No one seemed angry.
As a matter of fact, this group was particularly…Nice. With a capital “n”….
Smiling, polite, helpful, tidy….hmmmm.
It was only the occasional twitch of a jaw muscle, or the tone of voice that wobbled a smidgen out of the modulated range of “Happy”, that lead one’s attention past the “I
should smile now” smiles and into the dead and wounded eyes.
Like all the schools and hospitals and banks and churches that are made to look welcoming and cheery in order to hide the truth simmering within, slipping into the eyes of these sweet people was to cross a threshold into disappointment… (deeper), doubt… (deeper), disillusionment…(deeper) and shame. Bubbling up through it all, kept in check by steel plates of Will and Propriety, was pure, white-hot rage.
It was only in the wee hours, after we had finished our work for the retreat and were clambering to our beds through the snow and winds that had risen to wipe all traces of our first passing….
No. Maybe it was even later, after the tea ceremony and the Gathering Up and the Leaving, as I sat holding them all inside me, that I remembered Spring.
Following Medicine Wheel teachings, we see the path between the Northern Gate of the Winter Solstice and the Eastern Gate of the Spring Equinox as being a time of sifting through the layers of identity we have learned and internalised from our ancestors, and letting go of what no longer serves us. At the vernal equinox we step out of the darkness of our inner journey and across a threshold into the outside world. As much as it is possible to experience joy and buoyancy as we shed our winter layers and spring forward into the new, green world, we may also feel fear and doubt, causing hesitation on our way…. The bright light of the outside world may feel aggressively intrusive when we are holding shame and invested in not being Seen.
We’re taught in the traditions of oriental medicine that Nature resonates with the energies of the Wood Element in this phase of the seasonal cycle. This adds to the Wood Element energies in our bodies, making some people feel great (those with too little Wood energy) and others feel awful (those who already have a lot of it and are tilted into excess). Wood Element energies are those present in the Liver and Gall Bladder meridians and organs as well as in the eyes and the joints, so physical symptoms may be experienced relating to these systems.
The metaphor of Wood is beautifully applicable to this phase of our growth: the élan of creative self-manifestation in the belly rises like sap upward. When this energy hits the area of the solar plexus, it is often met with a barrier of self-limiting beliefs: “You can’t do that, you’re a girl!”; “You’re too stupid to do that kind of job”; “Tu es né pour un petit pain”; “This was good enough for your parents – why isn’t it good enough for you?”
The teachings of the Wood Element, therefore, are about obstacles and how we deal with them. Most translations from Chinese and Japanese will tell you, and therefore most western practitioners of the oriental medical arts believe, that Wood deals with anger. My experience, however, is that we need to look more deeply… and with more compassion.
Anger is a much-maligned emotion in this anger-provoking society of ours. (“Eeeeeeew! He’s so aaaaangry!”) Most of our rules and laws and courts are created as attempts at anger control and management. As much as we fear and shame anger, it continues to flood out of our ubiquitous screens and to swell and leak into the streets. Worried more with the consequences than the causes, we Do.Our.Best.To.Control.It. “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all!” So we walk around with jaws clenched and bellies biliously a-rumble. Many of us have been the victims of anger as children, and have sworn to Never, Ever, do the same to others. So it all goes inside, swallowed, gulp after burning gulp. ( 22 Minutes: Angrier Yoga – YouTube www.youtube.com/watch?v=K5iSHhpj67Y)
Our options, when we are blocked by programmed beliefs in limitation, are to get seriously
pissed off – not the culturally acceptable thing to do – or to turn the frustration back into ourselves, containing it again and again until it takes so much energy to keep the accumulated anger under control that we have no more left for getting out of bed. So…. People who are depressed are actually enraged but unable/unwilling to express it.
Once we’ve become officially “depressed”, woo-hoo! We need medication!
Antidepressants give some people a much-needed vacation from feeling; retracting
the vital energy from our skins to deeper inside ourselves, we become energetically thick-skinned…. Recreational drugs also can help us escape outside of ourselves into other dimensions, or just make us feel so much better about the certainty that we are not doing anything or going anywhere in our lives.
There can be such a variety of obstacles appearing in our paths, seemingly getting in the way of our self-realisation. How do we react to having our intentions blocked? Do we collapse, immobile, because “That’s Life for you – I knew it! I’ll Never get ahead!” Do we explode and attack the thing that dares be in our way? Or do we think, ”Hmmm. Maybe there’s another way around this – another path I could take?”
The first two ways of dealing with obstacles are actually the opposite sides of the same coin, with the intensity of our reactions depending on just how much ego-investment we have in getting where we want to go. The disillusioned, disappointed and betrayed are also angry. Disappointment is a moral high
ground from which to damn offending parties with the brand of inadequacy. And righteous anger is so addictive.
Shame and guilt are often perceived as obstacles as well, and can become intolerable enough to make anger a logical escape route. Doubt, uncertainty, insecurity – all the fear-induced labyrinthine mental activity that paralyzes us – can transmute in slow burn into frustration and potentially explode into rage.
Our common and fundamental wounding is the certainty that we are somehow not good enough to be loved. If we are not loved, we will be alone, and we know in an ancient, visceral way that we will not survive on our own. We throw ourselves into the world to prove that all the horrible things we believe about ourselves are not really true. We often even succeed for a while. When we are finally cornered, though, by someone or by a situation that reflects to us what we have always really believed, we fight tooth and nail… in reality, against ourselves.
Every emotion we experience is a precise physiological recipe of hormones and neuro-transmitters. When we are young, new and strong emotions can be very scary. Because it literally feels as if we will die if we feel them, we instead store the emotions inside our bodies for later, when we are big and strong and can deal with them. This is the definition of somatisation.
My understanding is that we later attract to ourselves people and situations that will replicate the recipes of emotions we have somatised, giving us the opportunity to relive the forgotten experiences and in so doing, to release them from our bodies. No amount of intellectual understanding can free the Self of what is carried in the body; only the reliving of the physical sensation of the emotion – of that particular physiological recipe – will provide release and liberation. This is why your bi-weekly sessions on a psychoanalyst’s couch may make you feel very intelligent but will never heal you.
There is another stream of psychotherapy that has clients expressing their anger towards those seen to be responsible for their suffering. I can’t count the number of times I have heard clients of so-inclined therapists making impassioned statements along the lines of, “No one is ever going to step on me again!”, or “I don’t deserve this!” Somewhere at Heartroot we still have a huge pillow that a therapist had a client stab repeatedly with a kitchen knife, pretending it was her mother. But here’s the spiritual fly in that particular ointment: Whatever we attract to ourselves belongs to us – all that we love and all that we detest is a reflection of things we do not yet understand about ourselves. Putting someone’s picture on your punching-bag or in the shooting gallery is actually putting your own image there. The rage, far from being released, is reabsorbed, re-identified with, and increased in its potency. Blaming “The Other”, we never take responsibility for calling the situation to ourselves and never have the opportunity to use our emotions to go into our bodies, into the flesh and organs and joints and bones that hold imprisoned and painful rememberings.
For anger to be released from the body, it needs to go as energy, freed into
the universe with no blame and no shame. Spiritually-oriented martial arts, singing with your whole body, dancing to strong rhythms as in African dance (not trance dancing…), a punching-bag, conscious orgasms, or even walking briskly can all be outlets for this accumulated, concentrated energy of self-manifestation.
(Updated for 2017) We are in the Wood Element phase of Springtime in the northern hemisphere, and in the year of the Fire Rooster in Chinese astrology – our inner work feeding the flames of planetary transformation of which we are now inescapably aware. And like the Phoenix, we will rise….