My guess is that if you are reading this article, you must be feeling conflicted, frustrated, and overall, dissatisfied with your life (you may be thinking – well, who isn’t! 😉 Perhaps you have a mild case of depression, or have reached a point of considering a lifetime supply of anti-depressants (interestingly, a search on the internet revealed 73 different anti-depressant options!).
You have a right to be angry, and have other difficult emotions! Many emotions will get triggered during the dating process. It’s important to heal them, and let go of emotional baggage that may sour a new relationship.
You are probably feeling like a victim of your circumstances, perhaps working in a job that you don’t really love, unhappily single, in a relationship that isn’t going anywhere, or married to someone for the sake of your children and society. Deep down, you know that if you were a totally free bird, you would be off in Bali by the ocean, living the Eat, Pray, Love story that we all dream about. You would likely be doing something more meaningful with your life, like farming for your family and community, serving at a local animal shelter, living life as a singer or photographer – whatever feeds your soul. But right now, you are stuck in this confusing and binding maze of expectations from the world, the society, your family, and even you.
When I began my soul searching journey, the first thing I realized was that I was angry, like a bee in a beehive that had been disturbed by someone throwing a rock at it. Sure, the breakup had rocked the boat, providing a catalyst for all of my anger, pain and suffering to start bubbling up with tremendous velocity – a pent-up geyser, right after it had been opened up. I was angry about many things that had been kept inside of me – a growing avalanche of resentment, indignation and frustration over a lifetime.
At the surface level, I was annoyed with the situation that had put me in this seemingly helpless position. I was also going through a tough time at work, dealing with two difficult colleagues in different departments than my own, who wanted me out of the company. Was I was supposed to take the verbal and emotional abuse that I had heard from different people, and simply swallow it? Why did everything seem so cut-throat, uncertain and difficult? Why did it seem like I was the one doing everything wrong? I had become a ball of negativity and stress, and had conjured up a story that made sense to me – perhaps that person was jealous of my role and skills and felt threatened; my fiancé was confused and received the wrong information from all of the negative people surrounding him. I was an analytical machine, growing my prowess of skills and tools to deal with people – negotiation, favors, rational communication, using silence as a treatment. The tools may have felt a little manipulative, but in order to keep control of the situation, that’s what we have to do, right?
I was angry at myself as well. My values had corroded over time, and I was unsure of what I stood for anymore. Was I really willing to give up everything, move to upstate New York, and live the life of a rich doctor’s wife? Was I being fair and authentic with my colleagues, even the ones who liked me; and for the ones who didn’t, could I really listen to what they had to say about me with open ears? I was grateful for my family and friends who stood by me, yet, I felt that I was a disaster of a person in their eyes. Why did I feel so depressed and depleted in terms of my vitality, health and spirit, and what did I really care about? My dreams had been squelched, or they existed in some remotely unattainable part of the future. I became my own worst critic, as I began passing judgment on my achievements, looks, you name it. I was secretly sentencing myself to a life of mediocrity, and in some cases, misery.
As I continued my self-exploration through meditation and healing practices, I became aware of an ocean of anger and resentment buried in me, related to wider social and cultural issues. Some of them were related to my family and heritage, and the pain and suffering that have been intergenerational, percolating to my generation. Other topics ranged from injustice against women in general, cultural injustice, corporate dominance and the financial crisis and how it impacted millions, if not billions of people, and our increasing degradation of the planet. I resisted unconscious consumerism, and yet, was aware of how I had become part of the chain somehow, becoming self-involved with my own happiness and a habit energy of seeking approval from members of society. For instance, I had received a diamond ring for my engagement, and yet, how I felt concerned about the diamond industry in general, and have even seen first-hand the impacts of diamond-funded conflict on Sierra Leonean society. This difference in values within me led to guilt and even more confusion.
As you can see, my anger spanned many layers; a core seed of anger had been planted, perhaps even before I had been born, and it kept getting watered over the years as I continued to harbor resentment without examining the root cause and its knock-on effects on my thinking and perceptions, or even expressing or rectifying it. As anyone could vouch, I was generally a positive and sunny person; and yet, deep inside, I knew I carried my own type of pain and discontent. Now, looking back, I realize that I was living a fear-based life, based on surviving the next day; and didn’t have the tools, nor the time or patience, to begin unearthing that seed of anger.
I actually think that anger can be a beautiful emotion. It is alive and fresh, and fills our bodies with intense sensations; almost like a fever, trying to burn through something that is irritating us.
Say hello to your anger: Whether or not you have a regular meditation practice, begin to practice sitting with your anger, holding it with tender care, examining it carefully and with patience. As Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh shares in his book, “Taming the Tiger Within”:
Anger is like a howling baby, suffering and crying.
Your anger is your baby. The baby needs his mother
to embrace him. You are the mother.
Embrace your baby.”
As you sit quietly, in a private space, either inside your home, office, garden, or spiritual place, begin to breathe deeply and slowly, feeling your breath fill your body. Take a few minutes to equalize yourself, and begin to acknowledge the different aspects of your being. Begin scanning your body, slowly feeling your feet, thighs, buttocks, stomach, arms, hands, chest, throat, face and crown area. As you begin this introspection process, ask yourself: what is making you fume with anger?
Begin to observe the different thoughts floating through your head, almost like a torrent of voices, and a situational replay of what happened. Pretend that they are clouds, floating above your head. Pick one to observe, and begin to feel what is going on inside your body. Is there a churning, burning or pulsating sensation in your chest? Is your solar plexus aching, and is your stomach in a knot?
Whatever the sensations are, begin naming them, and describing their characteristics – temperature, form, duration. While observing, calmly tell yourself, “Anger, I accept you as a part my life and being.”
The process of acceptance of your feelings may take a long time, especially if you have always resisted looking at your anger deeply. This is the norm in our society, after all! All our life, we have been told that we need to be positive, and not share our feelings openly, or if we do, be able to reflect on it in a rational manner. The time spent for introspection has been brought down to little or nothing. Moreover, most people are too ashamed of their anger, and repress it for many years at a time, occasionally letting erupt at a difficult juncture. This uncontrolled eruption makes us look like we are not to be trusted – after all, who wants to be seen as ‘going postal’ in the workplace! As you may see, this has become a social epidemic in the US, leading to is seemingly unexplainable gruesome acts of gun violence in schools and apartment complexes.
Humans carry a kaleidoscope of feelings and emotions, each carrying different types of information. None of them can be categorized as good or bad – they are all equally valid and important in their own ways for our evolution. Could you imagine music with only the higher, lighter octaves and keys? Don’t the base and deeper keys add beauty, dimensionality to the music? Think of some of the most interesting, powerful and resilient people you have met – don’t they have a fire within them, and wouldn’t they get angry if someone transgressed their boundaries?
Become intimate with your anger, as this will be one of your guiding forces on where to go next in your journey.
Whether you are at work or home, and have a moment of rising anger, I am positive that you can squeeze 10-15 minutes here and there for some ‘you’ time. Excuse yourself politely, go to a quiet room or a park, and close your eyes. Trust me, you are not strange – your anger deserves your attention, immediately! If you can, take the time to sit with it for however long it takes for each of your emotions to be observed and named. Try not to get lost in the story behind the emotion, as that would take you down a rabbit hole of analysis, which can be infinitely deep. Accept the story as is, and focus on your feelings and sensations.
During the initial days of my journey, I found that I was taking ‘me’ time every few hours or so. I would go sit by the East River which was a stone’s throw away from work, in the cold, with my jacket covering my face as I wanted to hide in my security blanket. Or I would find an empty office, turn down the lights and shut the door. Then I would close my eyes and begin sitting mindfully with my anger; watching it arise and subside, in waves. Prior to the sit, I would feel turbulent and unrooted – but the sitting practice allowed me to regain a sense of calm. I began to accept my angry side, and almost smile at it, lovingly and knowingly. It sounds strange, but one may develop a relationship with it, like any other emotion, almost like a good friend that is constantly by one’s side.
An important part of one’s healing journey is finding someone one can share these emotions with. I will cover this in more detail in a separate chapter, as I truly believe that a person like this is critical for one’s transformation.
Contrary to popular belief, we are interdependent (and inter-relational) beings, sharing this planet, and we wouldn’t be able to survive without everyone around us, supporting us in our physical nourishment, as well as our mental and emotional journeys. Even from an intellectual and neurological perspective, we tap into a common consciousness plane; we have seemingly separate bodies in our physical form, and yet, we as humans are unified in the etheric plane.
Our growth is dependent on each other; and a friend or confidante acts as someone who listens and helps you feel validated for your feelings. They may give you different perspectives on your pain, and in general, play the role that your own mind would be playing during a meditation session; inquiring about you, your well-being and engaging in an emotional run-down. Make sure this person isn’t someone who will make your anger grow, by adding fuel to the fire and further psycho-analyzing the situation – just someone who will listen patiently; and hold your hand when you need it.
As you begin this phase in your journey, you need to be careful about what you say. There is a Buddhist metaphor of how our painful words are similar to arrows shooting in both directions – they hit both you and the other person. Every moment, with each word, you are shaping your destiny. No matter how great the pain, make sure you are speaking with authenticity and after some deep self-reflection and self-empathy. On a spiritual level, each word that is propagated into the ether is manifesting into something physical; and is hitting your soul permanently.
This does not mean that one sits in silence when they have been hurt. Thich Nhat Hanh has a saying that he shares on how to communicate with a loved one who has hurt you: “Darling, I suffer. I am trying my best to practice. Please help me.” Even mentally thinking this towards a person who has hurt you can lead to some amount of peace.
Don’t forget, even if there is an angry side of you that you are dealing with, you were still born with an infinite supply of love, forgiveness and compassion, which can be tapped into anytime.
The reason I believe anger is so powerful, is that it points us to what is fundamental to our spirit – which heart strings are being plucked, and why do we care so much about them?
Anger helps us determine what we stand for.
If you think about every crime that has been committed, such as why people agree to become human bombs, you can assume that there is a deep sense of fury. These people commit these acts of violence because of something they hold dear to themselves, which they are passionate about; whether it is trust, loyalty, connection or a need to be seen or acknowledged. There are countless other reasons why people are fundamentally angry. A definition of the word fundamentalism goes: movement or attitude stressing strict and literal adherence to a set of basic principles.
This shows you that there is a fundamental set of values that this person is fighting for. But I will posit that we are all undercover fundamentalists in our own ways – not in a bad way, of course! We all have a set of values or principles that are dear to us, which anger us when they are transgressed. I will caveat this by saying that I strongly believe in non-violence; which is why I am a strong proponent of catching anger early on, as soon as it’s ‘ugly’ head appears in our psyche.
Exercise: After you have spent enough time practicing self-empathy, begin to look at what is truly bothering you. Can you take a look at a list of the NVC needs; and see which ones aren’t being met? Can you think of other values that you find have been violated or sidelined by yourself or others? List them out at a personal, family, community, societal, global level. Figure out which parts of your religious or cultural values that are important to you; ones that you feel have been violated in the past. Right now, don’t worry about how to act on them, just know them – these are areas for further digging and self-reflection.
Closing remarks on anger
I will not be going into the different ways of healing anger in this chapter – or even finding ways to channel it. In short, you may begin exploring different avenues for dealing with your anger, such as writing in a journal, visualization exercises, doing fun or physical activities such as yoga or martial arts, reading spiritual books or seeing a therapist. It may be a combination of several of them. It is important to note that anger may provide the fuel for further growth – so we are not trying to shy away from it, or even funnel it off. We want to harness it for deeper reflection, and use it as a type of energy source for some of our healing practices, which we will cover in later chapters.
“If you see elements of garbage in you, such as fear, despair, and hatred, don’t panic. As a good organic gardener, a good practitioner, you can face this: I recognize that there is garbage in me. I am going to transform this garbage into nourishing compost that can make love reappear.”