It’s time to free it from your oppression and let it do its work
“But we’re never gonna survive…
unless, we get a little crazy.”
Recently a friend asked me how I was doing. “I’m angry,” was my simple reply. At once they rushed in to comfort me with advice on how to deal with my anger as if anger were some kind of a parasite, disease, or unwanted house guest. I stopped them, “No…I’m really grateful for it. Anger is very useful for me.”
It seems like there is more and more to be angry about––each day another atrocity, another indignation, injustice, insult, and offense. If the current multi-layered tsunami of COVID, racism, hostility, bigotry, economic collapse, political corruption, climate change, and crumbling health ‘care’ doesn’t give rise to anger in you I would honestly wonder what’s up with that?
If you don’t feel outraged, perhaps you’re stuffing it down, numbing it out, or spiritually bypassing it just to cope. That would be understandable. We are not taught how to be with anger. And now that there’s so much to be mad about, it can be overwhelming. If that is the case, I’m going to offer you an important reframe about anger, so you can wholeheartedly befriend yours too, and not only survive these times but let it do the important work it was designed to do.
Of the many emotions we feel, anger––and its cousins rage, wrath and fury––have received a bum rap in spiritual and psychological circles. In more conscious arenas we are often told there are ‘two kinds of anger’ – the toxic violent kind, and the constructive kind. This still makes us wary of anger. So we drop it, tame it, transform it, try to have the right ‘kind’ of anger, or find out what’s underneath it. Seldom are we encouraged to embrace it fully as a pure and sacred state, let alone act on it.
But I’m arguing that there is only one anger…not two ‘types’ (certainly there are two ways to express it – constructive and destructive), and at its core anger is a wholesome and blessed emotion. Anger is love. It is in fact the fierce face of love. When something or someone we love is threatened, anger ensues to alert us to love at risk. If you think about it, why wouldn’t love, and all of the vulnerability, openness, and meaning that love embraces, have a fierce protector?
‘Wait just a minute,’ I can hear you saying, ‘Are you advocating for looting in the streets and anarchy?’ Hell no. Hang with me here.
The issue is not anger itself, but the tools we use when we feel it. Violent acts are mistakenly assigned to anger, but anger is not the problem. The problem is in what we do with it. Acting out anger and acting on anger are two entirely different gestalts. The former is a toxic reaction to anger, the latter is a powerful response to it.
“Anger expressed and translated into action in the service of our vision and our future is a liberating and strengthening act of clarification,” wrote poet and civil rights activist Audrey Lorde, “Anger is loaded with information and energy.”
Anger is not some base energy that needs to bypassed or calmed or examined so that you can be more centered, spiritual, or a good person. It is a potent alchemical ally for love. It burns hot and sears through the morass to see clearly that something is wrong. A trespass has been committed against something or someone we love. Anger is a sacred intuitive and carnal response to oppression in its many forms––public and deeply personal. When acted upon with wisdom, anger is transformational.
“Anger is the deepest form of compassion, for another, for the world, for the self, for a life, for the body, for a family and for all our ideals, all vulnerable and all, possibly about to be hurt,” writes poet David Whyte. “What we name as anger is the violent outer response to our own inner powerlessness, a powerlessness connected to such a profound sense of rawness and care…”
Part of the overwhelm in feeling anger is due to our meta-emotions we have around our outrage. Put simply, meta-emotions are feelings we have about our feelings. We might be ashamed that we feel angry or scared that we are incensed, or embarrassed about our rage. Or as Whyte points out, we may experience waves of powerlessness or helpless vulnerability around our anger. These meta-emotions distort the fundamentally pure nature of anger itself and contribute to ways we may unskillfully act out on our anger and hurt others (or ourselves). In our lack of knowledge about how to work with anger, we fear it, vilify it and then mute it.
Dangerous consequences emerge in numbing out or silencing our anger. Oppressing our anger into submission, we fail to set boundaries, we lose clarity, we weaken our advocacy, we enable despotic powers, we get sick, we even die. Even our mindfulness practices become a way “to comfort, numb, adjust and accommodate the self within a neoliberal, corporatized, militarized, an individualistic society based on private gain,” writes David Forbes in his book McMindfulness – How Mindfulness Became the New Capitalist Spirituality.
Here’s the deal, we very much need anger to speak on behalf of love. If we are to transform the behemoth of oppressive mindsets and structures, anger is required to bring out our sacred warrior selves. So in the name of love, in the name of all who suffer, let’s befriend our anger. Let’s acquaint ourselves with its essence, why it arises, what it is trying to ignite in us, what it is assisting us to change. Because boy oh boy do we ever need some powerful, searing-hot, alchemical, transformative energies now.
To help us befriend this awesome powerful furious change-agent, allow me to introduce you to Kali. One of the most ancient and revered of Hindu Goddesses, Kali is the wrathful destroyer of evil and ignorance. Unlike her other god and goddess associates who each have consorts, Kali is whole unto herself. The Great Mother of the Universe, Kali is the heroic liberator and assisted all the great warriors when they were being overcome by demons. Kind of like what’s happening today. But Kali did not transform the universe through being nice. Oh no, no, no. She is the holy embodiment of anger, the fierce face of love. Images of her are not of beauty, bejeweled and draped with garlands of flowers, but rather her hair disheveled, fangs protruding from her mouth, and her tongue lolling.
Kali summons us to embrace our fierce feminine nature…embodied in men and women, and trust her (our) alliance to universal love. Yet notice if you have any resistance to her unconventional image…we’ve been conditioned to believe that good is lovely and nice like, say Venus, and anger is ugly hence bad. Popular culture finds groovy, politically correct, polite, and ‘spiritual’ ways to undermine it. That’s because oppressive forces that have socialized us from the beginning of time don’t want our anger revered and unleashed. If it were, that would be major trouble for racism, misogyny, militarism, xenophobia, homophobia, plutocracy, economic injustice, and all forms of bigotry.
Interesting that according to Hinduism, we are now in a cycle of time––what is called the Kali Yuga, the last of the four stages the world goes through as part of a ‘cycle of yugas’ described in the Sanskrit scriptures. It is a time of unrest, dissolution, and disruption so that a new world may emerge. Opinion is varied as to whether we are at the final stages or not. Regardless, Kali is being called forth.
Another powerful example to help you befriend your fiery passion are the Māori people of New Zealand. Their ancient ceremonial dance the Haka is still performed by New Zealanders (of all races) for many occasions. I encourage you to watch this video with the volume way up. It gives you a visceral, to-the-bone-marrow sense of the fierce face of love. Watching them is like watching Kali in action. Personally, I think it would do my soul a world of good if I did a Haka each day in honor of all that I love, and all that I want to protect.
In that spirit, I invite you to reconnect with the clarity of your anger. Be with it in its original state and from there, let it inform you about what you love, and what is at risk. Then choose how you want to express your protection of that love. Use the tools of assertion (constructive) rather than aggression (toxic), of response rather than reaction. More and more you’ll begin to trust your fierceness, rather than silence it.
How might that look? Anger acted upon might look like this: a courageous conversation, a petition signed, a commitment made, a book read, a boundary set, your own version of a Haka. My anger provokes me to write, to love more fiercely, to be braver. My fury invites me to wake up, to shake loose my denial, to speak out. My temper keeps me vigilant and clear.
A Spiritual Practice in Honor of Anger:
- Recognize anger as a holy servant of love
- Be aware of the meta-emotions around your anger because those make you vulnerable to aggressive reactions rather than assertive responses.
- Practice just being with the anger – let it inform you. And when you have stopped polarizing against it, then let the energy of the anger begin to speak to you. Ask it these questions:
- What do you love?
- Where do you feel powerless?
- What does it (what you love) / they (who you love) / or you need?
On behalf of love, go ahead––get mad. Let your blood boil, raise your hackles, get your dander up, be in a huff. You won’t find me stopping you.