I arrive early and head to the 3rd floor — Dr. Jialing Wu’s office. It’s been about 4 years since I was last there but somehow I remember it as if I’ve been there a hundred times. I walk the hallway around and head into the modest waiting room for my appointment. I sit patiently, resisting the urge to straighten her wall of diplomas and plaques and I can hear that she’s with another client. My eyes roam around and my sense is that everything is just as it was when I was there years ago, including the tilted frames. I sit there with a smile on my face, feeling happy to be there early as a change to my usual always-running-late habit. I’m filled with hopes of another miracle of healing and grateful that I took this initiative to do some self-care. Eight minutes later, it’s my time to talk with Dr. Wu and I’m welcomed into her office by the receptionist. I sit across from Dr. Wu’s big wooden desk and we catch up with a friendly, yet concise conversation since my last visits and get right to the topic at hand – my itchy, puffy, irritated left eye-lid. I sit down, roll up my sleeve and offer my wrist so she can check my pulse. She has her yellow notepad and she writes some info in Chinese. She tests a few spots on my wrist so she can read enough to give her assessment. I’m a bit nervous but also excited to hear some news that will help me. She says there’s heat in my liver. Sounds like a good Chinese medicine comment I thought. Then she asks with soft eyes, “are you angry?”. Dum de dum, dum de WHAT?! And then there was silence. Did she just ask me if I’m angry? I’m sure that’s what my eyes said back to her at first as well. My eyes close for a moment to go inside and check with the gate keeper as to whether I’m allowed to answer this question or not. Without waiting for the answer, I open my eyes and my gaze drops into hers, almost to arrive at her level of sincerity and frankness, and the truth of the moment strikes me and I settle into the moment with her to realize we’re gonna go there. I feel that her question is really more of a statement than a question, as if she is helping me verbalize this so I can come to understand myself better, the self that is holding back from acknowledging anger. And then with confidence, I announce, “Yes! I am angry!” I didn’t say it WITH anger, but I was able to say it with certainty and to claim it as true, to release the words and pop the cork! Like how the yoga sutras of Patanjali starts off with a powerful feeling of initiation: NOW the exposition of yoga is being made. Only it was: NOW Marc is ready to talk about his anger!
My default answer in some other situation might have been “no, I don’t feel angry. I’m not angry, just have a lot going on.” See, anger is for angry people. I’m a NICE person and work hard to be that way, to be perceived that way. So in that moment, the record scratched, the music of habit stopped, and I sat with my naked reality ready to surrender to anger being part of my diagnosis. See, the thing is – I trust Dr. Wu. She is the healer that I worked with to clear eczema from the back of my knee almost 4 years ago. It wasn’t the same method of connecting an emotional relationship to my eczema which I’d say is why I felt unprepared this time, but it was a shift in my world which initiated a huge change in life perspective for me. Eczema has been on parts of my body since childhood, and a patch behind my knee had remained. This vulnerable, hiding, back-o-the knee patch was a persistent rash that had been with me for decades on and off. I resorted to many ways of coping with it from a dedicated practice of meditation to a crazy, clever wrap that was to prevent me from scratching in the middle of the night – my most difficult times to avoid scratching. Somehow I came up with the idea of rubbing vaseline (petroleum jelly?!?! – I was unawares back then: http://greenandchic.com/blog/petroleum-jelly-possible-cancer-risk) all over the back of my knee then wrapping it with plastic (polyethylene!!!) then wrapping a thick layer of fabric tied in a knot so I couldn’t get to it while in my sleepy state. It worked for some weeks, until I got more clever in my sleep and I figured out how to untie and unwrap this complicated contraption. It was like an addict trying to get to the drug – must SCRATCH!! Crazy to think about that ritual I would do before bed, hoping that I wouldn’t scratch my skin raw overnight. It was like the back of my knee was angry and I fought a war with it and lost nearly every morning, all the detritus of the battle strewn around my bed.
I can barely believe I went through all of that years ago to deal with this persistent itch! It possessed me and taught me a lot about my mind and body connection. It was a kind of yoga in a way, a battle with myself where I learned about acceptance and compassion. I even became willing to live with it until something clicked and I came to believe that something could actually change this relationship and I could be without this persistent itch. It even made its way into performance work during my years with Joe Goode Performance Group. Joe guided us on a journey to understand the wisdom stored in our bodies in the piece, “What the Body Knows.” It was a BIG topic for me and related to other experiences in life, particularly addiction (the itch = the craving). I’m grateful to have found resolution for that patch of eczema and that patch of an addictive cycle that had been quietly consuming my life. I’m grateful that I felt safe to talk about it and to trust the unfolding of satya – truth. The work came during my first months of my recovery and it was a powerful time. I’m grateful that Joe guided us into that work which offered me space for creative healing. There are still layers of all unfolding, still skin to shed and layers to peel away for sometime, but that was an acute period of releasing pain and suffering. I do believe that all of that happened to strengthen me in a way and I know for sure it was there as a messenger for my health and wellness, helping heal my relationship with myself and with others. I might even say it helped me learn about peace and compassion in the face, or knee of anger. 🙂 I can say with certainty that it all helped deepen my practice with recognizing yoga as more than simply a physical practice.
So back to Dr. Wu and the heat in my liver. Heat can cause irritation and be a sign of unexpressed anger, so that’s where her question stemmed from. Little bit of connecting-the-dots via left field even for me, but Chinese medicine makes more and more sense as I benefit from it and hear the same from others. In eastern philosophy – acupuncture, like yoga, recognizes that we must bring healing and stability to the body in order to establish a strong body-mind-spirit/breath connection (I added “breath” as synonymous with spirit to emphasize the power of breath and to simplify the magnitude of what I recognize as spirit.). I’ve learned that my body has a lot to teach me when I’m open and available to listen. The way I see it, the body is speaking to us and has a direct relationship with our environment, and our environment triggers at least some portion of the way that we perceive and think. Just look at the contrast with our grandparents who grew up without a phone and how today even 10 year olds go to school with a cell phone!! Different way of relating to time and connection with people and planet. Or say your brother grew up in Calcutta while you grew up in Cincinnati – these worldviews and sense of self would be very different even though you’re from the same parents. How we relate to the world we know directly affects our body which in turn directly affects our health and well-being. Inversely, how we relate to our body directly affects our relationship to our world and directs that way we take care of ourselves – at least I can say that’s been my experience. What we eat, how we connect with each other, how we breathe, WHAT we breathe, what we believe or don’t believe, designs the relationship of body with environment, mind with body and environment with mind. Can be complicated so I rely on a specialist who can HEAR this connection and help me understand it. This body-mind-spirit connection expresses itself as one entity but often I’m separating this harmonious trio because my mind thinks there’s good reason for it. That’s why a practice of yoga, or union, is so important to help open my hands and heart to be able to hold all as one. I think this might be similar to parents who have a handful of children and they do their best to keep balance with equal yet distinctly unique care for each of them. Certainly not easy but possible to keep connection with all of them in some capacity at the very least. And some may need more care than others at times. But hopefully, none are forgotten!
There was a lot of anger in my family all growing up – biological parents as well as at home with my mom, step-dad and brother that I grew up with. Whether as outbursts through yelling and jabbing criticisms all the way to the passive-aggressive and silent treatments (mostly my style of expressing anger inwardly), anger was a dominant emotion that I recall. Thankfully the anger didn’t result in the physical form of abuse as far as I’m aware of between my family members. But it was such a strong element of interaction that I often wished that I wasn’t there and not part of this family. And in many ways, I wasn’t there. Thanks to being brought into the Creative and Performing Arts School family since age 12, I was able to throw myself into rehearsals and after-school activities that kept me where I wanted to be – away from home and with a huge family that I considered to be more like me. I AM deeply grateful for my family and my home, and that at this point in my life I wouldn’t want to change a single thing. I had my own big room, clothing, food, cozy warm home, parents who supported their artistic and distant son, a brother who tried to connect with me but often received a cold shoulder, etc. Maybe my childhood wasn’t anything out of the ordinary, maybe it was. It was mostly that I wasn’t able to make the connection that I longed to make within the dynamic of my home family. No one’s fault per se, just the way things were. I remember seeing this anger expressed with such rawness to other people whether at my school, to friends, to servers in restaurants and of course to my other family members, that I must have made some kind of vow that I would never express that kind of emotion to others. I saw too much pain from it and I didn’t want any part of it. Anger equalled bad and dangerous. And even though I had a great deal of anger during these years, I wasn’t about to talk about it or share about it for fear of adding to the angry home we lived in. That would be like throwing fire into a fire, hoping to put it out. I don’t think I had the tools back then to know how to handle this. I recognize that I’ve healed much of this pain to the extent that I have gratitude for my family and for all the stuff that happened in my growing up years. It is from this place of the wounded healer that I feel I can be of service to others.
I’ve learned that feeling anger is a part of our whole range of emotions and a large part of learning about compassion.
I want to allow it a safe space to move through versus ignoring what’s there or throwing it out to hurt others and myself.
A past dating relationship brought deep insight for me about anger. He and I were happily compatible in many ways, a common dedication to yoga practice being a major element. AND, we were yin/yang in our way of dealing with a few things which isn’t unlike many if not all the couples I know. I quickly learned that I was also with someone who was easily able to access his anger and direct it outwards and I believe he even saw this as a sign of passionate connection in a useful, honest way. In some ways I now might say, I believe it could be! I believe in being who you know yourself to be and being true to that best knowledge. Having said that, in my way of being in the world I don’t believe in hurting others for the sake of a selfish lesson or to provoke change in someone by consciously creating pain that leads to more pain. I don’t believe anger is a useful way to engage in meaningful communication for most of us. I think it can be a protective tool in some instances to ward off physical harm where the only way to enter an afflicted persons mind is through an enraged speech. Or another example could be discussed where someone aims to bring discipline to a young and/or wreckless person where the goal is peace versus disciplining for one’s own goal. I see these examples more as a way of ACTING angry or adeptly transforming the anger on the spot to ultimately provoke a shift versus actually letting one’s anger override and splatter all over the place. My experience has shown that generally I’m throwing out my own pain when I get angry at someone, hurting others in a similar way that I’ve been hurt so that I can feel better. That’s why I’ve tended towards holding off from expressing my anger, at least the raw, slanderous style of anger in order to stay committed to the practice of ahimsa – non-violence.
So I’m not certain this is my final answer with dealing with anger in a relationship, but it’s where I was and still am for now. As within my family, I was aware of the tension and the anger in someone close to me and I was committed to the point that I wasn’t going to meet his anger with anger. I believe he wanted me to get angry back at him, that he was looking to provoke that emotion in me. Maybe it would have been a good experience to have unleashed and had an angry battle. But with all the work I had been doing, that never seemed to make sense. Even if that would have been a good exercise for me, I didn’t trust that it was the right relationship for this to happen. The final layer to this angry cake was that in the midst of anger that came my way, the imprint of childhood pain bubbled up and had me partly frozen, numb. There was a part of me that thought I deserved this abuse, that I had to take it and not step out of harms way. It was part of the story that I’ve dragged around that gets triggered by people places and things close to my heart and feels alone and afraid.
The difference is that today, I’m aware that I have a choice and that I have my own voice. It’s part of the work that I’m doing to trust that I am worthy, that I am deserving of kindness and love. I’ve started a Raja Yoga teacher training course and I’m learning to recognize the vrittis, the thought waves that are within my mind and how some are painful and others are painless (Sutra 1.5). The sutras say we can sort these out and transform the painful ones in order to move towards spending greater time in peace. Great news, huh? Are you asking, how does it work?!?! Me too. That’s why I’m taking this course! 🙂 I’ll be sharing more of the sutras here in these writings as the course progresses.
In that dating relationship as with my parents, I learned that I don’t have to be pulled in by someone else’s anger and I can let them have their own experience with anger. I am not them. I am not their anger. I don’t even believe the root of their anger actually even has to do with me, in this lifetime anyway! By recognizing this boundary in this up to date context with this ex-boyfriend, I was able to not become totally consumed by the flames of anger – his or mine. I seemed to be able to see through his anger even when he was expressing it. Our difficult conversations would certainly sting and be uncomfortable, especially on the on-set, but then I would see the vulnerability and sweetness in him and not want to attack that. What I saw was a space for me to offer love, compassion and acceptance. It was then that I got that he and I were the same – judging him would mean judging myself. Now I wasn’t always able to give that love in the form of compassion and nurturing energy – sometimes I would use a controlling speech to counter-attack or be passive aggressive as I learned so well from growing up. I would say things that I knew provoked him but were also my truths – just not said at a good time or in a compassionate way. It was my best attempt to create a defensive line when I was feeling fear of being bulldozed over. I believe I needed to learn more about how to deal with anger at this intimate level and he was brought to guide me and help me find my short-comings and recognize my strengths. To this day, I’m grateful that our difficult and angry times didn’t turn into punching matches and thankful for the whole experience just as it was.
I believe the primary reason for our break was that each of us was finally able to see each other and to see ourselves. To see that we weren’t going to be able to accept certain parts of one another and to recognize that we had to set each other and ourselves free from this limited way of being. I was angry this didn’t work out and angry that there was a lot left unsaid on my part. But I hadn’t felt space for what I wanted to say and I later learned it was best left unsaid because it was my ego that was bruised and that wanted to win since I felt like I had lost. It was what was left for me to work on and accept away from the context of this relationship, away from this war where there appeared to be a winner and a loser. This relationship bruised me pretty deeply when it ended and has taken some time to bring healing. In many ways, I felt I was ready to be in this imperfect relationship and to go for the long haul. But finally, that possibility disappeared. That I’m able to write about it here and under this topic of acknowledging and healing anger, feels good. It helps me get that I’ve learned at least SOME of what was needed from this experience. I’ve been needing to write about this relationship and this person. He was a teacher for me as I imagine I was for him, and I trust it all went as it needed to go so that we could each get to know ourselves more and move more towards our own peace.
I visualize releasing him and my family of origin from my liver!
Getting current, I have anger today. I can name the anger with a handful of things with work, life, co-workers, my brother, parents, cat, money, etc and without realizing it, I’ve been suppressing this anger and have needed to be simply able to name it – I have anger! AHHHHHHHhhhhhhHHHHHHHHHHH!!!! Now I also get that this anger is a vritti – part of the mind-stuff that is causing me pain. I want to blame it on outside things but the outside world will ALWAYS cause pain. So rather than getting caught up in trying to fix the outside world, my focus is to sort out my perceptions and misperceptions. There is work I can consciously do that transforms this anger or other painful emotion and brings me towards equanimity, and right now I’m finding that through yoga. This recognition, this revelation on a feeling that I don’t often allow myself to connect with, inspired me to get writing, to do a thorough cleaning of my room, to clear out some old things in the house and see where this would go! I can hear my brother saying – do a 4th step around it! Yes, he’s on the 4th step and seeing the value of this new work which is so great to see. The 4th step brought tremendous healing for me and what I’m enjoying right now is learning how the yoga sutras have a similar, healing journey.
Writing is a major resource to release and reveal the nature of the anger. I also have found that telling friends about this anger experience with this acupuncturist brought benefit – because I was basically able to let friends know that I was angry, start a conversation around it. It was my way of sharing more about myself, my feelings, without getting angry. It was a way to let go of the force-shield around the anger and gradually help it lose its power, its grip on me, its veil covering what is true. Anger does not control me nor is it who I am. In yoga practice, during yoga nidra/deep relaxation we take a minute to observe our thoughts. When I’m guiding students in their practice, I often share the spiritually founded truth that we’re not our thoughts or our feelings and encourage the students to simply watch these feelings and thoughts pass before them without needing to latch on and go for the ride. Just observe and be still as if you were watching a movie. I didn’t come up with these words and have been given this same direction by others. It’s worked to guide me into a peaceful state in my practice. In this way we’re more likely to stay grounded in what is true versus when we allow the anger to overcome us and define us.
Even as I know I’m not my anger, I get that I need to let myself verbalize this anger in order to spend time making peace with it. I need to be able to send it on its way towards the benefit that I am to receive from honoring it. And I love remembering that “this too shall pass!”
We may do and say things that bring pain to ourselves and others. It’s not about suppressing the anger which I did for many years and do on occasion, it’s a practice of pausing the dualistic thinking and inserting the wisdom of “who we are.” We are one, we are one with spirit. “We are spiritual beings having an earthly experience.” And its not a practice just for the tough emotions, its for all emotions. We can even get carried away with the highs of ecstasy and joy. We can get attached to any and all of these feelings which we believe make us who we are. But they are just the things that pass through us like water over the rocks, moving towards a great ocean. These are also part of us only we tend to wrap expectation around these feelings and secretly or even consciously hold fear of losing these things. So it brings up pain ultimately, often even anger. The practice I’ve learned is to work towards a space of equanimity. Expressed well in the 2nd and 3rd chapters of the Bhagavad Gita that I’m currently studying – the epic poem describing the inner and outer battle Arjuna is facing as he surrenders to receiving the gift of yoga from lord Krishna. These emotions feel real to us and there is a way to move out of this suffering.
Spring is around the corner, though it’s already been feeling springy, and this is a great time to nourish the liver. In traditional Chinese medicine, it is said that the chi is in the liver meridian now more than any other season. Recognizing this anger is a great signal for me to bring more attention to nourishing my body with good foods, hatha practice and being around friends and social situations that uplift me. I also like to remember to give myself adequate quiet time in my home and to keep my home tranquil and a place I enjoy going to for rest. I’ve read that we have 50,000-60,000 thoughts per day! Many of those are even said to be negative thoughts! So many of these thoughts might trigger anger from who knows where and we might hang on to it for a while. We might even LIKE hanging on to the anger because it feels good in some way, maybe it feels righteous. I had this the other day and it was gnawing away at me – something to do with work. Then about an hour later I realized that I had forgotten about that anger and was feeling good! I had to try and remember what I was so angry about and I couldn’t! If I tried hard enough I could have remembered, but it didn’t seem like that was gonna be a smart idea, because I’d likely work myself into an angry place again! Funny how sometimes I might choose to do that. I’ve seen others do that for sure! So I don’t expect that anger will be deleted as one of my emotions any time soon, nor any other emotion for that matter, but my perspective on this is that I have the ability to observe these thoughts and feelings and take better care of them. I get that I can work towards understanding them better versus ignoring or hoping for them to dissolve on there own.
During the meditation at the end of a recent yoga class, I visualized some people sitting in meditation with me. The first person I pulled up was someone I’m connected with and feel our relationship needs transforming. We’ve been in a stuck place and both of us are having our own version of how it needs to change. I don’t have the vision that we’ll actually get to sit in meditation together anytime soon, but there he appeared sitting with me. Then a couple of others appeared with whom I feel I’m in a similar situation – wishing for a shift in our relationship. Then my brother and my family were sitting with me. Then others kept appearing, until the flow got so massive and fast that I couldn’t recognize anyone yet knew that I was with everyone that I loved, hated, resented, respected, admired, loathed, knew of and knew not – all of which I get were parts of myself. I got that I was learning about non-judgement here, that I was learning about compassion and acceptance during this meditation. It was medicine for me to have even this “virtual” experience of these feelings so that my body and mind could recognize this to be true. We are each other, moving towards whatever we spend our energy focusing on. lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu – May the entire universe be filled with peace and joy, love and light. Thanks for reading.