As a young woman, I had trouble controlling my anger. It was an old anger, red-hot and smoldering. But I wasn’t aware of its presence, and it would flare up unexpectedly. Especially when I felt I was not seen or not heard or when my personal integrity was threatened.
In my book, Passage of the Stork, I describe the origins of this anger and how it shaped my life. But anger is not always straightforward. It has many shapes and forms. Anger is one of the primary emotions and, as such has a positive side. It fuels us to defend ourselves and our loved ones against any threats. This only works if it is recognized and accepted for what it is.
Coping with growing children was very challenging for me. Any exhibition of temper on their part would trigger helpless panic in me, and I would react with anger. Stop it! Stop it! I hear myself screaming. When I read Kathleen Fleming’s blog recently, I felt tears pricking at the back of my throat. Why was I not able to access that source of love and compassion when my kids were young?
But there are shapes and shades of anger, besides the pure red-hot anger and the bright yellow of helplessness that can express itself as anger. The green of jealousy and distrust can find fruitful ground in old anger. I was hurt before and can be hurt again, the inner voice says.
And there is a cold anger: the bright icy blue of judgment and criticism. How often I catch myself feeling superior to others. I’m glad I’m not like that, the little voice whispers, How stupid that behavior is! As the car that had been tailgating me finally speeds away, I breathe a sigh of exasperation.
The trick is to be able to witness yourself having these thoughts. The Witness, impartial and non-judgemental, is an aspect of Self that needs patient practice to cultivate. Not only to observe and identify these thoughts but to accept the fact that you do sometimes have them.
There’s a common misconception about mindfulness: that it must be used to calm the mind and let go of emotions. Mindfulness is about becoming more and more aware of one’s habits, inner voices, and emotions. Awareness increases our ability to choose freely between acting through the emotion or letting it go. Sometimes it will be a good idea to let your anger fuel your ability to fight – if fighting is the right answer to what is happening – and sometimes it will be better to either let it go or vent it in another way.
As I allow myself time and patience to understand and accept my many shades of anger, I find they no longer take control of me. I can take control of them.