Peeling Back the Bitter Skin of My Anger
“Anger is just the bitter skin on the surface protecting something deeper and juicer. Peel it back, there’s fruit there.”
I’ve been thinking about anger lately. Everywhere you turn nowadays it’s rearing it’s face… and I don’t think I’m alone when I say that it’s not a pretty face.
For those who know me, you would likely never say that I have anger issues. I’m a middle aged, white man that comes from “privilege”, what the hell do I have to be angry about?!
Well, I’m not here to write about larger, social anger issues. I’m here to investigate our individual, internal anger issues. We hear that expression all the time, “…he or she has anger issues”. Excusing ourselves from the equation when we make that kind of statement.
But the truth of the matter is that we ALL have anger issues. Some of us may have a specific problem with anger, meaning, it’s the primary emotion that cuts us off from ourselves and from connecting with others. And I’m AM talking about that particular issue but I’m also pointing out that each and every one of us has anger and have been angry at numerous points in our lives and that’s because we are human…not because we have issues.
My anger used to creep up in very strange ways when I actually didn’t even realize it was anger at the root. I’d get passive aggressive, or I’d get sarcastic and cynical. But nowadays, I just get pissed… at the little things…but there seem to be a lot of little things!
- People driving so damn slowly.
- Uber drivers…SO MANY Uber drivers…and I use the term driver loosely because none of them can drive!
- People walking straight at me looking at their phones and almost running into me as they’re texting.
- Tourists smoking 10 ft. from where I’m working out outside. (Can you not see the 20 people working out here who may be slightly turned off by the smoke you’re blowing all over them??)
So anger comes up for me all the time, in little snippets and in big floods.
Unfortunately, anger is frowned upon far too often in our culture and looked at as a negative emotion that needs to be controlled, pacified or simply put aside.
I prefer to look at anger as the protective, bitter skin on the outside of the fruit which holds something much juicier and tastier within.
So what do I mean by that?
There is a ignitive and life giving power in our anger if we are willing to dig into it. Anger is the outward sign to us that there is something much more rich deep within us.
I realize that for some of you this is Psychology 101 or First Year Spiritual Practice, but are you going beyond the bitter skin of your anger every time someone cuts you off in traffic or when you hear the latest opposing political viewpoint that you may “slightly” disagree with?
I know I’m not.
I have a friend who describes anger the “cleanest burning fuel” that we possess.
But there are a couple of questions around that, namely:
- Fuel for what?
- How do we access that fuel?
Most of the time our anger is more like oil tar washed up on the beach in it’s most unrefined form - we get no energy from it, it’s just slowing us down and most likely messing up every step we take.
But the analogy is potent nonetheless. In order to process the power of anger we have a good amount of refining to do in order to turn it into a substance that can power us to places where we want to go.
So what does that refinement process look like?
- First, when you’re angry… stop. Feel it. Feel the anger in your body. Similar to this — Stop. Feel. Let it Burn!
- Once you feel it, what does it feel like? What’s the substance or the tone of that feeling in your body? Heat? Fire?
- Where is that energy trying to propel you?
This is not easy. This is simple, but it’s not easy. And this is the refining process.
I know I struggle with it and definitely do NOT refine my anger every time it rears its head. Quite often, I don’t even think to do it. Most of the time, I’m saying to myself, “That asshole doesn’t know how to drive, he just cut me off without even looking in my direction!” “F**k that guy”.
Oil tar…stuck to the bottom of my feet and messing up my carpet!
But anger is ultimately never about the other person, what the other person did, how they acted, or what they are doing to you.
Yes, people do horrible things to one another, every day, and if you are a victim of one of those people, I’m not saying don’t be angry. To be clear, I’m NEVER saying don’t be angry.
What I’m trying to ask is, what’s the source of your anger and where is its pure fuel propelling you?
Still don’t know what I’m talking about? Maybe the best artistic expression I’ve ever seen of this is the Dixie Chicks. I recently re-watched Shut Up and Sing, which if you’ve never seen, I would highly recommend. The documentary tells the real life story of how the Dixie Chicks were lampooned, ostracized and even received death threats because of one statement that lead singer Natalie Maines made about President George Bush in 2003 during a concert in London. The vitriol that they received as a result was massive. Did they yell back? Did they try to prove the other side wrong?
No, they channeled that energy to write an album that went 2x platinum and won 5 Grammys.
So anger isn’t the issue, the issue is that we don’t channel anger correctly. Anger has won pivotal battles in the fight for freedom, been the incendiary spark that started numerous civil rights movements, propelled many of us out of damaging and harmful relationships.
But the unfocused, spewing of anger onto another person or group to simply tell them that they’re wrong, or to make them look bad is like pouring kerosene on top of a lantern and expecting it to light up our campsite for the whole night.
So what to do?
Stop. Feel. Refine.
What’s the concentrated power of your anger trying to tell you? What is that anger trying to move you toward?
A nuclear explosion is created by a chain reaction splitting some of the smallest of substances that we know.
Can you harness that same power of your anger, not to lay waste and cause destruction but to power a whole city?
How is your anger going to light up those around you — your partner, your co-workers, your employees, your neighbors?
How are you going to use your anger for light and not for darkness?
For me anger is usually trying to move me out of stagnancy and complacency. It’s attempting to push me to a higher state of being and ignite a fire within to get me to a new level of understanding, a new level of consciousness or simply a new level of existing in the outside world in my life.
Complacency and stagnation are the opposites of anger. They are the swamp-filled places where we need the fuel and fire of anger to light us up and move us on. When I’m bored, when I’m lackluster, when I’m not changing in ways that I should, anger is closeby, ready to light me up and move me on.
But I need to look beneath it, beneath that bitter skin and suck the juice from its essence.
Can I peel back the bitter skin of anger and get to the juicy fruit underneath? No one wants to eat the skin, but a nice juicy orange…??