There is so much acrimony, exasperation, impatience, outrage, ire, resentment, indignation, irritation, petulance, irritability, passion, rage, temper, violence out and about.
These words are all synonyms for “anger.”
Matt James, Ph.D. in a “Psychology Today” post from July 16 quotes Mark Twain: “Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.” Of course, he lived in a time before ours. Today “high capacity, quick reload weapons” are an epidemic of viral anger too often violently blasted on others. The trauma of loss for families of young black men at the wrong end of a gun in the hand a uniformed police officer . . . and the families of uniformed police officers lured into death by rapid fire weapons of destruction in the hands of angry young men . . . lives snuffed as quickly as a blown-out candle . . . surely this is a pouring out of the acid of anger on others that is even greater than the harm to the human vessel in which it is stored.
Anger is bubbling and spewing in our culture and in the world.
In his article, Dr. James writes:
Right now, I’m working on a new book on ho’oponopono, the Hawaiian forgiveness process. In many ways, ho’oponopono is about releasing anger that has festered for too long so that you may become pono with yourself and the world again.
Pono is when you feel centered and comfortable in your own skin. You feel connected to nature, your community, your friends and family, and yourself. You feel at peace. You feel balanced and a sense that all is well. When you feel pono, your decisions and actions are driven by integrity and awareness of what is good for the whole. And when you feel pono, you feel energetic, focused and effective.
Some of you reading the paragraph above may be thinking, “Wow. I don’t even remember the last time I felt that way!” In Western culture, we assume that this level of well-being is reserved for yoga retreats or spa weekends.
But to the ancient Hawaiians, being pono was not optional, it was required. If they felt even the slightest bit off pono, they did something about it. They knew that allowing anger to fester not only affected their relationships and sense of peace, it also created physical dis-ease.
In the words of this blog, I am inviting readers to examine our own anger . . . on a continuum from anger as acidic destruction of self and others . . . to anger as indignation that leads to positive transformation . . . where are we? where do we want to be? where do those we love need us to be? what is God calling us to become?
In her 2016 book, Crossing the Owl’s Bridge, Kim Bateman Ph.D., writes eloquently about the anger associated with bereavement. She has facilitated workshops and taught courses about Death and Dying for 20 years. She draws upon the wisdom of poetry and ancient stories from a number of different cultures to teach us about the way of grief and the healing in grief.
As we know too well, anger can be used for well and it can be used for ill. Reading her words shed light for me on this time of unrest and ugliness in our culture and in the world:
“Within the psyche, the fire of anger can be a potent transformative agent. . . . often intense feelings of rage accompany deep loss. . . we shout out indignation to God, we want to sue, we punish ourselves, and sometimes focus our anger even toward the person we lost. We roar like a lion, with its noble authority, voicing fierce guardianship on our territory. We have been wronged. Anger can be seen as an external reaction to our internal sense of profound powerlessness.
Anger is the primordial power of the psyche saying, “NO!” One theorist suggests that anger in young children is an adaptive, instinctual response to being separated from a caregiver. It serves to mobilize the person to seek reunion as well as to communicate to the loved ones that further separations will not be tolerated. Evolutionarily speaking, anger can be seen as functional. And in some ways, rage can actually serve to empower us. It is a way of saying, “I AM,” and an expression of the fact that someone or something has violated our domain. It speaks with sharp, penetrating intensity and is difficult to ignore, making it potentially a very rich source of information. David Whyte says, “Anger is the purest form of care, the internal living flame of anger always illuminates what we belong to.” It is important to remember that anger is communication from the part of us that is afraid of being alone, afraid of being in danger, and it needs expression and validation . . .we must be attendant to the feelings and not move to repress our anger or inappropriately express it, or let it devour us. We need to use its energy and see how it has the potential to offer us clarity . . . In allowing the soul to say “NO,” we then set the foundation for the ability to say “YES” later.
Fairy tales traditionally show us many ways of expressing this anger. For instance, there is the hot anger of a fire-breathing dragon and the cold danger of the Ice Queen. Hot anger arrives intensely and unpredictably, like a wildfire. It arises out of a primitive urge for survival (think of an eagle’s talons as they penetrate salmon flesh) and the desire for protection. It is sudden to stir, wreaks chaos, then disappears.
Cold anger plays itself out in the interminable grudge, in stewing resentment, and in a vigilant attentiveness to further perceived slights. This anger seems as substantial and immovable as a glacier, and is just as effective in changing the psychological landscape of all those in its path.
Anger is a force we have been given advice about. Girls are taught to be “nice” and are rewarded for repressing their anger. Boys are shown from an early age that they must demonstrate reptilian lack of feeling but use their anger to dominate others. In our ill-equipped state, we are often told to “think positive thoughts” and “look on the bright side.” This advice can be compared to telling a homeless person to “just buy a house.” The toxicity of anger needs special care and containment. We need love and a safe place for catharsis much as a river needs its shores for containment and direction. And when guided attentively, anger is subject to the same rhythms as all natural cycles. It rises, is expressed, begins decaying, and then in death, has its energy redistributed.
Dear ones of wellsofwellness, let us listen to the anger within us and the anger of others.
May we be . . .
and may we be among those . . .
who build beloved community.
I invite your comments.