Friday, May 07, 2010

 Anyone who knows me even a little bit knows that I have a cynical edge to me; I don't buy all this "happy, happy, joy, joy" business, this almost mandatory (these days)push to find bliss, enlightenment, and eternal happiness, this implication that if we feel a difficult thing, that we're simply not trying hard enough to be happy, not practicing enough gratitude, or just need to do more yoga or watch less TV. That little tweety birds and butterflies will flit around our heads and beautiful flowers pop up wherever we step, if only we could find the answer to the mystery of How to be Happy. Happiness, to me, though a wonderful emotion, is a fleeting experience, as are all emotions.

Let's just say that, though I am actually a died-in-the-wool hardcore romantic, I am very, very, painfully, intimately aware of my Shadow.

In the last few days I've felt a relief from what had seemed a relentless blanket of dread, sorrow, and grief that was attached to a particular situation in my life, or seemed to be anyway. For some reason it lifted. I could speculate as to what about the situation has changed for me to feel this way, but that's not important. I feel stronger these days, more confident, less obsessive. I don't ruminate as much. I don't cry as much. I enjoy things. I sleep better. I've even, for the most part, managed not to get obsessed and terrified over wondering when the crippling darkness will come back, as I know it will.

In thinking about this state of affairs, I realized that there's something at the root of it that feels like an emotion we're told is bad or negative. Something that self-help books tell us to control, something that Buddhists tell us is part of suffering. Something that positive psychologists and happiness researchers measure to gauge whether their subjects are happy or not. But for me, this is an emotion that has energy and movement in it. When I feel it, if I don't let the story behind it take over my brain, I get more done. I feel stronger and stand straighter. Are you ready?

That emotion is Anger.

Yes, I feel, at the root of this strength, something that feels a lot like anger. In this anger is an acknowledgment that I am important, that my needs are important, and that the messages I get that something is wrong with me are more about the person who judges me than they are about me.There's righteousness there; a sense of having the right outlook. There's self-protection there, as if I'm a self that deserves protection. There's no aggression or need to hurt or lash out at anyone, but there's a cynical long view, a squinting of the eyes and a lack of trust in anyone but myself. There's an understanding that people do shitty things, although not much judgment there. People do shitty things for their own reasons. There's a sense of being alone, but not lonely. Alone like the Lone Ranger, alone like a Clint Eastwood cowboy, and not like the sad and scared little girl that I experience so often.

Is that bad?

Last night, I went to a talk by a woman* who spoke of the importance of emotions, of acknowledging ourselves and other humans as emotional beings first. She talked about being a spiritual seeker for years, but of continually getting the message that she was too emotional and that it was the reason she resisted Enlightenment. Later, she decided that her emotions were there for a reason, and were not something to be ashamed of or to try to "bliss" away. They were there for a reason, they were giving her important messages, and it wasn't wrong or immature or unenlightened to feel them.

This is something I've thought for years, and one reason why I've never committed to studying any particular spiritual path. I've always felt like most spiritual paths ask us to think of emotions as diseases or afflictions that we just need to bear or breathe away. That our goal is to live in an absolute, peaceful, blissed-out, serene fog.  But to me, emotions, by their very existence, are real and true, messages from our soul and subconscious no less than our dreams. They are important. Even the difficult ones. Perhaps especially the difficult ones.

This isn't to say that we should let our emotions control our actions, but only that they are there to feel, to tell us things, and with practice, we can begin to feel them without acting in ways that cause harm. 

And Anger, to me, is a strong emotion, is a vitalizing and vibrant emotion. If I use it correctly, it gives me energy and stops me from devolving into a crying, blubbering mess every time someone does something I don't like. It inspires me to protect myself, it tells me stand up for myself. The righteousness is a relief from the grief and despair, which told me that I was not OK, that I was lacking. And so I welcome this hardness, this anger, this righteousness, as a way to move into my life in strength and with a realistic view of the world and what can happen in it.

*The woman I saw ended up being somehow connected to a shady, cult-like organization. I never could get the full scoop on her. But I still liked what she had to say :-)

1 comment:

Kirk said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts into how anger is viewed and treated, very insightful. That sugar coating that American culture slathers on everything from donuts to cupcakes is suppose to help the medicinal qualities of the reflected life go down easier, but instead seeps its way inside permeating everything with a sticky saccharin taste. Things should be as they are and no more, not spun like cotton candy. But hasn't it always been this way? Something about the American spirit that Tocquville sensed in the 1800's.

Is it bad? Why do we have to judge? Anger just is. Like emotions, they are part and parcel, us, the inherent visceral nature of our being. Emotions are the physical manifestations of our animal nature, in this way we are grounded to time and place. Anger is the instinctual fight, in the fight or flight response. I believe each way, religious or non, does and feels it must address the behaviors resulting from individual anger in a way which least disturbs the community of which it is part. Perhaps this is why we are taught to temper our anger. Yet as you point out it can be a great tool when used righteously. Anger over the injustices in the world have done so much to put things in more just and equable direction. Thanks for putting a personal spin on it.