Listening to Anger

"Anger is fuel. We feel it and we want to do something. Hit someone, break something, throw a fit, smash a fist into the wall, tell those bastards. But we are nice people, and what we do with our anger is stuff it, deny it, bury it, block it, hide it, lie about it, medicate it muffle it, ignore it. We do everything but listen to it.

"Anger is meant to be listened to. Anger is a voice, a shout, a plea, a demand. Anger is meant to be respected. Why? Because anger is a map. Anger shows us what our boundaries are. Anger shows us where we want to go. It lets us see where we've been and lets us know when we haven't liked it. Anger points the way, not just the finger. In the recovery of a blocked artist, anger is a sign of health.

"Anger is meant to be acted upon. It is not meant to be acted out. Anger points the direction. We are meant to use anger as fuel to take the actions we need to move where our anger points us. With a little thought, we can usually translate the message that our anger is sending us."

Julia Cameron in The Artist's Way

In the excerpt above, Julia Cameron makes several useful points about anger. For some of us anger is a habit, a defense, or something to fear. For most of us, in the best case, anger is an emotion we manage. Cameron suggests that anger is something valuable. It is fuel. It is a source of information. It gives direction. When you understand your anger you know more about what you care about, and maybe what you fear.

Mishandled, anger is destructive. Used properly it can be a spur to action. We want to right the wrong, so our anger, when listened to, can move us along. How can we use anger for the good? We must be wise. We must be sensitive. We must know our own hearts and minds. We must be in contact with our own energy. We must know when we are losing control of ourselves. To be useful to a right thinking person, anger must be connected with non-violent action. It must be empowering, not destructive.


 Here are some questions to ask yourself about your way of handling anger:

What kinds of things make me angry?
Is my anger chronic?
Am I angry at the same things over and over again?
Can I change these things or change my response to them?
How do I feel about my anger?
Am I uncomfortable with it?
Do I fear it?
What can I learn from my anger?
Does it have a message for me?
Does my anger show me where I want to go with my life?
Do I act out my anger by striking out?
Or do I act on my anger to change my responses?
Can I experience anger without losing touch with wisdom?
Can I experience anger without losing my compassion?
How can I transform my anger into empowerment?

When anger or sadness arises
I vow with all beings
to accept my emotional nature---
it's how I embody the Tao.

Robert Aitken**

*Cameron, Julia. The Artist's Way, A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam Publishing, 1992.
**Kotler, Arnold, editor. Engaged Buddhist Reader. Berkeley: Paralax Press, 1996.

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© 2002 Tom Barrett