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When I want to rage against the world, it is often because external events (Roe v. Wade, anyone?) have triggered something deep within me that doesn’t feel safe, and anger feels like the safest defense against whatever it is that threatens me.
And indeed it is!
Anger makes cortisol and adrenaline course through my body, preparing me to fight to the death. I’m ready to take on anything or anyone that opposes me, no matter what the cost. I blame, self-victimize, judge…all in the name of self-defense, defense of another, or defense of the greater whole.
But I have also found that this is no path to happiness. This is only a road to more polarity, more anger, and way more suffering. Anger, when acted upon in my thoughts, speech, or actions, only begets more anger, feeding the cycle of violence that created my suffering in the first place.
But, as it turns out, there is another way.
Anger is an emotion, and like all emotions, it simply wants to be felt. It is energy, attuned to a specific frequency, that is passing through our bodies. All we have to do is feel it fully—without creating stories about it—and then it can move through us without harming anyone.
In other words, you and I don’t have to believe the stories that anger is telling us. For example, anger combined with a story about being a victim—say, hypothetically, a woman losing reproductive rights to her own body—may drive us to desire justice, or even vengeance. While this anger-fueled story may energize and motivate us to act in ways that make us feel less powerless, it still perpetuates the cycle of anger, thus bringing suffering to others in addition to poisoning us from the inside.
All anger wants from us—all any emotion wants from us!—is to be felt. For not only does feeling the emotion (without the accompanying story) ultimately release us from it, but feeling it fully allows us to then feel the softer, more vulnerable feeling underneath it. This hidden feeling that anger was masking is getting much closer to a core belief about the world, one that is arising for a reason—not a “Oh, hey, look how justified I am in believing this!” kind of reason, but more of healing one; when a belief based on past hurt arises, we are able to feel the original wound.
“Why would I want to do that?” you may well ask.
Because, just like anger, our ancient wounds—which are really just emotions we couldn’t feel at the time—simply want to be felt, so as to be released. Because we couldn’t feel them then—maybe we were too young to understand what was happening to us, or maybe the wound was too great for our mind to process—we have stored them in our bodies, waiting for the moment when we are strong enough to fully feel them, grieve for our younger selves, and finally let them go.
What’s so interesting is that if we were able to keep our minds out of the process, we’d be wound-free in no time! Think of a prey animal who is attacked by a predator: they feel fear in the moment they are attacked, but once they are out of danger, they let it go. The instinct to run from predators is still embedded in their psyche, but they don’t live in constant fear. The fear arises when they most need it and goes when they don’t.
When we allow ourselves to fully feel anger, and then the emotions underneath that, because we are humans, we will likely also uncover a story that goes with them. This story is a deeply held belief—one that has existed since we first experienced the unprocessed feeling, and one that has been making decisions for us since that time as well. What is remarkable, however, is that as soon as we realize this (which usually is only when we allow ourselves to feel the original feelings of the wound), we can choose to let it go.
Letting go of core beliefs that no longer serve us is an important step on the path to unshakable happiness. Letting go involves a strong intention to truly release the belief, a willingness to allow a new, empowering belief to take its place, and forgiveness for all involved (including ourselves).
So I propose a new and radical way of dealing with all the anger we are all feeling about oh-so-many things happening on the planet right now.
Let’s feel our anger. Let’s feel it fully. Let’s feel it, and then release it. Here’s how:
1. Stop what you’re doing; put down your phone, shut your computer, and pay attention to your body.
2. Focus on your breathing. What does it feel like? Is it shallow and fast? Ragged and erratic? Allow yourself to smooth out your breath until it softens and feels easier. Hold one or both hands over your heart center, and say aloud, “I am ready to feel and release this emotion.” If you have the time (and are in a good space) to fully feel it, allow yourself to sit with whatever arises.
3. If you don’t have time, tell your body that you acknowledge the emotion and commit to feeling it fully later. Be specific with a time and place in the near future.
4. Give yourself plenty of time and space to allow these feelings to arise and be felt. You may need to feel the feeling multiple times over a longer interval (days, weeks, months…in my case, years!) before it fully releases. Be patient and gentle with yourself, for the healing process is more cyclical than linear.
Here’s the thing about doing this process: it stops the cycle of anger and suffering right in its tracks, moving you and me into a cycle of healing.
And that—not more anger—is what this world needs, right now.
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