Anger, A Mighty Ally
As a culture, we tend to equate anger with abuse, aggression, or immaturity; as if it is synonymous with either power and intrigue or lack of control and emotional instability.
Incredulously I throw up my hands in surrender.
Why must feel-good emotions be “good” and feel-bad emotions be “bad” in the sense of utility?
How against all odds and thousands of years of teaching to the contrary have we arrived at this preposterous conclusion?
Shakespeare may have been on to something when he remarked, “there is neither good nor bad but your thoughts make it so.”
Along these lines, I’m willing to argue that anger – and any so-called bad emotion – should be understood as a guidance system. Something to be leveraged and befriended rather than avoided.
In other words, emotional discomfort may just be the key to emotional health – see, pain changes people, and sometimes that change can be radical.
Let me explain…
Emotional crisis (when the emotional charge reaches Defcon one) need not only result in ruin but instead can result in renewal.
Crisis must then be seen as an opportunity.
John F. Kennedy once remarked, “The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word ‘crisis.’ One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity.”
I love this concept because it’s right on the money, even if it is a linguistic disaster and patently false (Kennedy’s Chinese was atrocious). The poor Chinese translation notwithstanding, the concept is 100% accurate.
Growth only arrives via tension.
Setting The Context: Meditation And The Racing Mind
One of my favorite comments regarding meditation is, “I can’t do it, my thoughts just won’t stop racing.” If your thoughts weren’t racing guess what you wouldn’t need?
Yup, you got it – meditation.
Seasoned meditation practitioners don’t cease to have racing thoughts; they instead merely observe them.
They remain unattached and disidentified with the thoughts as they race on by. Whereas the novice swears a solemn oath that they are “my thoughts,” the sage acknowledges they are merely thoughts – they belong to no one until they are claimed, as in ownership.
In like fashion, if I go to Foot Locker to buy sneakers and surround myself with hundreds of shoes I certainly wouldn’t be bold enough to claim they are all mine, I’m not willing to pay the price.
Similarly, I’m not prepared to claim all thoughts as my thoughts – I’m unwilling to pay the price.
Along the same lines, the feelings or emotions we experience usually carry a message but it’s sifting through the irrelevant messages and meanings that is the trick.
If I experience physical pain, I can trace the sensation to the source which in turn gives me information on how to treat it. The body wants to be in good health – it will keep you up to speed if you listen to it.
Similarly, the mind desires to be in good health and it will keep you well informed if you tend to it.
An Ancient Remedy For A Contemporary Need
The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”
Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.
Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
(1 Kings 19:11-13)
The passage above from the Hebrew Bible is instructive, granted I’m taking it out of context and allegorizing it to fit my mold, nonetheless it works so I’ll work it.
The most powerful interpretations of an impression (feelings about any given situation) are usually cultural and idiosyncratic and have more to do with societal domestication and expectation than rationality.
For instance, Elijah assumes the wind, the earthquake, and the fire must be signs of God’s presence.
But actually, it was the complete opposite!
God’s presence was accompanied by such a great silence as to smash the cultural and idiosyncratic interpretations to pieces – this is how the confrontation with the truth presents; it’s devastating to one’s worldview, for it annihilates certain beliefs about the world around us.
More often than not, one’s initial impulsive interpretation is irrational. This doesn’t necessitate it being bad or unprofitable – the man who runs in the fire to save his wife for example.
Thus, this is not something that holds true at all times in all circumstances with all people. It’s just to encourage an understanding of the fundamentals of rational thinking. Take pain, for instance, is it good or bad?
Paul Brand, in his book “Pain: The Gift Nobody Wants,” sums up exactly what I am attempting to communicate in a more succinct and practical way. His story?
That discomfort is first on the scene, the first responder and direct correspondence. Think of it as you being the FBI and having someone on the inside – an informant – giving you the play-by-play, the minutiae, the fine details and the blueprint on how to best handle the case.
Pain is not the enemy, but the loyal scout announcing the enemy…Pain truly is the gift nobody wants….On my travels I have observed an ironic law of reversal at work: as a society gains the ability to limit suffering, it loses the ability to cope with what suffering remains…..The average Indian villager knows suffering well, expects it, and accepts it as an unavoidable challenge of life. In a remarkable way the people of India have learned to control pain at the level of the mind and spirit, and have developed endurance that we in the West find hard to understand. Westerners, in contrast, tend to view suffering as an injustice or failure, an infringement on their guaranteed right to happiness…I can count on pain to represent my best interests in the most urgent way available. It is then up to me to act on those recommendations. (pg. 187-188, 228).
It is not easy to discern the recommendation of your discomfort, be it anger or fear because you’re up against a cultural value system that demands you flee pain and run to pleasure. However, this, in turn, creates a lack of communication between you and yourself 🙂
What happens to relationships when there is a communication breakdown? They dissolve. What does it look like when your relationship with yourself dissolves? More discomfort. See, it’s self-defeating and perpetuates the problem.
Let’s start listening to our discomfort. It’s the only route to comfort.
Timmy G (2020)