Previously I wrote about spring and the role of the wood element in our lives (from the perspective of Chinese five element philosophy). We all contain this and the other four elements, and healthy wood empowers us with the virtues we see in a young seedling in spring: vision and planning (it always knows where it’s headed and how to get there); flexibility (this helps it bend in the wind without breaking and find its way around obstacles); determination and vigor (even the occasional spring snow storm won’t stop it); courage (like the upright posture of every tree, it stands up for the life it chooses and embodies).
When we encounter an obstacle to anything in life, a healthy response usually means maintaining the vision of where we’re headed and finding a way to grow around it. We make an adjustment to the plan and keep flowing. (By “plan” I mean everything from the small scale plan of how you intend your everyday life to go to the grand plan of the overall arc of your life.)
One of the main reasons Briana and I were inspired to create our Dreambook + Planner was because of all the times we’d seen ourselves and others get thrown off course by life obstacles and take days, weeks, or years to find our way back. The Dreambook is designed to help users get crystal clear about their plan(s) and then stay connected to the big picture on a daily basis.
Even though we should expect obstacles they usually catch us by surprise, and we often feel disappointed or even angry. In these instances, anger frequently plays a pivotal role in what happens next.
If we willingly feel and accept the anger, it passes through us pretty quickly and we can get back to our plan. We might even find that we’re able to harness and transform the anger into determined action, or to use it to inspire a creative solution.
However, many of us were raised to feel that anger is bad – that our own anger was too much, too hurtful, or too loud, and/or that others’ anger was scary, unsafe, or destructive to the family. Consequently, we may resist and suppress it.
But anger is just a certain “flavor” or frequency of emotional energy. It’s not anger itself but what people do with it that makes us afraid of it.
Suppressing this energy is like saying to spring, “You’re too intense!” and pushing it back into winter. This can result in numbness, depression, or powerlessness. And when we stop suppressing it, we may alternate to being totally dominated by it. There is a healthy middle ground.
Among those who freely experience anger, some do it responsibly: recognizing it as their own, not weaponizing it, and fully utilizing their powers of vision and communication to aim for resolution.
But often it’s a tool we wield to dominate a situation and an impetus to engage in power struggles. We might use it when we believe someone won’t give us what we want unless we show our anger. If you’ve ever yelled at a customer service representative and then got your way, perhaps you concluded that your anger was instrumental in the outcome. Frequently anger becomes an excuse to rail against our obstacles rather than pursuing a goal we’re afraid to fail at . . . or to achieve.
Sometimes anger can help us to access courage, but the association can lead to the false belief that we need to be angry in order to be courageous – or that our anger entitles us to be a bully. Of course, it’s totally possible to be courageously loving, courageously benevolent, and courageously unattached. In fact, without these virtuous qualities, courageous anger won’t often achieve real resolution. On the flip side, when anger is suppressed, we often unintentionally block our access to courage as well.
When we’re carried away by anger, we may believe it arose automatically in response to a certain situation – like reading a snarky comment on social media. But is this true? Did the circumstance directly cause anger in us?
Almost always the anger is a response to a thought of resistance, injustice, or conflict, such as: “This wasn’t supposed to happen,” or “I don’t like this,” or “This is unfair,” or “That person thinks I’m wrong and that they’re right.” While these are understandable positions, they are also, after all, arguments against reality. We can’t often control whether or not our thoughts are accurate or rational, but we can choose whether to believe them and act on them.
To be clear, anger itself isn’t wrong, and feeling angry isn’t immature or unevolved. And of course, there are times when fighting for change is the best thing to do. But if we endeavor to be free, to know ourselves, and to grow, it’s useful to become aware of how and when anger arises in us, what it feels like, and what we’re doing with it.
If anger is conspicuously absent from your emotional palette, maybe you have a gift of perspective. But more commonly – especially if you struggle with depression or numbness – the anger is being suppressed. If so, you’ll usually find that it’s not just the emotion that’s suppressed, but the whole energy of the wood element – vigor, flexibility, tenacity, vision, courage, determined growth, etc. In order to have a life of balance, happiness, and freedom, it’s important to let these energies – anger included – move through you. It doesn’t have to express itself as rage, nor does it need to take you over.
If you tend to get angry a lot, it may be worth looking at how you use the emotion and what you get out of it. There’s a lot of energy in anger and that can be addictive. If your anger keeps you in a state of conflict and gives ammo to your power struggles, that can be addictive too. There’s something satisfying about winning a power struggle, convincing someone that they’re wrong and you’re right. But there are more important things in life!
Here are some ways to let in (and out) a healthy experience of anger:
- First, pent up anger can be released without directing it at someone. We often hear that we should express our feelings, but there’s a difference between expressing them responsibly versus spewing them at others. If necessary, make relevant communications in order to get clear, but throughout the conversation, remember your purpose (whatever it is, I’d suggest it should include “to let go and move on”).
- Be willing to feel it. It’s safe to let yourself experience how anger feels in your body. Notice where you feel it the most and what it feels like. Be curious. Don’t resist. Surrender to the feeling. Invite it to be felt fully.
- Breathe through it. Get into your body. Let your breaths be long and deep, and lengthen your exhale especially, intending to let go.
- Intentionally open yourself. Anger tends to have a “closing” effect on us energetically (and even physically). Instead, imagine your heart opening, your throat opening, your jaw opening, your neck and head opening. Put your feet flat on the ground and imagine that life energy is allowed to move through you unobstructedly. You can also repeat the mantra “Open,” emphasizing a long O sound.
- Ask for the restoration of your vision. Speak to your Highest Self or Spirit (or whatever term you prefer) and request clarity. Be clear that you would rather see the truth, see the big picture of your journey, than to be right about what you believe.
- Practice using language to make requests and convey how you feel rather than resorting to using anger to make your point. For more information, check out Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication.
- Journal. As you put the thoughts and feelings into words and get those words out onto paper, you’re processing, learning yourself, getting back into the flow, and making yourself open to a resolution.
- Stick to the facts. When telling the stories that make you angry (whether to yourself or others), try stating only the facts of what happened without any interpretation added on. Does this change the way you see it?
- Choose the result you want. Obstacles are part of the path. They help us grow. But you probably didn’t choose to invest your time and energy into fighting obstacles (which isn’t to say you never need to fight). You were headed somewhere, remember? Often we caught up in feeling we can’t get there without vanquishing the obstacle in front of us, but there’s almost always a way around it. Sometimes it requires thinking bigger about your goal – are you sure it has to look like the specific outcome you had in mind? What quality of life or experience did you believe you’d have when you achieved that outcome? Isn’t that still possible?
- Forgive. Ideally, this means forgiving all involved parties, and virtually always that includes yourself. Don’t expect it to be a single act. Commit to forgiving and re-forgiving every time you find yourself in resentment again.