Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Transformation of Anger

Hola Everybody,
There's a phrase in Spanish, comer con los ojos, that roughly translates to "eating with one's eyes," and it refers to the tendency to eat from desire rather than the degree of hunger. Have you ever gone out to eat and order all this stuff only to realize it was way too much? That's eating with one's eyes.

My date last night was a lot like that. Not that I ordered too much food, but that the object of my romantic intention was based on a desire.

We have very little in common, and other than cheekbones to die for and an exquisitely shaped derriere, there's not that much that interests me. But hey, in my religion an ass, any ass, is a potential altar, right? LOL

Well, I think my date was doomed from the get go. To put it mildly, I was bored to death. At one point, I considered blurting out, "Let's fuck," as a viable sexual strategy, but I don't think that would've gone over too well. LOL

* * *

-=[ Confusion and the Transformation of Anger, pt. I ]=-

About 17 years ago, when I was picking up the pieces of my shattered life, I decided to face a challenge I had avoided and enter school. Someone I considered close told me that going to school was a waste of time, that I had waited too long and I should instead consider going to a trade school, get a skill and a job. He wasn't being mean, it was his honest appraisal of my situation. Still, I thought his advice was insensitive and short-sighted.

And I was pissed...

At that point, I had many options to responses to that statement. I could've told him off, for example, or stay quiet and allow my resentment to seethe inside of me. But because I was determined to live a new life, I decided to use different strategy. I made the conscious decision to use the energy of the anger and channel it to my school studies. A few years later, I graduated with honors from a top flight university and was accepted to an Ivy League school for my graduate studies.

It was a turning point in my life not only because education is the road to freedom, but because I had also taken an enemy -- anger -- and turned it into an ally. It was the beginning of the transformation of anger.

For much of my life, I had been a very angry person. Much of that anger was turned inward and I'm only half-joking when I say that if I had done to another person, what I had done to myself, I would be in prison for a long time.

Some time ago, I wrote a little about anger and I mentioned that anger is not one thing, but many things cobbled together by language and thought. I also mentioned that there are myths about anger that serve to confuse us and make us suffer needlessly. My own exploration into anger has taught me that confusion and anger (what it is and what it does to us) abound.

So, what is anger? Anger is many things across many cultures. This is why anger can be confusing. For example, Western psychologists tell us it is best to work through our anger without expressing it outwardly, while others tell us that expressing anger is a must, for both emotional and physical health. Similarly, some of us have raised in cultures in which the direct expression of anger was considered unacceptable or disrespectful, while others grew up in atmospheres where anger was readily expressed.

As if that isn't enough, the teachings of Jesus and many centuries of Christian theology seem to offer contradictory ways of understanding anger. Jesus seemed to question the appropriateness of anger under any circumstances in his teaching of turning the other cheek. Yet, he seems to embody anger itself when he brandishes the whip and throws out the money changers in the temple.

Later, early Christian theologians such as Augustine stressed the negative side of anger, seeing it solely as sinful and unwholesome. This reflection later led to the classification of anger, starting in the 5th century, as one of the Seven Deadly Sins.

When one looks at modern social movements for freedom and liberation, however, one finds claims that there should be a righteous anger or indignation toward injustice and oppression. Martin Luther King, jr. pointed out the way anger could be the starting point for social movements rather than hatred when he said, "The supreme task is to organize and unite people so that their anger becomes a transforming force." Similarly, Cornel West speaks of Malcolm X as connecting anger, love, and work for justice, seeing him as "the prophet of black rage primarily because of his great love for black people."

What I am suggesting is that the general Western ambivalence toward anger can cause considerable confusion. So how do we make sense of anger in order to work with and transform anger? The first step is to look intimately at the nature of anger, to explore anger in one's own experience, free from any prejudgment about anger. Next week, I will offer two tools, Buddhist mindfulness and Western science that can help us in this exploration.



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