The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.
Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made
is star-stuff too?
– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –
dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.
Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.
Thursday, 3 March 2016
The teachings of anger
How strange, now, not to be thinking of prose poems! I can about write anything I want, and topics jostle. And then dissolve. But here, because it's been uppermost recently: anger.
Today, 2nd March, 100 years ago it stopped being illegal to be a conscientious objector. Can you imagine being imprisoned because you didn’t want to fight? Wouldn’t the world be different if you were imprisoned because you did?
War, after all, begins in every individual’s heart – with fear, with hatred, with anger. All it takes is a collective projection for a war to start; or simply agreement between the handful of people whom we have(n’t) elected to govern us.
But first, you need to own the anger.
They say, don’t they, that one teaches (or writes about) what one needs to learn. What ‘they’ don’t say, except in New Age or psychotherapeutic circles, is that what you need most to learn will be what you bump into, over and over again – your psyche drawing to itself ‘out there’ what hasn’t been as yet incorporated, integrated ‘in here’. (Jung believed there is a drive towards wholeness in every psyche.)
So anger seems to be my thing of the moment. I've recently had to deal with someone else's rage, which has triggered my own anger.
When I first learned Five Rhythms dance, the 2nd rhythm, ‘staccato’, was the one that held me up (for several years, in fact). Staccato is seen as a ‘masculine’ rhythm; it’s about clear yeses, clear nos, fixing your eyes firmly on a goal, not allowing yourself to be diverted, and most especially about boundaries. This is OK. This is NOT OK. Not being pulled off your track.
Staccato is about fire, but it isn’t really about anger except in its imbalanced aspect. It is about knowing your rights and needs, knowing it’s OK to have them, being able to defend them, and saying a firm ‘no’ when they’re violated. It can also be, then, a knowing of anger to be a clarifying purifying thing.
I was brought up a) a Catholic, with all that implies of the fear of sin, and of striving for selflessness, and putting the other first; and I was brought up b) by an unusual, sensitive, multi-talented, creative and very volatile Celt for a father. With a big temper.
I grew up terrified of anger, unable to recognise, let alone access, my own anger, and willing to do almost anything to defuse another’s while still rationalising and forgiving that other’s anger until I could almost convince myself it was my own fault, somehow. (I should say here that it’s never been too hard for me to be angry about ills done to another; especially to animals; this has meant that I’ve been involved in a lot of campaigning against the various forms of cruelty at which our species seems to be so adept.)
And I really hate (which probably means ‘fear’) the distance anger creates between people.
This has meant that for most of my life I haven’t even recognised anger in myself, except as a vague discomfort when my own needs and rights have been trampled.
I think I’m not alone, at least among women, in struggling with my right to own and express anger; and struggling, too, to know how to do so (I don’t know if it’s the same for men of my generation? – if you have any thoughts, as always I’d love to know). As a girl, there was an implicit assumption, back in the 60s and 70s, that our gender didn’t ‘do’ anger; it wasn’t ‘feminine’. Plus, of course, we all know that anger is A Bad Thing.
I considered it a huge step forwards, then, when, a handful of years ago, I started to recognise times when I felt a bit angry about something. The trouble was, it was often several months after the event.
A year or two later, it only took weeks, and was helpfully triggered by someone whom I trusted betraying me; not once, but several times in a way that affected various major areas of my life. (Usually, I'm so overly trusting and naïve that I don’t even recognise betrayal when it happens, or I rationalise and deny the other's intentions, so that too feels like a step forward. Normally I give someone – anyone – the benefit of the doubt. But once the same thing has happened two or three or even four times – well, what's the message? One part, for sure, is that I have to shoulder some of the responsibility for still being there, in the same situation, over and over.)
Now, I’m pleased to say that the gap has bit by bit closed, until a negative event and the anger it triggers in me are almost instantaneous.
The thing is, if you are never able to express anger (and of course there are skillful and unskillful ways to do this), it is hard for people to know what’s going on for you beneath the surface. The 'stuffed' emotion can turn to resentment, bitterness, disappointment, depression. What’s more, unacknowledged anger can build until it blows, like a volcano, scalding everyone in the area.
The trouble is, now that I’m learning, my anger is a bit close to the surface, and rather easily triggered. Because I’m a learner, I’m clumsy; and what I have learned is that that’s also OK – at the moment. I’ve tipped the other way, from being unable to request or even require that I’m treated well, to being only too ready to express it when I’m not. My use of assertiveness skills is a bit too – well, assertive at times. I trust that I will find a balance; hopefully soon.
And I’m not beating myself up (too much), as I would have in the past. I don’t like upsetting or hurting people; but I’m human and my intention is not to upset people but to be clear about what’s OK for me, trusting that it will help the relationship in the future. (And it might also mean that that relationship is not going to work, for either of us, in the future. That’s a risk.)
I've still a way to go to express immediately and calmly something that's bugging me (if it's bugging me badly enough to need to do that). What’s different is that I’ve stopped (mostly) being a people-pleaser, and needing others’ approval. So I'm perhaps less likeable but more authentic.
Anger is a tool. There are times when it's a very useful pointer to what’s wrong. We don’t have to simply let it blow, but we can recognise the prompt: that it’s brought to our attention something that doesn’t work for us, and we can then find a new way to change it. It gives us choice.
Anger is also often a prompt to activism; when we witness cruelty, or injustice or oppression it is our anger as much as our empathy that pushes us to act. In situations of social or environmental justice, it may prompt us to have the courage to speak out and keep speaking out.
So fire can be an ally. If we hold down the fire of anger in our belly, then our passion and creativity can suffer too.
So the question then is ‘How can I best direct this fire?’ Then I’m looking for a way to channel it to shift an imbalance in a situation without burning myself or others. It might simply mean finding a way to express it to myself: shouting, dancing, painting, writing about it. Or it might mean finding a way to talk about it without blaming, and kindly, to the other/s concerned. Or I might simply hold it in my heart, so to speak, look at its message, and breathe it out.
We have to learn to dance with it. It’s a problem only when it becomes an aggressive and/or habitual response to others.
And it’s a problem for us, as I’ve written at various times on this blog, if we start to identify our core selves with the emotion of it.
If we can sit as the Wise Observer at the hub of the wheel and notice that anger, too, has its place in the whirl of emotions around us, but is NOT us, even when we’re subsumed by it, we’re one step closer to knowing the darker places in our hearts. When we recognise them, we’re one step closer to removing ourselves from their grip.
Down the line, we may even be able to quieten the war in our own heart. Once we can do that, peace, in here and out there, has a chance.
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