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Obstacle or hidden treasure?
It is a remarkable phenomenon that for many people who are interested in selfdevelopment, anger is  quite a disowned emotion.

Especially among people who are spiritually oriented it seems to be a goal to overcome anger and be nice, caring and loving towards others. Somehow anger is seen as negative. Being angry is a sign that the spiritual practice is not at the right level yet. And often this way of looking at oneself works so well that anger does not seem to be present anymore, it seems as if the work  has been  done pretty thoroughly . Except that something is missing. The happiness or contentment that one would expect after accomplishing such a job, somehow is not there. It may be there on the surface but not deep within.  Something is not quite right.


This reminds me of my own training in meditation. After I had learned the basic practice of vipassana-meditation in a temple in Bangkok, I continued my practice in Chapter House, a meditation centre in England. The centre was lead by Dhiravamsa, an ex-monk who received his education at that same temple in Bangkok as I went to. A good sign, I thought, at least there would be no confusion about different methods. In the first meditation I joined, which happened to be in the middle of a retreat that had started a week before,  after a short period of silence, most of the students started to make all kinds of noises. Growling and howling, pretty angry stuff. I was surprised but  it did not disturb me too much. In fact I felt rather peaceful, sitting quietly with all those people who obviously had a lot of anger to deal with. Not me, i seemed to be above all that, and all I could find was peace. Maybe some restlessness every once in a while but nothing compared to the stuff most of  the others expressed. It was a few weeks later when someone commented on the way I walked through the meditation room. Apparently I stamped my feet quite heavily which evoked the question in one of my fellow students whether I was angry at all? I was shocked. I had no idea that that emotion was so present in me and that it expressed itself in a way I was totally unaware of. I had to take a serious look at myself and see and feel whether I really was so different from the others or that  I carried just as much anger as they did. I still did not join the screaming after that , but I certainly started to feel a little bit less smug about myself  and a bit more humble.

Fear of anger
Considering the fact that we enter this world in a very vulnerable state it is not so strange that for most of us anger is not our favorite emotion. When we are babies we hardly have any protection and everything, every vibration seems to enter us without any resistance. Imagine a baby and a lot of violence around it, they just don't go together, even though in many parts of the world it is a daily reality. It is as if we , so soft, vulnerable and pure, belong to another planet: a place where there is a lot of love and care and where anger and hatred don't exist. . Yet here we are , in a world where there is little attunement to the more subltle aspects of our being, where hardly anybody , if anyone at all, really knows about our deepest feelings. We have landed on planet earth, soft and open in a world that can be described easily with the opposite adjectives. There is violence, war, alcoholism and people who only care about themselves (maybe not even because they are bad, but because they are hung up on their own problems). No wonder many of us do not like anger or any emotion related to it. The discrepancy between the total dependency and vulnerability we experience as a baby and the capacity we have to deal with the harshness of the world around us is too overwhelming.
Anger is scary , dangerous and all one can do with it is either shut down and pretend it does not exist , or  own it and use it on others, so that one stays safe oneself. We learn two choices: running away from it or identufying with it. What we have not yet learned is how to deal with it.

The story about Paradise
No matter what our ideas , ideals  or  our dreams are about a peaceful world , one cannot deny that for one reason or another  we do live on a planet where anger is an essential and very present ingredient . Not only that , each and everyone of us has plenty of it inside, it is part of us. If there is a god, or a master of the universe, why would he/she do that to us? Why not drop us in a world without anger , a peaceful world that is more in congruence with the softness and vulnerability  that is so present when we are born?
There is a story about that.

The story is, that we did start of in a perfect place, were everything was beautiful , peaceful, just right. The Garden of Eden, paradise. Then one day, something went "wrong";  We were kicked out of that place ( or state of being, if we use the story as a methaphore).The snake tempted Eva to eat from the tree of Knowledge of good and evil. The only tree in paradise from which god had ordered her and Adam, not to eat. She would die if she did. The serpent however told Eva that, if she ate from the tree, she would not die as God had said, but that her eyes would be opened and she would become like god, knowing about good and evil .  Eva fell  for the temptation , ate the fruit that the snake offered her and offered it to Adam too. From that time on Adam and Eva became aware and felt ashamed of their nakedness. Then God knew that they had done the forbidden thing and cursed them. Adam and Eva from now on would live in a world where pain, suffering, anger and hatred are normal ingredients: planet earth.

The story, and the way it has been interpreted suggests a dubious role for women, and an enormous sense of guilt about who and what we are. We did something wrong and we will have to pay for it.The way this story is mostly interpreted suggests that we have no right to be angry. We caused our own misery and if we want to do anything about it we should pray ask God to forgive us. There is no other way. That sense of guilt of having done something wrong is very deeply ingrained in our system I believe. Not only for religious people but our whole western culture is drenched in it.

I want to use that same story to suggest another possibility. Suppose Eva felt and followed a deep longing for knowledge inside of her and somehow she knew it was time to enter another world. To explore, to grow closer to God, to find out about what He/She knew and they, herself and Adam did not. Suppose they no longer were  satisfied with paradise. No matter how attractive that place was, there was no place for growth and development. Everything was perfect already. So maybe  Eva and Adam chose to move on and in doing so had to accept the consequences. Learning about good and evil is not something one can do by reading a book,sitting in an easy chair in paradise, it is experience.
The master of the universe, who or whatever he or she is, picked up Eva's longing  and answered by providing us  with this world.Perfect in its imperfection. Just the right place to learn. It offers us every opportunity to learn about good and evil. It is a world  where the automatic trust, the immediate knowing, the lack of shame, was gone. Everything we encounter here has components of good and evil in it. Nothing can be taken for granted anymore, and pain is part of the game.  That is what we wanted, didn't we. We wanted to be closer to God, who does know about good and evil and transcended it. The master of the universe was so good to us. Not only were we offered a world with good and evil all around us, we were provided with the same stuff inside of us!
What a great gift, such a perfect way to learn, it is just all over the place. All we need to do now is to learn how to cope with it.
Fact is ,  up till today we have not quite mastered that skill . There is a lot to learn yet. We struggle with it, so much so, that some of us seem to prefer to be back in paradise again, and rather ignore the reality of this world and the challenges it offers. And that is where the New Age comes in.

New age philosophy.
Sometimes I think that the new age movement, if one can speak of one movement, is designed to give us the illusion that we did not fall from paradise after all. That it is still here, available for us, if we would only see it. We do not seem to succeed very much with that last part, but God knows that many people do try to be good, caring and loving; to be everything that came to us so naturally when we were in paradise.
According to a recent research study by a dutch professor in Religion about the "New Age" there is no place for anger, evil , violence in this "movement".Generalising like that probably does not do justice to the diversity of opinions and ideas within the movement, however there seem to be some basic ideas, shared by most and so I will follow the generalisation for a moment. One of the general ideas is that everything is as it is supposed to be. Pure chance does not exist ,everything is as it is for  a reason. If there is something wrong in our situation , it is wrong for a reason. Most likely we are in it because we caused it somehow. There is something that we need to look at, something that we need to learn; it is a challenge. Somehow then this assumption is taken  a bit further, suggesting that we can also figure out what the reason is, why things happen, dismissing the fact that most things in this world are beyond our understanding anyway. And so we reason that if we are not very happy now, somehow we must have deserved it or it would not have happened. In thinking like that we go back to the old interpretation of the paradise story. It is presented a bit nicer but does not it come down to the same stuff? It is our own fault, although we call it an "opportunity" and feel that we should be grateful for the lesson. But is this really so different from guilt? If there is something wrong with us, we think that we must have caused "it" to happen. "It" can refer to anything, from a not so clever action to a mortal illness.This way of thinking makes us terribly responsible . Also it does not leave us much room for any negative feelings related to our environment. If we do feel negatively, we are told to take a good look at ourselves , because we create your own reality. What a weight to carry and how presumptuous! How can we be responsible for our own reality while we live in a universe that is so vast and full of phenomenon that are way beyond our understanding. Of course we have responsibilities , and of course we are capable of creating circumstances to a certain degree, but  that's it. There is so much that is beyond us, how can we claim responsibility for it? Yet, many of us believe we can (and we should). Based on the assumption that whatever we are or experience now is a direct result of past action: "it is karma". If we cannot find what we did wrong in this life that caused our misery ,we will have to  look at past lives and we will find it there. A way of reasoning based on buddhist  teaching but interpreted in a way that supports a belief system that has no place for anger and resentment. It is interesting to look at why we hold on to  theories like that. Why do we place ourselves in such an impossible position, one that absolutely disempowers us. Why do we take on a belief system that makes us sinners beyond redemption? Why , if we want to get rid of that one, do we go for a way of thinking that makes us so  responsible that we are bound to fail? Why choose for ideas that disempower us? Do we do all of this so that we do not have to face our anger, our 'negative sides' . Do we do it to avoid becoming empowered?

Why do we need philosophies that make us less than we are, (by suggesting that we are more than we are...) Obviously the New Age movement has given us a lot that is very positive. For one thing it has given people the courage to take charge of their lives and to take responsibility for themselves. It has encouraged people to come out of their victim state , to create something positive, to take a more active part in life. But somehow, somewhere it has gone too far. Everything is now rationalised in terms of cause and effect. And in doing so,the beauty of what the new age movement originally brought to us was lost: the focus on the mystery of life, the wonder, the realisation that we cannot do it all with our mind, that there is more than the  rational  only. And here we are explaining away everything we experience in terms of cause and effect. Ignoring the beauty of our instincts, our non-rational side, the un expected, the unpredictable, that which is beyond explaining but just is. We cut ourselves off from the one source that will provide us with knowledge about good and evil: our own instincts.

Our instincts are basic energies that carry an immediate knowledge of danger or injustice that threatens us. These energies provide tools to protect us in those situations. Anger is one of them.
What is anger? We all know that feeling of a rush of energy that goes through us: the adrenaline flows and the body is in a state of agitation , ready for action. There is an inner preparation for something that needs expression, because we are in danger or something  is not quite right. Or because we are somehow triggered by something or someone that apparently touches a sensitive cord in us, reminding  us of similar situations that have been very painful for us.  The most natural thing to do is to let the energy flow, express what needs to be expressed so that the situation is dealt with and the body can return to a state of  relative peace again. Easier said than done! Because what would  happen if that surge of energy is so strong that the expression of it could mean that the person who triggered it will be attacked and get hurt? And what if he or she really has  nothing to do with why we are so angry? What if that person then starts to fight back or rejects us? In short letting out the emotion can bring us in  situations that might get out of hand. So, we often reason , it is better to control the anger , to be reasonable and then everything will be o.k. The downside of that attitude is that the cause of the anger, the situation we were in, is not dealt with. The energy that was aroused now has to find an outlet somewhere else: within. It makes our body tense; something wants to be released but we hold back. Most likely  we do realise this, but we think that we can live with it. The problem is that the more these situations occur, the more we need to suppress and the tenser our bodies become, the more energy is needed to keep that growing ball of discontentment under control.We become less content with  our environment , because there is something there that we do not like and not deal with. There is another problem too: are we actually able to  live like that:  keeping everything under control?How do we know that it won't come out anyhow when we least expect it or start leaking through in ways we do not realise? Have you ever   heard yourself snap at someone out of the blue? Noticed your behaviour in bad traffic?

So what  do we do with our anger? Apart from all the moral objections one can have against it, there is a very practical problem too: it can put us into trouble. It is not so strange that we  like philosophies that have very little place for anger. They suit us well because we do not know what to do with our anger anyway. We have not learned how to deal with it and the examples we see around us are not exactly inspiring. But trying to get rid of anger is like ignoring a gift that is absolutely essential for our functioning on this planet , and then complaining that there is something wrong here, that life does not work, that God, in his creation, has done a bad job.

Anger that turns against us: the inner critic*
Let's look at what happens with our anger when we pretend not to have it, when we suppress it. We need to know  that energies that are not dealt with, do not disappear.Whether we suppress them or ignore them, they are there and  will work in us in some way or another. If the anger does not have an outlet, there is only one direction it can take. It cannot go out, so it goes in and turns against ourselves.
It starts to give us messages about ourselves. Either very overtly in saying things like we are "stupid", that we did the "wrong thing" , or in a more covert way, just by giving us a feeling that something about us is not quite right.
It is not always easy to detect that critical voice inside. Since  we really did not want to know about anger for  such a long time, it can be really difficult to suddenly acknowledge what is going on inside our own system. Our energy has been focussed for so long on ignoring anger and not on listening to it. So, even if there is that slight feeling of discontentment it might be covered up very quickly by a voice, saying that we are o.k., that  there is nothing  wrong with us.After all, we need to accept ourselves, (isn't that what we  learn from so many trainings and books?)
However, energy is energy. Its existence does not depend on our awareness. What we can do with it does. Anger that is suppressed will turn against us. Either it will make us miserable because we keep hearing those messages that put us down,, and become very depressed. Or it will silently eat away within us without our realising it. All we will feel is that we are so tired and have no energy left to face the world. Or that we want to keep eating so that we won't feel that emptiness inside. If we keep our anger down because we are afraid of the consequences for others or for our own image, we will hurt and disempower ourselves. The gift that was given to us becomes a tool for (self) destruction.

Anger as energy force
Ultimately the way to deal with one's anger is to recognise it as an energy force and to consciously use it when it is needed. Basicly  anger is nothing more or less than lifeforce energy. A form of passion one could say. Only because we have not learned what to do with it and consequently have suppressed it, it has turned sour. So much so that it now might only express itself in fantasies or dreams about  jealousy, persecution, wanting to destroy or kill when it finally does get a chance to come to the surface.( Which of course makes it even more difficult to accept). We do not like that kind of stuff.  It is like everything we fight against. But there is nothing bad about  horrible dreams or fantasies. Disowned energies become like that when they have festered inside, that is all. We just have to find ways to deal with them  in a way that is not  unneccesarily harmful to oneself or others. To accomplish that we can use practices such as the banging on cushions as so often is used in therapy groups, or shouting and screaming, chopping wood, wrestling with each other etc. Or allowing fantasies in which one can kill, murder ,mutilate and whatever else comes to mind. I won't say this is easy to do. Often there is a deep fear that by doing so those energies  will  start to come out in other situations too which are beyond our control. Or  we are afraid to acknowledge that we actually carry those feelings within us. Well, we all do. Not letting them come to the surface and pretending they are not there is what is really dangerous. It will undermine our own system. It also enhances the risk that they will come out, once they are  triggered enough, in  situations where real harm can be done.
So expressing in artificial situations is good to release the overload. By no means though should that become a replacement for expressing feelings of anger in real life. If a situation induces anger , it is much better to use the anger to deal with that specific situation, rather than to swallow it and then,in the next therapy session, bang a few cushions.We need that energy when and where it arises. It can help us to say "no" to situations. It can help us to accomplish what we want from life. It can help us to deal with people that are bothering us and are overstepping our  boundaries, it can help us to confront situations rather than avoid them. It can help us to be true to ourselves.We absolutely need it! It is a gift. It  empowers us.

Using anger is not the same as just letting it out. However for learning purposes we need to experiment with just letting it out, preferably in a safe environment. If that energy cannot flow, if we do not get to know it, we will never learn how to handle it effectively. Ultimately we can learn  how to use that life energy with awareness. This means  to feel the energy and its power; not to let it take over, but not to suppress it. Where we are now with anger is like having a beautiful wild horse in our stables, yet pretending it is not there. We are scared to ride it, maybe even scared  to admit that it is there. But if we are willing to look at it, to talk to it, to listen, to sense it; we will get to know it. We will learn that it wants to move, it wants to be ridden. We will discover that it is waiting for a master that respects it for its wildness, but who  will know how to ride it. Someone who does not try to break its will, but  who gently directs , firmly corrects if needed but always with the greatest respect for its power. A master who  skillfully directs  its will so that it works for us and helps us to do the things we need to do. We have a precious gift there and most of us  don't even realise it.

The main thing that is addressed in this article is that we need to accept anger as part of us and as part of the planet. It is time that we very seriously start to look into and experiment with ways we can use it, make it part of our lives in a constructive way. This is not easy but it is absolutely essential. I remember the first time I really allowed destructive feelings to come to the surface in me. This was in a voice dialogue session where I experienced ,at least to some degree, the destructive forces of the devil. For a short while that was all I was:the devil who had no patience with anyone and whose sole purpose was so wipe everything off the planet; I hated people searching for the light, ignoring the power of the dark. It was a very powerful experience . The immediate effect was not that I became more destructive in life, but that I felt strong and more confident, realising what power I carried. On a longterm basis my life changed because I used that energy to realise my goals, to claim my place in the world, more than I ever had before.  Now, many years later, I still would not say that I know how to deal with all anger. That particular experience was impressive and taught me a lot. It was also just a beginning. There is no end to the learning ; we  have a long way to go. But would it not be great if we were courageous enough to start to experiment  together, to learn how to ride our horses? We cannot live without anger, without our instincts on this planet. There is light and dark, good and bad. That is the stuff  we are made of. Let's stop hiding and pretending that we are only good, we are more than that. It is time to uncover ourselves and be all that we are. To accept our clumsiness and our not knowing and our "negative" feelings, alnog with the love and light. We need to go forwards and face what we find so difficult to accept. After all, getting closer to God is not about trying to become more holy. It is about feeling more, gaining knowledge and awareness  about good and evil.  It is about being who we are.

by Berenda Dekkers

* “the inner critic” is a term used in voice dialogue, a communication method developed by Hal and Sidra Stone




Berenda Dekkers
Sociaal Psycholoog/Trainer

Mansholt-Nes 10
1862 AD Bergen

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