I’ve burned with anger this week, both from occurrences in my personal world and in our society. Anger shows up to say, “This is not OK,” and there are many things I’m not OK with. I know every spiritual teacher, including mine, says it’s important to cultivate non-anger, that we shouldn’t allow anger to overtake us, and on one level I agree. On another, I don’t.
I am a human being, not a robot, and that means every feeling under the sun I’ve felt, including anger. For me to not feel angry would be an act of suppression and repression. It wouldn’t be real. If I pretended anger never coursed through me, I’d become a passive doormat OK with anything and everything that happened to me. Anger gives me agency. It demonstrates in a visceral way what’s important to me. Anger, like all emotions, acts as a messenger.
I also think about how my spiritual teacher behaved, not only what he said. In practice, he became angry when someone lied, cheated, stole, or disregarded a directive. At the same time, someone else could lie, cheat, steal, or disobey, and he would smile and laugh. Spiritual teachers are complicated and obviously understand every person and situation is different and requires a different response. However, his behavior demonstrates to me he wasn’t attached to anger. Anger could flare up but it could also dissipate easily. One minute he could rage against someone and as soon as they showed contrition, he would soften and shower the person with love. He wasn’t attached to anger, but it still showed up. I mention all this because it’s clear to me anger is a tool that everyone uses.
When I think of my spiritual teacher, I see he used anger with finesse, which is also something I’m learning. If I keep anger locked away in a drawer somewhere, when it comes time to use it, I may hurt myself or those around me because I’m clumsy and inexperienced. I wouldn’t let a toddler handle a knife until they developed more dexterity, and that’s what I think is happening with me right now. I’m becoming more dexterous with anger so I may wield it appropriately as the situation allows.
I also want to express I have a theory as to why spiritual teachers talk about cultivating peace instead of anger. It’s easy to get stuck in a rageful place, to hold a grudge. People become angry, spiteful, and bitter all the time. By not fanning the flames of anger on a macro level, spiritual teachers are pointing us toward subtler emotions, such as love. I’m reminded though, you can be angry at someone you love. That love is big enough to hold anger as well. And expressing anger is sometimes the most loving thing a person can do.
I dream of a world where we allow the expression of anger in a healthy way, even in spiritual circles. A world where we understand anger is a tool in our toolbox and it’s important for us to learn how to use it. A world where we express anger to the degree a situation calls for, and then let it go when it’s time.
Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.