Sunday, March 21, 2010

Anger Awaits Instruction

I've noticed that people don't like to be angry, especially me. Anger just hasn't fit in with the personality profile I have held for myself. I'm always trying to convince myself that I am a "nice" person, but I have some emotions inside of me that are not-so-nice, like anger. So I struggle with this because I don't want to do what I've done up to now which is to reject it. My anger is a force that I need to do a better job of acknowledging!

I think that this is why I have been so entranced by the story of the Warrior, Virabhadra! It offers insight into how experiences of Anger and Grief might give opportunities to grow. Everything in the story is about acting and doing, and I find that my own patterns are more about resisting, holding back and holding on. I hate that! I want to fly. I want to move, but I am caught in the web of my own fears. (Poor me... I hate that, too!)

In the story Shiva, the Lord of the Universe (try thinking: the decision-maker in my (or your) psyche), is overcome with Grief and Rage. In the emotional storm, Shiva pulls out his hair. It falls to the ground and takes the form of Virabhadra: a great Warrior. This Grief and Anger now has it's own life, separate from Shiva.

Virabhadra turns to salute Shiva.

This is the moment that interests me. I see this story from ancient India working inside me: I get angry. My anger takes on a life of its own. (Who hasn't done something in anger that they would not have done under normal circumstances??) But it looks like (in this mythical language) I might be offered a chance to channel the energy of my anger towards service. That's what that line means to me: Virabhadra turns to salute Shiva.

In Light on Yoga, Mr. Iyengar says:
"A powerful hero named Virabhadra rose up and awaited his orders."

Can the energy of anger be heroic? I was always taught that anger was bad. I judged this emotion. I have been harmed by the misdirected anger of others. It frightens me. This anger that has been misfired towards me has also taught me that anger is bad. Wrong. It was wrong to be hurt like that.

But when I use what I learned through the uncontrolled missteps of others to put out the flames of my own will, that doesn't seem quite right either.

This is my project: I want to honor my anger when it salutes my inner decision-maker. I'd like to empower myself to use the energy of this resource to do the right thing, rather than lashing out without restraint, or directing it inward, hurting myself. But that seems so hard! The feelings of Grief and Anger are so intense and strong! My natural tendency is to get rid of them as fast as I can (without thinking). Can I bring these strong entities into a conscious framework and survive the experience?? It sounds dramatic, but I think that is the fear that I haven't addressed. In the moment of strong emotion the Fear in me says, "No! I don't want to be here! Let me hide." Fear is not the master I want to salute.

Now I know I want to be there (and not run away) so I can make the right choice and use my Warriors appropriately.

Do you think that we have inner Warriors, as aspects of our consciousness, that can be used to do our bidding, and help us in life? Or are we at the mercy of our own feelings?

I think that the unconscious and unvoiced belief that I've held up to now is that 'my anger might control me', so I've repressed it because I didn't want to be run by my anger. Perhaps I can empower myself to process this experience differently and dare to be a bitch when it is called for.

This is what the pose Virabhadrasana One (pictured above) means to me. This Warrior is an earth being with a long stance. She is well connected to her truth with a strong foundation on Earth as she moves through time. The arms and gaze are directed upward, offering energies (of possibly difficult emotions) to her decision-maker residing in her best self. And she does what needs to be done, even when it isn't pretty.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone


Eco Yogini said...

oh yes- this resonates with me. Being angry scares me, and if it's strong enough it usually turns quickly to 'upset', complete with tears etc.

directing anger would be so useful... and I think this is a skill that would take time to hone. for myself at least.

hmmm. you've given me something to think about (as always :) ).

YogaforCynics said...

Hmmm...anger's an emotion I've had a difficult relationship with...from repressing it out of a deep sense of helplessness (based in fear) to getting more in touch with it and finding I liked the rush I get from it a little too much...ultimately finding that I need some kind of balanced relationship with it...but, of course, that's a work in any asana...

RB said...

I particularly love this idea that when we feel anger, it can lead us to good places where we make positive decisions. Often, I feel like releasing the anger clears the path for a more positive, reasonable way of looking at things.

The anger is kind of an illusion, as you, Eco Yogini and Dr. Jay all say, fear and anger go hand in hand. What we are afraid of is being powerless. When we realize we have the power to do, the anger can be more fleeting and less hurtful.

Tiffany Hutchings said...

Great post - thank you. I've been thinking about my relationship with anger lately too. I'm just finally getting through the March issue of Shambhala Sun Magazine, and the other day I read an article in that issue that I thought provided a lot of insight regarding anger. It's called, "The Hidden Treasure of Anger," by Polly Young-Eisendrath; if interested, you can read it at

Anonymous said...

*nods head in agreement*

Personally I think anyone who says they don't get angry is either a very enlightened being or lying. And even some enlightened beings may choose to express anger because why shouldn't they if it seems appropriate at the time. But there's a difference between anger and the violent response most of us have directly afterwards - the one that causes us to think or say or do things we regret.

I am now working with the concept that "feelings are information", stuff we are supposed to read and interpret but not hang on to. Including anger. Of course, I'm a long way off that but I like the idea very much. And also, I think it could be true.

At some point very soon, I need to get a post written down about anger, too. From some of my recent workshop/retreat activities.

So much to write, so little time...

Elize said...

well written & thought provoking post, Brooks!

I really love the image of Virabhadra rising up, but awaiting orders from Shiva... I think that anger can serve a purpose, existing for a reason, and the image of an inner warrior is an interesting way of framing it. My anger rises up out of an imbalance (often involving fear) and as you pointed out, anger has an energy all its own. Sometimes that energy is useful in motivating us to protect ourselves. I think part of using the energy of anger wisely is identifying the underlying fear and then (maybe this is where compassion comes in) determining how to go forth...

thanks for the ponderings!

Emma said...

suburban yogini, everything yoga, and myelf have all written about anger very recently... i think something is in the air!

Kay Burnett said...

Brooks--I love your exploration of anger. For me, I've learned that it is very important to recognize anger for what it is, instead of denial or embarrassment or guilt or other places it wants to go to. I like to think that when I experience anger, I can analyze it, see where it really came from, deal with it in some acknowledging way (verbal or written) and then move on. Sometimes the anger coming out hurts others and one can apologize for the hurting but not for the anger. This can be a source of conflict between humans, and I think the source of some fear. I'm getting ahead of myself but I did want to acknowledge my appreciation for your post. Thanks.

Laura said...

Brooks you are directly on target with this IMHO. This is exactly what we need to do with the firy energy of it towards healing.All emotions are well, you've heard this I'm sure "energy in motion". I love that the form of Warrior 1 is a grounded state that points in a particular awesomely wise is that? Pretty super cool I others have stated this is not easy...but I do believe it is actually has worked for me at times...not always...but when it works, I feel energized and strong and have been able to take a stand for things that truly were good and healing.

Vegan Burnout said...

This is beautiful and so timely. A friend blogged about her experiences with anger last week (she, like me, is an animal-rights activist), and it brought up a lot of powerful emotions within me. Anger has saved me from crippling depression. When grief threatened to overwhelm me, somehow this tiny wanting-to-survive part of me reared up and started breathing fire. Anger kept me going. We're taught, especially as women, that anger is an inappropriate response, that it's unseemly. I have learned to realize how constructive and purifying it can be, as long as I try not to let it burn me while it's cleansing away all that internal junk.

All that aside, I have tight IT bands and my hips need strengthening, so Virabhadrasana I is a challenge!

P.S. Thanks for your kind words on my "Femivore's Dilemma" post!