Archives for the month of: July, 2017

Anger abounds these days in relationships, households, our communities and our nation. What if we viewed our anger as a messenger and paused to explore the lessons it may be raising for us?

Anger can signal that our values have been violated, reminding us of what we care most about. To the extent that it is a clip of preset responses that is loaded and ready for firing, it can be destructive. To the extent that it festers inside us without resolution, it undermines our health and happiness.

In the appendix section of The Book of Joy, co-author Douglas Abrams suggests some questions that may be helpful. In applying these, focus on an area in your life where the embers of wrath wait only for an external spark to release them into a conflagration.

Anger often involves some disappointment or frustrated expectation. Ask yourself, “What was my expectation? Can I release it and accept what is or how others are rather than how I think they should be? Can I also acknowledge my part in the conflict? Can I see my part in contributing to the situation I am angry about? If I am angry about what has been said, can I see that these are just words that no longer exist, that, like all things, they are impermanent? Will my anger benefit anyone, including me?”

You could also reflect on how, if not contained, anger can lead to destructive action – from saying hurtful things to outright violence – that we later regret. Contemplate how anger can destroy relationships, alienate others, and rob you of your peace of mind. (p. 318)

Examining the messages delivered by our anger can lead us to different ways of being with ourselves and each other.

In the early days of map making cartographers designated unexplored regions with images of threatening beasts. “Here be dragons.” The image serves us today. How do we face the demons that lie within us?

A first step in confronting our dragons is to see them for what they are. My profession has taught me to pay attention to projection – the unconscious tendency to transfer our personal dynamics on to others whom we then blame (or bless). Becoming aware of our fears begins to defuse them.

A second step is to explore what our demons tell us about ourselves. Why are they there? In one of his letters written to a young poet Rainer Marie Rilke writes:

We have no reason to distrust our world, for it is not against us. If it has terrors, they are our terrors. If it has an abyss, it is ours… And if we would live with faith in the value of what is challenging, then what now appears to us as most alien will become our truest, most trustworthy friend.  (July 11th, p. 192) 

Lastly, when we befriend our fears by acknowledging their truth, we often find they hold a jewel. Rilke continues:

Let us not forget the ancient myths … about dragons that at the last moment transform into princesses. Perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act just once with beauty and courage. Perhaps every terror is, in its deepest essence, something that needs our recognition or help.

If our demons are powers that call out for our recognition or help, what is one of yours? What is its truth? Who is it calling you to be? What is it calling you to do?