On Staying Mad

photo: Oscar Keys

photo: Oscar Keys

I’m mad. 

I’ve been mad for a while. 

And I’m staying mad.

Actually, mad doesn’t quite cover it sometimes. 

Furious, flaming, holy rage in the pit of my belly, “hell hath no fury” kind of deal though… that sounds more like it. 

To put an overarching title on this lets say the “state of the world” has my head and heart wound up in knots of grief and disbelief and my belly on fire with anger a lot of the time these days. The list of what has been bringing all of this up is long, friends. But this week in particular it’s regressive anti-choice laws, violence against trans and gender non conforming folks and environmental destruction. So yeah, I’m mad about it and choosing to be attendant to that anger for the time being. 

We tend to vilify this emotion and splash the water of ‘nice-ness’ all over it as an antidote to the discomfort we experience with it or are told to feel about it. It can leave us feeling so helpless when we are mired in anger or despair, but here’s the rad thing about anger, when met with permission to be felt and then channeled into right action it becomes fuel. That fire in our belly when well processed, understood and utilized becomes the fire of transformation, motivates us to participate more fully in life as it is happening right in front of us and gives us greater capacity to actually see life, blinders and rose-coloured glasses off. Your anger is as sacred as your joy or your love.

While I haven’t been a card carrying member in the ‘love and light’ spiritual camp for many years now, this light-washing of spirituality seems more and more irresponsible to me the more I tend to my anger over the state of the world we live in. Even offering spiritual practice that invites us to be present to the whole of our experience, to dance with light and shadow equally, to trust and attend to both equally, still seems inadequate without active participation in critical conversations around the real and tangible expressions of imbalance and injustice in our world.   I cannot stand here and prostrate on ways to love ourselves more fully and tend to our emotional and spiritual wellness without advocating for the very real collective barriers and challenges that impact these things. I feel that I cannot responsibly offer practices and art for your self care and spiritual growth without addressing the fact that I’m doing so on a dying planet riddled with injustice and systemic oppression that desperately needs our attention and profound global policy change because all of our spiritual, emotional, mental and physical well being is both dependent on this planet’s well being and utterly irrelevant if we destroy it and don’t stop harming each other.

However, well rounded spiritual practice has the potential to inform the way we become good advocates and compassionate leaders in the world. It has the ability to help us wake up to our privilege, move through the grief and other complex emotions involved in that and start to wield it to dismantle the systems of oppression that conferred that unearned privilege on us in the first place. In its highest expression, spiritual practice supports our engagement with direct action to create a world that actually expresses as a reflection of the principles we aspire to such as love, non violence and oneness. 

As an asterisk to this I’ll add that “love and light” served a purpose in my life at a time where I needed to begin one toe at a time, to start in skimming the surface in order to give myself room to breathe as I began the first waves of waking up and learning to love myself. So if this is where you are, no judgement. But on the other side of that first layer is the inevitable propulsion into our own and the outer world’s depths. This is when we need to mitigate bypassing with practices that welcome and integrate wholeness and polarity. 

In our haste to bypass emotions, like anger, that cause discomfort we miss a vital understanding of where that anger comes from. We miss the chance, by skirting it and repressing it, to follow it to its roots and uncover its source. Are we heartbroken? Are we hurting? Are we fearful? Are we furious over injustices we witness or experience? In its exploration we name and claim our right to feel our whole and very natural human responses. 

Giving belonging to our emotions in lieu of repressing and shaming them gives space to them, room to develop language and articulation around them. We set up the conditions to integrate and incorporate the totality of our experience that all of these emotions reflect. 

Your anger belongs.

Your grief belongs.

Your sorrow belongs.

Your confusion belongs.

Your rage belongs.

Your frustration belongs.

Your heartbreak belongs.

I’m not suggesting we wallow or permanently inhabit these states or drag our feet staying over long in story or hold on to blame. I am saying that we do ourselves a disservice by suppressing, repressing and shaming these emotions out of their valid place in our emotional landscape. We push them out of conscious awareness too quickly and force them to hide out and fester, to involute and make us sick. Bypassing will only have us running in circles until we must ultimately return to seek out the residues of bygone emotions and their well worn grooves. 

This is practice and not perfect, a process of consciously choosing to both revisit our stores of moments past and to invest in practices that allow us to have more presence with ourselves going forward. None of us can solve the world in a blog post. However, we all need a little help from our friends to get through so I’ll leave you with the following to help you/us begin.

A few practices you can play with as you revisit, reclaim or meet newly, your discomfort:

  • Consciously breathe low into your belly, or the landmark most riled with emotion in your body, watch the edges of the emotional wave and track its progression as pure emotion, dropping any story that comes up as you feel. As it dissipates, loosen your grip on it and allow it to recede at its own pace. 

  • Forgive the version of you who was not equipped to process in the moment, or is struggling to do so now. Visualize that version of you (and trust whatever image comes up) and have a conversation with that self that needs your tender loving kindness and forgiveness for the way they did their very best at the time. 

  • Write it out. Pen and paper or on your phone or computer get to mapping out the experience for yourself - how you felt, what it meant to you, what the experience is hinting to you about your own room to grow and what action you can take to support change (particularly when confronted with the discomfort of feeling helpless or angry in relationship to injustice). You can do this freehand, or if you prefer a more structured approach the worksheets for The Work by Byron Katie is available on their website to use. 

More than anything, loves, I hope you can carve out some time to be present with whatever is tugging at your heartstrings most these days and allow, as much as you can, for it to gather your attention and invite you to be present to it, to feel it fully and choose to be moved by it so it can move freely through you and let you go on the other side. I hope you let that free movement of emotion be the fuel for your inspired action, however big or small it may seem.