I ran into an artist friend of mine before a concert last weekend, a gracious, considerate, soft-spoken woman. In a brief “how are you?” we looked into each other’s eyes and found a common answer: rage.
In that instant, we dropped pretending that “It’s OK,” (we’re both pretty nice,) and admitted that the world is NOT OK.
I think quite a few of us “nice” people are carrying rage these days,
I tried to check out “How to deal with rage” online and only found posts about anger management with clues about how to calm down, channel one’s anger, and act appropriately.
As if this rage we’re feeling is our personal problem!
“Manage” is a wimpy word. (Manage: to handle or direct, as in the French for training a horse.)
If a shooter had attacked my son in school and my legislator was doing nothing to end gun violence-I dare you to tell me to “manage my rage.”
When acts of greed, hypocrisy, cruelty, and lies are so visible, isn’t rage an appropriate response? Or, when we witness grossly unjust deeds that hurt the planet, our country, and each other?
Yet despite its potentially cathartic and energizing properties, rage isn’t easy to bear.
Rage comes at me like a seething abyss of hot bile in my gut. Five minutes of listening to the news can send rage shooting through me like a geyser, ripping through the surface of an otherwise peaceful day.
Holding rage is like riding the tiger. Still, it can be a positive force for change.
Using the force of rage to forge a sword
Didn’t Martin Luther King, Jr. carry that force, when he used his faith and sense of mission to channel anger into words and deeds that changed the world?
Doesn’t Georgia Congressman John R. Lewis tap that force when he describes how he was beaten on a bridge in Selma and then speaks up against racial and other injustices today?
Doesn’t Malawa Yousafzai experience rage when she thinks about the ongoing cruelty to women and girls in Pakistan or remembers how she was shot? She uses that force for humanitarian work that inspires the planet.
Then, there’s Greta Thunberg, who doesn’t fear speaking truth to power about our environmental apocalypse.
These great stewards have learned how to work with their rage and fashion it into swords for truth.
How can we have our rage, without allowing it to have us, and change us into lesser versions of ourselves?
Used reactively, rage can make us lash out, hurting people who don’t deserve to become collateral damage. Carrying rage within us without mindfulness can lead to illness, accidents, and a feeling of darkness and ill-will.
Even with rage, we need to think before we act, refrain from lashing out or hurting others, and take responsibility for how we are personally triggered by what’s happening around us.
I’m not looking to “manage rage,” but am seeking a more alchemical process that allows me to transform what I feel into something that can serve the greater good.
How to have rage without getting burned
I’m no expert on rage, which was why I was searching online, but here’s what I’ve come up with to date:
Long, deep exhales help me reset my body’s nervous system. I don’t need to carry spiked cortisol levels or put my amygdala and reactive parts of my nervous system on high alert. I try not to let the rage burn me up.
Don’t muddy the water by mixing rage and fear.
In my first watercolor class, I learned that blending complementary colors leads to mud tones. I need to be careful when mixing rage and fear. It’s the toxic blend tyrants and demagogues use to inflame and mislead people.
This requires challenging myself not to speculate, catastrophize or artificially dramatize a situation that concerns me. I’m not privy to any certainty about how the future will go.
Find out what’s real.
To use my rage for a higher purpose I need to think carefully and choose my actions. Facts must be my friend.
Separate out the personal.
This one is really hard–especially when memories of personal pain mix with moral outrage. I pray to weed out my vengeful, vindictive, triggered, upset feelings from the rage that comes from my conscience.
Allow for a mix of feelings.
I always carry more emotions than just rage. Holding rage doesn’t shut the door to joy, excitement, or kindness.
Listen and take one right action.
What’s right for another to do may not be right for me. Right action could be marching, enrolling voters, or speaking to legislators. It could be praying to end the needless suffering in the world.
For me, last weekend, it was planting native trees and shrubs in an area of our woods mangled by last year’s storms. Hands in the dirt calmed my system, and I did something, even if tiny, for the planet.
In the toughest of times, artists get busy. Beauty has its own power to move the world ahead. Tony Morrison spoke to the role of the artist in a broken world.:
“This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal. I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence. Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge — even wisdom. Like art.”
I try to have compassion for the world, for others and myself. I hurt. So do others.
Have a go-to ready when I need to chill.
I look for things that don’t stimulate, trigger intense feelings, or require brain-work. I can garden. Take a walk. Feed the ponies. Watch comedy. Cook soup. Or let the pooches out of their crate and enjoy the best face licks ever.
Ground and feel the light.
Now, more than ever, I need to feel connected to my inner truth and the cosmos. I want to love and feel loved, to send roots into the earth and let my connection with nature be deep. I want to feel whole, even in times of darkness.
If that sounds like soul work, it is. Maybe that work is the foundation for everything.
Rage can make me feel tight, constricted and small. Embracing love and truth helps me expand. From an informed, expansive space, I can act mindfully.
When we grow with a sense of being that is both selfless and self-full, well-grounded, and infused with love, we earn the right to wield the sword of rage.
Don’t “manage” your rage or make yourself wrong for feeling it.
Instead, get bigger, stronger, deeper, more connected, and loving.
Alchemize your feelings. Then act.