A note on the power and perversions of anger and how you can understand it in yourself.
Have you ever responded to upsetting news with anger and been told to "calm down" or "relax"? Or maybe you responded to the question "how are you?" with as pleasant half smile and an "I'm good, thanks" despite feeling angry, sad or unwell. Many of us find it challenging to express or tap into emotions that we might deem "uncomfortable" (i.e sadness, anger, fear, loneliness, frustration) due to social norms we grew up in. However, all emotions serve a purpose and are meant to be felt and expressed.
One of the most important "uncomfortable" emotions is anger. Meggan Watterson eloquently describes the power and pitfalls of anger in her book Mary Magdalene Revealed. She shares that the last of the Seven Powers described in the Gospel of Mary Magdalene is "the wisdom of the wrathful person or the compulsion of rage."
While a compulsion of rage immediately seems like more of a problem than a power, Patterson explains how useful the emotion of anger can be when we are careful to not let it fully consume us. She says,
Anger is healing. To feel and express my anger feels healthy. Anger creates appropriate boundaries with people who aren't supporting us or who aren't good for us to be around. Anger can flood the system with a sense of clarity and purpose. We sometimes know what we stand for and care about most in the presence of anger. Anger protects us and often protects others we love and those who can't defend themselves. Anger, for anyone who has been silenced or made to feel insignificant is a declaration that they actually matter, that their voice matters, that they are not to be silenced ever again. Anger in these situations is holy. Anger in the face of injustice is an act of love. It's an act of unifying ourselves with a stranger and saying I won't let you be treated as I would not want to be treated myself…
…And also, anger can devour us from the inside out. Anger can divide. It is so compelling it can derail and distract many of us for most of our lives and this is how I think we can best understand the destructive side of anger. It is simply when we get overcome by it. We can live in anger or we can act in ways that we will regret then for the rest of our lives…It isn't the [anger] itself that's harmful. It's the presence of the [anger] and the absence of the soul…its forgetting entirely that we are not just the ego that is subject to the [anger]. So even as we are more enraged than we have ever been, even if we have every right to be and it's healthy and normal for us to be so angry, if we forget that there is this equally significant part of us that is calm, still water beneath it all then we will inflict our rage onto someone else. And whether that person is undeserving of that rage in our eyes or deserving of it, all it does is bind us to that person and perpetuate the cycle of rage.
When I first heard these words (because I'm an audiobook girl on the move) I stopped mid-workout and rewound to the beginning of the statement at least 3 times to fully grasp what she was saying. It's not that what she said was such a novel concept - anger can compel us or consume us is a message I'd heard before. However, it was how she said it that felt like permission to embrace rather than run from the emotion. Her words felt like it was acceptable to feel my anger, to understand it's purpose, and to not let it become my identity.
This is arguably one of the hardest lessons in life to learn - to allow anger in so that it may motivate and inspire action within us and yet not take us over. To be able to take responsibility for the rage that can lead us to treat each other and ourselves in ways we didn't think we were capable of. To not perpetuate the cycles that hurt us in the first place.
This is something we spend a life time learning as one of our most challenging lessons of the human experience. There are no shortcuts to get there and at times it may seem confusing, but it's meant to be. This lesson brings us closer to finding spiritual and emotional autonomy and harmony as we come to understand and accept ourselves fully.
This is NOT something we learn by continually numbing or suppressing those emotions that might make us feel uncomfortable or vulnerable (i.e. social media scroll hole, binging Netflix, staying constantly busy or any form of addiction). Rather, we learn by allowing ourselves to feel and move through those emotions. It comes from experience and the willingness to work towards understanding our emotions.
The answers to understanding and managing our full spectrum of emotions are not something outside of us. They're within us. They're not something we can learn from a book or workshop or course (even though those resources may provide us with useful tools to tap into ourselves).
This work requires us to get quite and go within and to start to build a stronger relationship with our true selves. Below are some exercise I've found helpful to help silence the noise, establish more self-compassion, and tune into the truth of me.
Unplug from your tech: Sometimes we just need a break. We consume so much information on a daily basis from stimuli around from the room we are in, to the constant flow of news, to social media, streaming services, the endless internet and more. Taking a break from your phone or whatever device you might be glued to at the moment frees up space in your brain to focus on the here and now. Allow yourself to be present and tune into how you are feeling when you're not distracting yourself.
Get outside: Getting outside and feeling the sun on your face and the earth beneath your feet is another physical grounding technique to bring you back to the present. Stay unplugged from your tech here and just allow yourself to notice what you hear, see and feel in this space.
Make yourself a nourishing meal: Slow down to cook yourself a nutritious meal is a way of shifting your focus to the present moment and paying attention to what you are doing in the kitchen. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but try setting an intention to stay present as you prepare your food and when you finally sit down to eat you might consider a moment of gratitude for taking the time to fuel your body with intention.
Find movement: The energy of strong emotions tend to stay locked in our bodies body when we don't have other ways to release them. Moving your body is one way to start physically moving this energy. This might mean dancing alone in your room to your favorite song, taking that bootcamp class you’ve been putting off, going for a walk or anything in between. You get to decide what movement feels right for you in this moment!
Journal: Writing down your thoughts and strong emotions can help us to empty out our immediate response to the triggering events. Getting your swirling thoughts out of your head and onto paper actually allows you to step back and separate from those thoughts and evaluate whether or not they are true and move forward.
Ask for a Sign: One of my favorite quotes is "my heart is at ease knowing that what was meant for me will never miss me, and that what misses me was never meant for me" by Imam Al Shafi'i. It serves as a reminder that we are guided and we cannot make the wrong decision. With this in mind when I am feeling lost I often ask for a sign which again requires getting silent and tuning in. To do this try this asking a specific question - typically a yes/no works. Then choose a sign you want to receive and the time period you want to have received it within (i.e. an eagle presented to me sometime in the next 2 days). Lastly, wait and be open to what comes. Your sign may appear to you in different forms - you may see it with your eyes or maybe it comes to you in a dream, perhaps you hear a mention of your sign in a story or a song - again trust.