thing. It lets me know my sense of justice is intact. My sense of boundaries. My desire to protect others, myself, our planet. Much of my approach to anger is informed by the incredible work of Karla McLaren, not to mention Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés, and others. Thank goddess for good resources and emotional mentors. Given the wild vacillation of emotions I’m experiencing each day through this moment in history, I need them.
Of course there’s a lot to be angry about right now, much of which was true for many of us, particularly the most vulnerable of us, before this pandemic even happened. So many things many of us held sacred—ways of life, systems we trusted (plus many we haven’t trusted perpetrating new breaches of trust), freedom of movement, gathering with friends and family for celebration or mourning, art, theater, sports, paychecks, etcetera, etcetera—have been broken. The me is definitely coming up against the we, in a multitude of ways.
I mean, I’m angry that current circumstances have postponed my medical care. I was supposed to see a neurologist this month, but now I won’t be able to get in until June or later. I’m angry that I’m experiencing ongoing physical suffering, but at the same time, I know that my situation is not dire in comparison to the experience of many others in the collective right now. I am one among many.
My gut says we’re all being called to understand ourselves not as rugged individuals, but members of a tightly interconnected whole. And shifting that understanding requires moving through the world and our lives in a different way.
So as a member of a tightly interconnected whole, what for the love of pearl, do I do with the anger I feel?
I know that snapping at the people I love or lashing out at people I don’t know will not be actions I’ll be proud of later. Alternately, stuffing it down and letting anger fester in my body is not a helpful option. That will make my pain worse. So I do need to take some action. To release or express the anger somehow. Pillows and floors remain a solid option, as does walking at a safe distance from others. Writing. Maybe some singing and wild dancing. Taking action for justice, taking action that helps someone who has been hurt. Asking friends how they work with their anger to get new ideas.
I think anger worsens when we feel powerless to address it and when we pretend it isn’t there and let it operate without a chaperone.
I’m reminding myself, that despite a dominant cultural proclivity to declare some heroes and others villains, and the rest of us an impotent audience who can only cheer or boo, I am not powerless. My influence extends beyond six little reactive icons, beyond a thumbs up or thumbs down. I have choices. I can take action.
I’m reminding myself that when I’m angry is not the time to blindfold myself and act like I’m playing a game. Ignore the fact that I’m flailing with a sharp object in my hand, determined to pin the tail on that aggravating donkey, even if I can’t see where he is and somebody else gets pinned in the process. When I feel anything intensely, it is time to bring in my most grounded self as chaperone and pay close and curious attention.
The thing I want to hold myself to—today, tomorrow, always—is to keep the anger I feel conscious, to be mindful of how I release and express it, so that I don’t unintentionally break something else sacred and perpetuate a damaging cycle. And if I do act like a jackass, because I have, and because despite my best intentions, I know I will again, to make amends as swiftly and sincerely as I can.
May we use our anger to protect what is sacred. May we protect the most vulnerable among us. May we protect our hearts, our sense of compassion, our kindness. May we respect our sharp edges and protect ourselves and others from their potential harm. May we know softness in the hard places. May we know our lives and selves and others as not just good or bad, but nuanced. May we meet anger with curiosity. May we call on friends, mentors, and resources and remember ourselves as part of a greater whole. May we draw deep from a well of grace we’re not sure has any water left, but usually does, somehow. May we protect what is sacred.