I love my anger. I have been likened to a lioness several times in the last few weeks and I feel pride at the comparison. Pun intended.
It’s taken me years to access this power. For most of my early adulthood, my lioness lay muzzled. With her on my side now, awake and roaring, I feel strong.
I ferociously protect the people I care about. I am rageful at the injustices that abound in this world. I stand up for myself on two strong legs and use clear words to ask for my worth.
But my relationship to my anger is still new. And in her newness, she gets volatile. It’s like she — my anger — swings from extremes, at one end, silenced, at the other end, aggressive. Sometimes she bites.
Let me see if I can explain through a story.
A few weeks ago I was co-teaching a course with two dear male friends of mine, fellow connection facilitators who are junior to me in age and experience and badasses in their own impressive rights. At a particularly vulnerable juncture in the course, one of the teachers was repeatedly attempting to insert his voice when it was my turn to teach. We had discussed who would teach what ahead of time. But nonetheless, he felt compelled to intervene.
I asked him politely to stop several times, assuring him that I had the situation handled.
And it doesn’t make him inherently bad. He was in the grips of what he thought was right. We had never taught this course before, so neither of us had a precedent to fall back on. With several weeks of perspective, I can see the slippery circumstances that lead to the misunderstanding.
But in that living moment, all I saw was red. I was pissed.
It was not just that he didn’t adhere to what we had agreed upon for the class format. But his insistence activated in me every other time when I have given my power away next to a man, or felt my power undermined and overstepped by a male counterpart. Enter rage. She was seething.
I chose to let him override me. The alternative would have been to railroad a very tender moment happening for a student. Nope, I’d rather crucify me than her. He got his way.
But once that moment passed, I had words. Though my memory is blurred by the blood that was pounding in my ears, I think I turned to him and said something like, “I need you to respect what we agreed on and back me when I’m the lead coach”.
But the energy behind the words sounded more like, “I’m going to destroy you in my lioness jaws and enjoy the sound of your bones crunching”.
Not surprisingly, he got the meta-message and reacted with his own defensive counterattack. And right there, in front of the class, we had a showdown
And here’s where I go, damn, I bit again. And now I’m the one bleeding.
Because when I roar, all the other person sees and feels is their own fear and defensiveness. And rightfully so. I get I can be scary. To defend oneself in the face of aggression is instinctive.
So in his own self protection, facing the maw of a voracious lioness, he aggressed back.
And the violence perpetuated.
At the moment when I most needed compassion for the original pain of not feeling supported or respected, I engineered danger for myself by letting the lioness rage. Which caused me to feel even more rageful. And on and on. At a moment when I needed her to protect me, rather than attack someone else, she actually put me at greater peril.
Lucky for me, my co-facilitator and I were surrounded by the highest caliber skill and support in the form of our third teacher and the students around us. In the end, we moved our way to tears of love and compassion. And he has given his blessing on this blog — so we are all good.
But this thing is a real thing.
How do I get the anger in me that I love so dearly to work on my behalf, rather than to my own demise and the demise of people around me?
Now, let me add a caveat here — this topic is far from black and white. There are deeply legitimate circumstances during which my aggression keeps me safe when I am physically unsafe.
I was once in India and surrounded by wild baboons. I applied what the locals had taught me and grabbed two sticks, beat them above my head and yelled. I believe I saved myself and my travel partner from being bombarded by angry primates by putting on a show of aggression. The same would be true if it was other humans threatening me.
In other words, none of this conversation about redirecting my roar would be even relevant if I didn’t already have a practice of setting boundaries. I mean firmly and consistently. If any of us is having our safety genuinely threatened, I say, yell. Cultivating our loud no is an essential survival skill to protect me and any vulnerable ones who depend on me. If you ever found yourself in this circumstance, and I was by your side, I would roar for you.
So the full skill set for me begins with firming up my boundaries then determining the difference between being physically threatened — when aggression may be essential to bring safety — and facing conflict that may activate me but when in fact my safety is not truly threatened. In the case of the latter, I have discovered that it’s actually strong, assertive vulnerability not aggression that will make me more safe. And the timing in history for discerning this difference, matters.
I believe as a culture we are on the brink of enormous healing across the masculine and the feminine. By “masculine and feminine”, I am referring to essences, in contrast to “male” or “female”. The feminine is present across genders, rather than just being a feature of a biological sex. All men, like all humans, have a feminine aspect in them. Just like I and all women have a masculine aspect in me.
And with the expression of both of these essences in my woman body, my participation in restoring the healthy balance of these polarities in all of us feels imperative. I believe my participation will forward the movement towards resolution only if I resist becoming the thing that hurt me. Only if I resist becoming a perpetrator of violence myself.
But it’s so damn hard. I’m, just, so, mad.
But I know I want out of this dance. This dance of, you hurt me so I’m going to hurt you back. And then I need to make amends to you before you can even begin to see the damage I’ve incurred. Which is the original injustice.
As far as I can tell, so much of the damage done to women — and the feminine in all of us, but women bear the brunt of this — is invisible. I’m dying for you to see what I’m feeling. Dying for you to realize the extra labor I do every day on account of my gender. I am dying to be felt and heard and validated.
And another story comes to mind.
I may have mentioned that I’ve been mad lately. This past weekend I was with another close male friend trying to shop for housewares late in the evening after an especially emotionally exhausting day. Stuck in retail during emotional melt down is my definition of hell. After a small misunderstanding, we both lost it. I said many provoking things to him, which I regret. He dealt his own verbal blows. I know this person well and we have a lot of trust between us, which in some ways meant all the crudest parts came flying out. Don’t tell me you haven’t been there.
As soon as it ended, I felt immediately deflated by the exchange.
It was time to leave the store. He checked out at the front register first. I bought my purchases second. He was standing behind me while I paid the cashier. What happened next was boggling.
For reasons that still aren’t clear to me, after he rung up my total, the cashier looked past me to my male friend and said, “Go ahead and enter your membership number so you can get credit for this purchase”.
To explain, this store has its version of a frequent flyer program. Every customer gets points for their purchases toward some unknown incentives. My friend had just opened his account. I’ve had an account with this particular store for years. And the cashier somehow missed that I too was a paying customer with either my own account or the potential to open my own account. And he offered my points to my friend, a man, standing behind me.
In essence, he didn’t see me.
Lucky for him, I am a lioness. And though my roar had grown into a whimper by that point in the evening, I still know how to stand up for myself.
“Why would you offer my points to my friend when I’m a customer and I’m standing right here and this is my purchase?” I asked, incredulous.
At first the cashier didn’t understand what he’d done. I didn’t back down.
After a round of slowly repeating my question, he admitted his mistake. “I made an assumption, and that makes an ass out of you and me”, he lamented. I immediately accepted his apology and added, “It’s good to be able to see these things so you don’t do it again”. And I hope he doesn’t.
I could feel his remorse like an acid aftertaste as I placed my item in my purse and walked out of the store.
That sequence was almost dreamlike. As if the cashier was under a spell.
And in reflecting on this event — I mean the bigger picture of the fight with my beloved friend, the cashier in auto pilot and my relationship to my own hostility — here’s what I make of it: My aggression makes me invisible.
Ironically it makes me louder and certainly more literally visible. But it makes my pain and vulnerability go away, poof, like it isn’t there.
Unless you have superpowers possessed by the most practiced yogis, someone aggressively yelling does not appear hurt, sad, lonesome, confused and bereaved, even though that’s almost always the case. That’s the worst tragedy. My pain — anyone’s pain — needs and deserves witness. And when my anger amplifies into aggression, it obscures that witness. May pain is buried so deeply beneath my lashing tongue and squinting, angry eyes that there’s no way I am going to compel the support I dearly need. I’m going to make the problem — for me and others — worse.
Now, I’m going to name another layer to this highly complex phenomenon, and this one is especially tricky. Let me see if I can do this one justice.
As women who are just beginning to get widespread attention for the myriad of abuses we have incurred for generations at the hands of patriarchy, I believe that we have a responsibility to use this attention, this moment in history, well.
If I use my anger to make a man appear like he is abusing me when in fact I am equally attacking and abusing him, knowing full well that the onus of guilt will be cast on him, I am exploiting this moment.
Now don’t turn my point against me. Many, many, men are guilty. So few are without their shadow.
But, despite how easy it is to conflate gender with guilt right now, not all men are bad.
I believe that we hurt other women when we cast blame where it is undeserved. I believe I undermine every woman who is genuinely at the hands of an abuser, making her case even less believable, when I provoke a man and then accuse him of abusing me when he defends himself. I’ve seen it happen recently and my heart breaks at the desecration of the otherwise powerful potential for healing.
This strikes me as spiritually vile, and unfortunately, easy to do if we aren’t paying attention.
This anger is real. It wants some place to go. But if aimed recklessly and without tethering to my heart, it can deepen the wounds for us and others that gave rise to its fury to begin with.
As a practitioner in the healing arts, I believe in the principle that goes something like, “It gets worse to reveal itself to be healed”. As in, the worsening of a disease symptom in any system can be a sign of healing.
From my perspective, this is what is happening in regards to gender violence at this time in our country. It definitely seems like it’s getting worse. And at the same time, I also see that this nauseating turn for the worse that I experience around me may also be the creaking open of an oppressive oaken door that has been closed for generations.
I believe that are closer than we have ever been before to learning something vital as a species about honoring the feminine.
Honoring her awesome powers to create beauty, nurture wounds, protect the vulnerable, source creativity, channel passion, intuit truth, love generously, attune to nature, forgive abundantly and receive love.
In my own life, I learned to oppress my own tender feminine — my vulnerability — in the face of a lack of support to slow down and listen to my needs for care in my most formative years. It was more adaptive to get tough, to go intellectual, to hide my grief, and in so doing, to find myself in a number of abusive, dysfunctional circumstances as a young adult. I compensated during the stress of my childhood by getting more masculine. Yes, my gender is female. But my expression in the world as an outspoken, assertive, dominant, authoritative woman is more traditionally masculine. I value my strength. I can be feminine and damn strong. But I don’t want to become a bully. My models for expressing anger are scary. I often teeter on the edge.
I have been working on rebuilding trust with my feminine and soothing the overworked muscle of my masculine for years. I will likely be in that healing journey for the rest of the my life.
I believe what happened to me is what happens to most, is what has been happening on a global scale for millennia, in fact. The scorning, abusing, raping and oppressing of the feminine, and the exaggeration and toxic expression of the masculine.
Without the feminine being honored — I mean the feminine inside of us, as well as in others — the masculine runs the risk of becoming arrogant, power exploiting and violent. And really kinda dumb and self-defeating. Like come on guy inside of me, you can’t just push your way through by getting muscly and overriding my soft parts and think it’s going to get us love. I know he’s doing his best, but when he compensates, my masculine makes me less not more safe. He’s half as powerful as he could be.
I believe the masculine in me and in the world depends on an intact, healthy feminine to be grounded, aware, sensitized, responsive, strategic, beautiful, respectful and sustainable. And I believe we are on the precipitous brink of restoring balance in this partnership.
I believe all healing hands are needed on deck.
Fellow spiritual activists, healers, yogis and yoginis, teachers, and practitioners of any consciousness path, we’re mad, right? I mean, really, if we’re not mad, we’re not paying attention. I call on all of us to get into an intentional relationship with our anger. I believe we can use our anger to burn through illusion, sharpen our points, elucidate answers, thaw what is frozen, and warm the coldest of hearts. I want this anger to be an ally for our cause, not to work against us but to work for us.
It’s so hard not to lash out when I’m mad. I’ve been so hurt. And I see so much hurt around me.
But when I slow down and take inventory of how my anger divorced from my heart runs the risk of perpetrating new wounds in me and others – runs the risk of turning me into the thing that hurt me – a greater spiritual principle stands a chance at arresting the speeding train of my activation.
And this is where my care for myself becomes non-negotiable.
If I am sleeping enough, eating the right foods, making sweet love, bowing my head at some altar somewhere on a regular basis and breathing fresh air deeply and daily, I am signaling to my own soft animal body, you are safe, you are worth taking care of, and I love you.
My body has taught me that it/she/they is listening. And when I create that safety on the inside through reaching for support in various ways on the outside, I am less likely to roar and aggress. My masculine can trust I am taken care of. And instead of muscling his way through every would-be threat, he can collaborate with my feminine, assess the situation more accurately and get creative. There are infinite ways to play in this life when I put aggression aside.
And I can almost taste the potential of finding power when I am hurt that doesn’t hurt others, and saying something vulnerable like, “I am so mad right now, I don’t know what to do”, so that the other person can see me. That’s when the change can begin to happen.
May we all take care of our softest parts. So that these parts can work in concert with the rest of us to skillfully get the attention they most deserve for personal and global healing.
I commit to making my participation part of the solution, not part of the problem. I hope, in your own way, on your own path, that you will join me.