Many years ago, on two occasions, my mother and I were verbally attacked by strangers in parking lots. They were both men, both enraged, and in both instances my mother and I were frightened and dumbfounded. Years later, I read the book "The Rage Within" by psychiatrist Willard Gaylin. I stopped short when I came across his assertion that it's not uncommon for people with repressed anger to be on the receiving end of seemingly unprovoked attacks, often by individuals with their own unacknowledged rage.
Nope, not me, I wasn't angry. Other people were angry; I saw them everywhere, what was with everybody anyway? I myself had a handle on things. "You have to face your anger," I would say to people. They loved this.
Angry people made me very nervous. I would do almost anything to get someone to stop being mad.
In my late thirties, repressed rage started rising up in a way that I could no longer choke down. The teachers and mentors in my life seemed unable to help me, and none of the books I was reading gave me the kind of guidance I needed. I wanted a map, one that would show me where I was, and guide me safely through the darkest corners of myself. Buddhist books referred to anger and other negative emotions as things to watch, forms that arise and fall away and we're supposed to just notice. I tried. By that point I’d been meditating for seven or eight years and I was finally able to sit still. I thought I was doing something wrong when I kept feeling that the anger wanted me to move.
The way we deal with anger is usually the way we saw our parents do it – or avoid doing it. My father's way was to push it down to a low simmer and then occasionally explode. My dear mother “made nice”, like so many women do. She’s learning, as I am, that she’s allowed to express her true preferences. But growing up in my family, passion aggression was a way of life, the only thing that made sense at the time. I watched and learned and created my own special blend of neuroses.
When anger is repressed or denied for years, it begins to have a mind of its own. It seeps out in some very weird ways. And seep out it will, because it must. It’s the nature of energy: it wants to move and flow.
Today, I can “sit with” my anger. Sometimes. If I can’t, I take a fast walk. Or crank up “Powerman” by The Kinks and dance it out. Sometimes I get in the car and drive through an empty street and scream. I mean, scream. And I come home calmer. There’s more space inside me. I’m nicer to people. Magically, many of my complaints against this or that person or group or whatever dissolve.
So, the right way to be angry? There isn't one. But acknowledging our anger is wise, and a courageous step, especially for women. Significant healing can follow. It doesn't matter so much why we’re angry as it does that we see it and release it. Everyone has a path through, every way is different. We are worth the enlarged life that comes from moving through that pain. There is great freedom on the other side.
The Inner Diamond FIRE card:
FIRE There is no need to fear our shadows. Fire transforms quickly, burning away impurities, revealing non-buried-anymore treasure.
Is something simmering inside? Does something want to be seen, freed, shaken loose? Have I been denying myself what I really want? It is right to be angry when I'm angry; so-called negative emotions are part of the human experience. Even world renowned spiritual teachers notice anger arising in them at times. They know that this fiery energy can be transformed into initiation of positive change.
If anger was a no-no growing up, that squashed energy can masquerade now as guilt, bitterness, inappropriate helpfulness, depression, anxiety, confusion, disease, feeling blank, and so on. Can I see though the disguise? It's ideal to be kind and positive, if it's real, if I can also notice when I feel hurt or irritated.
I can move through anger by sitting quietly, breathing deeply into the agitated sensation in my body. If that seems impossible, a good scream into a pillow can clear things up a bit, or some vigorous dancing to loud music. Maybe I need to write an angry letter that I burn afterward, or paint a black picture. I allow myself to be the full spectrum of who I am right now. I accept my inner fire when it flames, release it, and move on free and clear.