On Anger

Emotions are natural expressions of our whole organism. In the ancient Chinese healing arts, Five Element theory in particular, five natural emotions are defined: Anger, joy/sadness, worry, grief, and fear. In this tradition, as in others, each emotion has a natural expression that all of us recognize.

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Anger moves us to action. When we see a wrong or something out of the natural order of things, anger rises up and moves us to action. Perhaps we see a small child standing alone in a busy parking lot. We sense anger in us and, at the same time, the urge to lead the child to safety. Once the child is away from danger, the anger dissipates; we turn our attention to the child, smiling we ask his name and if he knows where his mom is.

Healthy anger moves;  it rises up and falls away. But what happens when it doesn’t move? What happens when we hold on to that anger? It seethes. Over and over our self-talk reproaches the child’s mother for leaving her child unattended in the busy parking lot.

This is sticky anger. And there’s more. Today’s anger has stuck onto some past experience. Perhaps as a child we felt unsafe. Perhaps we were left alone in an unsafe place. The small child became angry and that anger moved it to find safety. “Make me safe!” If no one came to help her; she may have coped by building a wall or fortress around her; by pretending that everything was OK; I am OK she would tell herself.  The fortress, the “I’m OK,” and the anger stuck.

Today’s anger gets all caught up in that. This “sticky” anger is not helpful; it gives us no space to understand the context of this current situation. Everything gets filtered through us in the guise of that little girl and the fortress, and the “I’m OK,” and the anger whether we are aware of it or not.

The mother is here in front of us right now. The anger is burning in us; we feel a pressure or something that’s hard to describe.  Then we realize (or maybe not) that she is crying. Picking up the child, she admonishes him for running away as she hugs him tightly to her breast. She thanks us profusely. There is a moment of recognition (or not)  in us that we’ve read it wrong. This is a good mother; she takes care of her child; she loves her child. She is thankful for our help.

Perhaps, at this moment, we feel puzzled and grateful or perhaps we just grumble. Outwardly, we express our thanks that child and mother are safe and sound. We move on. Inside, the anger and the whole thing about it recede into our subconscious until triggered again.

This is what happens in life. Our experiences of the present get caught up, get filtered by stuck experiences and emotions of the past.

Natural anger moves; it dissipates; it leaves no trace. Stuck anger lodges in the body and can express itself in many ways: As resentment, or as a constant undercurrent of irritation or as exploding rage. Stuck anger makes us sick. It gives rise to suffering. So what do we do?  We can bring awareness and just notice that something in us is angry, irritated, frustrated, or raging. We can acknowledge it, keep it company and listen compassionately without judging. When we do this, we will experience a shift; the anger and its story will move; will release; and, we will feel the flow.

“How does one do this?” We may be asking. Through BodyTalk and Focusing, the body becomes aware of the anger and the whole context of that anger–the stories, feelings, images, judgments– the whole thing. We can then approach the anger compassionately, listen to what it wants to tell us; and experience the healing shift of life-forward energy. When we experience anger and it doesn’t feel right and appropriate in the moment or it lingers on and on and wants our attention, then BodyTalk or Focusing or both can be just right for us.

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