Stephen Levine’s essay on anger pops up in Ordinary Magic by Shambhala Press---a Christmas gift I tend to let fall open to wherever it falls open and read it. Specifically, the anger essay’s mentioned in a chapter preface, and like a medicated swab to a toothache, once I read it existed, I went straight to it.
I’ve found from personal experience one becomes less absorbed with anger when one avoids the need to be right; that is, you may still be angry, but you have room to learn from it. Levine says anger’s just one more emotion that deserves exploring---not repressing. He says there’s an underlying sadness to rage, a response to unfulfilled desires. It’s true that sometimes you can move away from the desire; losing the need for its fulfillment, we find ourselves free from the repeating loop Levine mentions. He points out how we can make a little room for our mind to have anger and see where it wants to take the story---but it’s likely we’ll see it as “on a maddening loop,” as Michael Stipe put it in “Country Feedback.”
Sometimes the unfulfilled desire relies on someone else’s decisions, in which case we may have to remove our expectations from their decisions, regardless of what we qualify as right action. However clearly you may see someone’s problems, it is our desire they see and resolve them, too, that makes anger. I think we are obliged to learn anything we can from our perceptions of the faults of others; in that space we develop compassion, even if it resides next to anger for a time. Sometimes, laying all fault at the door of another is a way of avoiding work required of ourselves.
I like what Levine says about exploring anger, not as thoughts, but as feelings, and diving down into the feeling body to see where anger manifests within us, become aware of its process. Where do you feel “what” when you become angry? When you become fearful, or joyous?
If we feel wronged by the judgment of another, perhaps in the midst of defending ourselves we can search truthfully: for why they may think a thing is so, for why we think a thing is so, and appreciate where an impulse of love underlies the entire situation.
“Before one thinks of ‘doing good,’” Levine begins, “one must first consider how to remove one’s self from doing harm.” This addresses the work of not reacting to anger, but reacting “with” anger, accepted and incorporated into our being. I realize we can’t suppress our anger, but if we build rationales too dependent on anger, we get trapped in repetitive narratives. Anger, he notes, has the qualities of resolution and determination; when it’s understood, it can go from being a reaction to merging with our motivation to make a thing in our control, better.
Someone wrote me something with the intention to anger me, “to offend,” but not, he said, hurt my feelings. I eventually shared the Wiktionary definition of “to offend” with him, as part of an end of the process of releasing him in any way from my expectations in my mind. The issues he wanted me to consider in myself were ones I’ve been working through over the past several years in the pursuit of my own bliss. Happily, as the year began, I was in a terrific emotional state, free from old hurts, to incorporate what I’ve learned into daily practice. I should continue on that way, for certain; I should take the resolution of anger, without bitterness, into the long hours ahead. It's enthusiasm, not shame or fear(though I thank them for their part) that's propelled me this far, to doorways of new things I'm excited to share.
I was so pissed to be attacked by this person, to whom I’d sent unconditional positive energy without every seeking to harm him, without resentment for anything he had in his life that I might otherwise envy. This, in spite of being abandoned by this person years before during great uncertainty. I was hurt by his resentment of me, while realizing it was based on a resentment of his own lack of fulfillment. I was hurt by his condemnation of my life, without either really being there to talk to me about what he didn’t understand of it, and by the frustration of seeing my life misinterpreted, as though someone told me my own child was ugly or stupid. He wanted to undercut the feelings and activities that have led to not only my own freedom, but light in the life of others---simply because, I guess here, HE wasn’t doing it, and easily could.
I was hurt by his lack of appreciation for my friendship, which could’ve been a weekly affirmation, a sounding board…an alternative to excessive drinking and drama. He would tell me he didn’t have time to be my friend, when then he would consume the time later being drunken and bitter. Initially, I wrote back calmly, feeling my reaction in my body but not letting it dominate either mind or body. For better or worse, I was driven to write back later and underscore how angry I was, how I was through with his cumulative repulsion that arose multiple times without warning as soon as we would exchange a few messages. It turns out, he took me sharing my life and commenting to friends---with ANY one, even over Facebook---to a dark place, as he imagined everyone got as put out with me as he apparently was…as though it were not filled with many other people, or could not recognize the character of it in any way beneficial to himself or myself.
I was given the opportunity to tell him some things I believe will help, which was the feeling he was looking for in his own actions, the feeling with which I wished to resolve my part in things---not the bitterness and punishment I wanted to leave at his door in righteous rage. Even though I decided to leave him with the resounding note that I had been there for him all along and he never needed to live in such misery, I knew I couldn’t let the matter go until I was kind, with whatever genuine thoughts were necessary for that to be so. Perhaps, too, I will never be disturbed by someone not understanding my ways, so deeply, as I have answered for them to myself. Even when I reach out to share something I worked hard on with others, I cannot take their reception of it personally, but do the task for its own sake. It’s never offered to suck energy away from others, but is a construction I’ve created, for expression and for others to generate their own energies from interacting with it. I’ve always known it may not mean that to everyone!
I realized somehow he had been taking my life---probably with some “help” by his wife---to feed his own misery and deliberately cutting himself off from whatever good I offered directly or through what I shared with the public, as if I should be deeply frustrated by the humility of my process, or as though I were unable to see the need to keep improving, remotely flashing my life on a big screen oblivious to the many improvements necessary to my art and business---putting on airs. He wasn’t giving me the benefit of his friendship or even constructive criticism, but he was stalking my movements, criticizing the moves themselves as if oblivious to the content, and being angry I am the way I am, as he is angry he is the way he is. He was feeling great shame and at a loss, which he thought I should also feel. Without the attack on me, he would’ve gotten all my encouragement; why not let that mercy reign then in my heart, and impart it to myself in critical moments?
Any efforts to “help” had the two-fold problem of possibly undermining him further, which could lead to undermining me, as I would become angry my help didn’t help, or attracted more attacks! Sometimes, you are not meant to help: you are meant to have faith in the other person finding their own path. Nor can I be emotionally involved in any way except true compassion, offended at the thought they’ve believed me to look down on them with one face and falsely praised them with the other, or have become the face of their own internal worst critic. All I need to put on this face is a smile.
If you are not dependent on said person (possibly because they have not been there for you anyway), why not let them go their own way? Yet, you need not feel separated or angry or abusive. Let those feelings come. Give them some tea...not the keys to the car. It can be very time-consuming to understand your feelings and the actions of others, but it can be damaging not to take that time, patiently.
It’s my conviction yesterday I finally had the catharsis over feeling so hurt, touching the underlying sadness. It was so strong, I found this morning my sensitive friend with whom I communicate almost daily said she felt a bad feeling for me, like something was up or not going well, even though we weren’t communicating back and forth about any of it. I’ve known all along, her well wishes and fun she’s brought to my life meet with the overall direction of my life’s efforts; I’ve been promising all along, I won’t let it go to waste. But I realize, no one expected me to deal with ending the cycle of abuse from someone I’ve long called a brother without emotion’s full complement, even as I did not want my life to become an ugly ensnarement and tiresome example of humanity’s insanity. How good it was, of the very few trusted people who knew, in them I could see truth from my life reflected. If I was being asked to question myself, even mercilessly, even for the seemingly selfish purposes of another, the value of that for which I've sacrificed my life shined brightly in watchful eyes of people with more investment in my decisions and attachment to my outcome.
Still, while you may need to emote, as Levine points out, you can never involuntarily emote away all your anger; you’re exhausted before the last bit’s gone, every time. In my case, I resented the sadness of the situation, its unfairness, its disruption, as I saw it, in my creative life. But giving anger space was the only way. It didn’t violate the loving person I’d cultivated from the love of others and myself.
Levine says something I really love about anger can be part of the flipside where you resolve to get on with the creative process; you may be angry you haven’t moved on, angry you have been so vulnerable to the negative intentions of another. Don’t let someone abuse you or undermine you, but don’t waste yourself, enslaved to the fear or anger. Have you found the path of mercy exists through the entire perilous journey? Keep coming back to it.
Don’t romanticize how you have the answers, when others must produce their own questions. See how inside yourself, you may harbor the same doubts and reservations the other person produces in judgment of you, and as you suggest humility to them, keep it close by yourself, like fresh clean water. Use your challenges as an opportunity to dispel lies to yourself and others; tell yourself not to take things personally, and always do your best! Your challenger will seem sometimes like a worse person for messing with you, but make the challenge your friend, to make YOU a better person than your previous self---strive to come what, in fact, you already are.
“As mercy develops, we see how painful it is to be in anger and we are reminded to soften, to look gently on it as it arises. And we realize we don’t have to hellishly react, impulsively putting ourselves and the whole world out of our heart. Sensing the power of non-injury, we begin to respond to ourselves as we would a frightened child, with a deeper kindness and care.” ---Stephen Levine, “Being With Anger.”