This has been the worst year of my life. Anger was merely a vehicle.
At 32, I’m freshly divorced and living on my own for the first time.
My career isn’t stable, and while I love what I do, my work is not reliable or high paying. I have massive debt, both in student loans and credit cards.
I’ve lost two friends to suicide in the past year, a deadly diagnosis for a family member, and my own health has been rocky. I struggle with migraines so frequently that I take three to four painkillers in a week’s time. It seemed that just when I’d think that things were looking up, something worse would happen.
Just when I’d think that the hole couldn’t get any deeper—it did.
Car trouble that spanned two months, phone trouble that spanned three, unpaid doctor bills, and the worst, my newfound lover dumping me. Nothing like heartache to put you in the most vulnerable and self-critical place.
I was starting to feel like the universe was conspiring against me. A plot to overthrow Rachael! I mean, this was getting ridiculous. Who the hell was I, Job?
Everything in my life was falling apart and I could find no solace.San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives
I spun into a pretty deep depression. It seemed as though I had nothing left to hold onto anymore. I could not identify even one thing to give me hope or to get me out of bed in the morning.
Nothing, that is, until I finally stepped back on my yoga mat after an almost one year hiatus.
Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t show up to the community yoga class because I thought it would do a damn bit of good. My teacher and dear friend called one day, heard the emptiness in my voice, and begged me to come to class with her. I decided to go to make her happy, and to go through the motions, like everything else in my life.
At this point, there was nothing else but going through the motions because it all felt so empty. However, as I was flowing through a slow sun salutation sequence, I unexpectedly found my one thing to hold onto.
It was my anger.
As a yoga teacher and an aspiring Buddhist, this revelation was disturbing to me.
According to my practice, anger was not welcome in spiritual awakenings. “Cultivate compassion,” “Love thy enemy,” “Forgive” and all that hippie stuff were the mantras I tried to live by. I felt so ashamed that I was afraid my teacher, who was practicing on her mat next to me, would somehow telepathically hear this idea and reach over and slap the karma right out of me. But still, I had this haunting feeling that my anger, at least in this moment, was a gift.
So, I tapped into it. I dug deep to find all the things I could be angry about in my recent life.U.S. National Archives
I made a list of “Things that sucked about 2012,” which was surprisingly cathartic. I spent three days gritting my teeth in this negative vortex. I listened to Ani DiFranco and Rage Against the Machine as loudly as possible, on repeat. I kept my head down, my eyes tight and I let myself wallow in it. Somehow, it gave me the strength to get out of bed in the morning and move through my day. If this is all I had to keep me going in my life, then it would have to be enough.
Think about it: amazing things can happen in the world as a result of anger.
The Civil Rights Movement, for example, happened because someone was pissed off and wouldn’t move to the back of the bus. Someone’s anger got them marching in the streets with thousands of other angry people. Anger is powerful.
I think the trick is to not get stuck in anger or to be seduced by the power that comes with anger.
I needed that power in those desperate moments to stay alive. I think it would be easy to mistake the trees for the forest, as the saying goes. My anger was merely a vehicle. It got me where I needed to go. I did not set up residence in it—I did not let it take root in my heart.
After my three days, I came home one evening and I sat on the edge of my bed and noticed that the anger wasn’t there anymore. I started sobbing as I realized that all the hurt and sadness that I had been keeping out, was there in its place. It didn’t feel good, but it wasn’t numb anymore either. It wasn’t giving up.
I did what some wise yogi told me to do once when things get really bad: I “leaned into it.” I let myself finally feel that sorrow as deeply as I could. Just like in my yoga practice, I tried to become aware of every feeling, every ache, every strained breath. Eventually, I settled and found that stillness that often comes in savasana.
That stillness was fleeting, like everything else in life. But it was there for a little while when I so desperately needed it. And it comes and goes throughout the day now, intermixed with tears and heartache, which I suspect is how it’s going to be for now.
I’ve got a lot of healing to do and it’s going to take some time. I’m in therapy, I’ve got the support of amazing friends, and I’m back to running and yoga again. Life isn’t magically put back together, but it sure is a heck of a lot better than where I was a few weeks ago.
Life, like yoga, is a practice. Sometimes we find inspiration and motivation in unexpected places.
Rachael Goss teaches Sociology at various universities in Pittsburgh. She has practiced yoga for 6 years and is thankful she found it. She has a degree in World Religions and tries to find the sacred in everyday living.
Editor: ShaMecha Simms