June 2, 2017

You can be Angry & Spiritual.


A few days ago I had cause to wonder.

I identify as a spiritual rather than religious person, and I try to focus on practicing gratitude, mindfulness, and kindness. I do have my religious beliefs, and I try to live my life in a way that honors my personal belief systems.

But, I’m also a passionate person. I advocate for my personal and political beliefs, and I am particularly concerned about human rights and the environment. I’m sure someone out there is mouthing the words Liberal. Crybaby. Snowflake. I must say—none of those words offend me.

If I’m a snowflake, then I’m here to tell you winter is coming, so be prepared. And liberal means that I’m open-minded and compassionate toward others, even if those others aren’t like me. And crybaby? Well, I see nothing wrong with expressing emotions.

I’m comfortable with the labels other people put on my passion—my personal integrity just won’t allow me to stay silent in the face of injustice. But, I wonder how to maintain my spirituality with my passion. While passion and spirituality aren’t mutually exclusive, sometimes they are in conflict.

A few days ago I found myself engaging in online arguments with friends and strangers. Yes, I know that it’s futile. No, that didn’t stop me. I knew no one was being persuaded of anything, but I just couldn’t stand to let the “fake news” of the far right conservative stand as truth, when everything we know—actual facts—contradict it.

When my boyfriend asks what I’m doing, I jokingly reply that I’m smiting misogynists or smashing the patriarchy singlehandedly. And part of me, the part that’s angry about what’s going on in the world, enjoys giving these people hell. But, the spiritual side suffers.

It makes me wonder if I’m spiritual or if I just like the way it sounds.

There’s definitely cause for people to be angry right now. In a few short months, we’ve seen a rise in race-related hate crimes and sexual assault. We’ve seen the bombing and vandalism of places of worship, and we’ve seen an effort to normalize the alt-right. It’s not the alt-right. It’s white supremacist Nazis.

We’ve seen men walk away from sexual assault charges with no more than a slap on the wrist or the lightest of sentences all out of concern for the perpetrator’s future. So by God—or Goddess, or Allah, or Higher Power—yes, we’re angry! And it’s a righteous anger that’s been born out of human rights violations and injustice.

How can we reconcile our righteous anger and our spirituality? How can we be sure to practice what we believe when we’re deeply angry about the world around us? Is it possible?

We think that being angry means we can’t be spiritual. But we can. But how do we act upon our spiritual beliefs when we are in the midst of conflict?

Here are a few ways to try:

>> We can show compassion to others. Not just others who are like us or believe the in the same things. We can show compassion to the people who don’t share our beliefs too. We can remember their humanity—even if they disregard ours.

>> We can practice non-judgment. This one is tough for me. Because if you promote misogyny, rape culture, or any form of bigotry, I am judging you. I am judging you so hard. But, practicing non-judgment can also mean that we try not to make assumptions about other people. We can try not to think of another human as evil. Instead, we can use some of our compassion to try and understand rather than judge. It can be tough to withhold that judgment, but I think we have to try.

>> We can treat others with respect. We don’t have to agree with someone else to treat them, and their opinions, with respect. We can make sure that name-calling, shaming, or blaming aren’t a part of our dialogue with others. We can attempt friendly discourse and make sure that what we say represents what we believe, without resorting to hateful language.

>> We can pick our battles. We need to learn to disengage or ignore the arguments where no one can win. There is no point in wasting our time on fruitless arguments with people who aren’t open to any other way of thinking.

>> We can forgive others. This is perhaps my greatest spiritual struggle. I’ve been known to say that I hold a grudge, and I see no need for forgiveness. Once I write someone off, that’s it for me. And I know it’s not a positive thing, but it’s served a purpose for me. So when I say we should forgive others, I also mean that I should. It’s a part of letting go, something else I don’t particularly excel at. But, that’s why we call it a practice. We have to keep trying, even though it’s hard and feels counter-intuitive.

We need to learn to practice forgiveness for those who are at the source of all this anger, even when we’d much rather throat-punch them and get it over with. But, we don’t forgive for them; we do it so that we’re not allowing a corrosive anger destroy us. We do it for our own peace.

>> We can learn to make our anger productive rather than corrosive. When we get mad at injustice, we can do something about it. We can write letters, call our representatives, and even protest. Join a march. Begin a letter writing campaign. Network with other activists who feel the same. We can even donate to the causes that support our passion like the ACLU or Planned Parenthood. That’s putting our money where our mouth is, and we need to do it more. Skip that morning coffee and donate five dollars to the cause. It will make our anger productive and help create change. It will help us feel less powerless in the face of injustice.

>> We can learn to center ourselves. When we’re angry or experiencing compassion fatigue, we need to make sure that we take extra time to keep ourselves centered. We need balance. If all of our attention goes to the latest news, we’re going to wear down. We need to take the time to meditate, to pray, to get outside in nature, and to practice all the other rituals that help us find a sense of peace and calm. Even if we only have 10 minutes free, we can check in with ourselves and find that balance.

>> Find ways to practice peace and loving kindness even when we’re mad as hell. Perform a random act of kindness. Make an effort to check in with a friend who is going through a difficult time. Visit a children’s hospital or a nursing home with baked goods or small gifts. Help an elderly neighbor. We need to find a way to do some good to counter all the bad that we’re feeling.

Just because we’re angry doesn’t mean that we’re not spiritual. It’s just easy to feel less-than-spiritual when we’re filled with rage.

It becomes important to empty out that rage and allow ourselves to be filled with joy and peace. Emptying it out may require all of these suggestions.

We need to find a way to reach peace and practice it—and to forgive ourselves when we fall short. And then, begin again.


Author: Crystal Jackson
Image: Franco Folini/Flickr
Editor: Lieselle Davidson

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