Thursday, April 18, 2013

Mad as hell?

In spite of the truth that we humans are highly emotional beings capable of experiencing a wide array of feelings, in American society (in general) only a couple of emotional states are acceptable. 

Joy and its lackluster sibling, happiness, are OK. There are many studies, books and ideas out there about how to become happy. Those who seem unable to access that emotion are often judged. 12 Things Happy People Do Differently circulated on FB recently. The question is, differently than whom? Oh! Those unhappy LOSERS. Isn't that the unspoken message?

Sadness, depression, worry, grief, and fear are taboo. We're supposed to "get over it," or take a pill or pretend we feel some other way. Don't worry, be happy. If only it were so easy! I understand the idea behind it - no one wants to see others suffering. No one I know enjoys suffering. But these uncomfortable feelings are an essential part of being human. I wish we were more tolerant of the complex, conflicted assortment of thoughts and feelings inherent in our humanity.

It's OK to be happy in my society. It's also OK to be angry. In fact there are many situations in which anger is admired, vaunted, elevated as the most desirable of emotional states. The saying, If you aren't outraged, you aren't paying attention describes perfectly the way we admire anger. It's bizarre. 

Anger can be effective even when it should be the other way around. I'm referring to situations in which, for instance, I've only succeeded through anger, by being the squeaky wheel who demands to speak to the manager. Customer service would, in a world of my making, revolve around the people who are polite, not the jerks waving their fists and raising their voices until everyone in the vicinity is uncomfortable.

Sometimes I become the fist waving jerk, but only when the polite and patient approach isn't working. When I have to resort to that kind of behavior, I'm always amazed - and appalled - by how quickly my needs are addressed. It's not right, but it is how things work in my society.

After a display of anger, I feel shaky and exhausted, my stomach hurts, my jaw is clenched and I'm positive my blood pressure is elevated, though I've never measured it. Further, after a bout of anger, it's difficult to turn my mood around. I feel resentful, even when the wrongs I got so worked up about have been righted. Other situations that make me mad come into my mind. It's as if I want to feed the anger. I think I'm not the only one to react this way.

Pema Chodron, a super bad ass Buddhist, describes anger as a "piercing" emotion that can clear the air and reveal the truth in a situation or within the heart of the angry person. She advises allowing anger to move through quickly because anger is hot. Clinging to anger, or congealing around that feeling, will burn you. So says Pema and I agree with her. In Chinese medicine, sustained anger will create liver fire. Believe me, you don't want liver fire!

Anger is a rush. It can be addictive because it kicks up lots of adrenaline, but it is not a healthy place to be. I'm thinking about it this morning in the wake of the Senate failing to pass a benign, bipartisan bill meant to help keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill. We Americans were already saddened by the Boston Marathon bombing, but we're not supposed to be sad, we're supposed to be happy or angry. People will tell us to be angry, they will encourage it, moreso than usual in the aftermath of Boston.

It's not a happy week in the U.S. I expect to encounter waves of anger for the next little while. Because I find the emotion debilitating I will do my best to keep breathing and to stay grounded. I wish there was such a thing as an energetic fire extinguisher. I expect it would come in handy for the next few days at least.

If you're angry, and reading this, maybe you will take some deep breaths, relax your jaw, feel terra firma underfoot. Take one step backwards into the center of your energy. Stand up straight.

By all means contact your senators, voice your opinion, but then, try to let go if possible. Just try. OK?



Moonroot said...

Wise words. Thank you.

Reya Mellicker said...


Miss you.

rania said...

Anger is the emotion of spring in Chinese Medicine. Interesting to think about! Also, a good time to be kind to our livers.