Last Thursday we got together for the first Healing Perspectives seminar, HP1: Love, Anger, and Other Clinical Conditions at Firefly Willows. It was a fun and interesting evening. I had planned to talk in roughly equal measure about Love, Grace, Gratitude (on the plus side) and Anger, Conflict, and Judgment (on the neg side).
Leading up to the seminar, I had the luxury (!) of experiencing a boatload of anger. Lots and lots of anger, primarily as a result of ongoing...(blood begins to boil just preparing to write these words)...PROBLEMS...with my home Internet connection (cough...AT&T DSL SUCKS...cough).
How timely. How nice of the Universe to accommodate.
In my younger days, I was well acquainted with anger - rage, even. But as I moved down the shamanic path, that fury seemed to have disappear almost entirely. Even my kids will tell you that I've "peaced out".
So it was quite a surprise to encounter that old feeling of fury and rage, and witness myself cussing and uncontrollably stomping around the house, pounding on tables and screaming at the top of my lungs. (My dogs didn't like it. They're not old enough to have seen me like this. Poor things.)
But, in truth, it was timely. And very illuminating. It compelled me to look very carefully at anger. What was it, really? What did it feel like? From where did it arise? WHY? And why was it so uncontrollable?
The self-exam was very revealing.
I started with a common assumption. "Anger is natural, and should be expressed."
If so, it must have a purpose - not some psycho-babble purpose, but a real evolutionary one.
So I thought, OK, so where does anger first appear?
That struck me as a very powerful realization. If it appears in babies, it doesn't have some cultural trigger. It's something much simpler.
Why do babies get angry? Because they aren't getting what they want.
A simple statement that, when plumbed, is quite revealing.
What do babies want? First and foremost, they want their needs met.
Before they have any notion of self, or other, or separation, or toys or happy or sad or right or wrong or self-actualization, they just want their needs met.
So why get angry? Anger doesn't seem very productive on its face. It doesn't "do" anything, really.
And then, the old lesson from acting class. "Anger is a cheap emotion. Its cheap because it's secondary. The real emotion is the one you feel before you feel anger. That's the one you have to show in the scene."
We feel anger AFTER we've felt something else. Something else that we really don't like feeling.
I asked the class to reflect on a recent moment of intense anger, and to try to remember and relive it. I asked them, "What did you feel immediately before you felt the anger?"
"Lack of control."
What babies feel, at the root, is helpless. When they want/need something, and can't get it, they're effectively helpless. Nature gave babies a very significant tool to be less helpless. An attention-getting device we call Anger.
Looking back at my own recent experience with anger, it was ALL about helplessness. Hours and hours spent trying (and failing) to have a "need" met.
We talked for quite some time about the consequences of anger in the seminar, but what really struck me (and continues to bear on me even now) is how simple anger is. When used as designed, it's an attention-getting device for when we feel helpless.
One thing I recognized is how deep, deep, deeply I don't like feeling helpless. Oh, it's horrifying. Rightly so. Next to pain, it's the earliest kind of suffering we experience. And since it's formless (there's no localized "place" for helplessness like there is for an "Owie"), it can seem bottomless.
Nobody wants to stay there.
So we switch to anger quite quickly. But if, when seen properly, anger is just this "attention-getting device", we'd be wise to ask some questions pretty quickly, like:
- Whose attention am I trying to get?
- Who has leverage over this situation?
- Who can meet my needs so I don't feel helpless?
Why rail around in anger so I don't feel helpless, when an alternative is to fix what's missing so I don't feel need? That's like treating the symptom instead of the cause!
Like babies, though, we often want others to do the work of meeting our needs, eh?
The other thing I realized is that anger can be likened to an addiction. If anger is designed by nature to remove a feeling of helpless, then ... it is easily (mis-) correlated to making us feel POWERFUL.
Power, especially unrecognized, immaturely exercised power, can become a serious addiction. I think we often express anger quickly because its a way for us to feel powerful, even when the "attention-getting-device" function has served its purpose (or isn't even relevant).
I continue to unravel the lessons I received from this recent joust with anger.
And it turns out that we spent quite a bit of time on anger during the seminar. It was the emotion that the folks in attendance were most interested in understanding. So it really was good timing.
Thanks for the timely lesson, Spirit.