I recently had a very beautiful session with a long time client and reader of mine – a sweet woman with whom we were delving into the emotional wild lands. She needed guidance on how to understand the languages that our emotions give us, and in our last session, it was about anger. This uncomfortable and intense emotion had been arising inside of her quite unexpectedly, and she didn’t know how to understand it nor manage it, which was making her almost scared at how out-of-control she was feeling. After our successful session, she shared with me how much it had truly helped her, that she understood where it was coming from and that it had now passed in peace through that new found self-awareness; and proposed that I write an article on that topic for all others to read. I thought that’s a great idea, so thank you to her. Let’s begin.
The Inner Wild Lands.
The first thing that I need you to do is to imagine that you are an earth. Within that earth, as in any other earth, there are various landscapes, climates, temperatures, density of forests, seas and oceans, and many countries and cities with their own unique belief systems, thought patterns and languages. There is also wildlife; animals that have their own nutritive cycles and needs. And in order for an animal not to become a beast and eat us, or drown us, we need to know how to talk to it, how to understand what it is telling us and what it needs to be comforted, and sufficiently fed. Its food is usually patience and compassion, with a kindness of rhythm.
In many cultures and spiritual beliefs such as Indigenous ones or Shamanism, the way we can imagine our intense emotions is as if they are an animal and then work with it through that way. For example, fear is often associated with the dragon, while anger can be a bear or even a tiger. And how do we approach them? They have a power that demands our respect, and they are also wild, so we need to be cautious. Yet we also need to show a sense of fearlessness; while also compassion and trust, so that they can befriend us and be our ally in our times of need.
Anger as an Emotion.
Emotions can sometimes feel like a powerful ocean wave – and I don’t mean the tropical waters of the Caribbean, I mean Vik beach in Iceland. The waves at Vik are cold, freezing and with such powerful undercurrents and speeds – that you need to stay quite afar along the beach because waves come suddenly and very quick, sometimes dragging tourists into the sea never to be found again. This is how anger feels, this is how rage feels. These are powerful raw emotions that take us into its arms and we feel completely out of control and powerless. We see red and it’s hard to see anything else. We can’t resist it, we can barely restrain it, and yet we shouldn’t fight it nor suppress it because we’ll just drown. We need to know how to flow with it, how to channel it, how to work with it gently.
Ruled by the planet Mars, anger is a very potent emotion as it is raw fire and a powerful source of energy. It can either serve us or destroy us – we can cook and be warm, yet we can also burn the house. Anger also carries deep messages for us, which can ultimately become our greatest opportunity for a deepening of self, because it opens the doorways to our inner most deepest self and the many treasures that may lie beneath.
As an emotion, anger is not necessarily a “bad” emotion. It can be extremely motivating sometimes and push us to go to the gym or finish a project. And anger is usually our body’s way of telling us that something within us has been suppressed for too long such as grief or sadness, or that our boundaries have been crossed – so now it needs our attention and awareness to be addressed, healed and released. As any other emotion, we need to understand what it is telling us on an inner level, rather than lashing out at someone.
And then there’s righteous anger. There are many situations in life which certainly deserve to be met with fierce anger – and such anger can be transformative. People often take advantage of our kindness, step all over our boundaries, over and over again, and on and on and on – and for such behaviours, we can’t just sit there and be told to go “beyond” our anger. We have to strengthen the boundaries and use these experiences as signals for whom to let into our lives and whom not to. We also can’t keep on being mistreated and lied to by society etc. either, and it is anger that is our sign that something is not fair nor just in our world; and it can be our motivation to create meaningful change and more loving purposeful solutions in a society. Anger can be healthy when it is acknowledged, owned and taken responsibility for. But rage, or wrath – that’s a different thing, it’s a different animal, it is a beast.
Wrath is a desire to completely destroy and harm something or someone else because they have, or we believe they have, enraged us. It is harmful, destructive, and energetically it is like holding a live wire which will only eventually wrap around us as well. We can’t experience wrath for too long because it will burn us entirely.
Courage is a virtue that can be able to meet wrath. This is because wrath usually comes from a space of hopelessness or powerlessness, or lack of self-belief, or an insecurity of not being “good enough”. “So if nothing can be done, no action matters, “I” don’t matter, why do anything at all?” Courage reminds us to take all of our feelings – all fears, doubts, insecurities, anger, hopelessness, sadness – and make an effort anyway, with grace, compassion and wisdom. Courage is a power to move forward, and look within. Patience opens the soul of matter.
The Masculine and the Feminine Ways of Working with Emotions.
There are traditionally two ways of approaching and working with intense emotions such as fear and anger: the masculine and the feminine way.
For example, let’s imagine that we are feeling fear, which is often associated with the spirit of the dragon. The masculine way of working with fear would be to fight the dragon, conquer the dragon, slay him and continue to slay him! This is why often times in tales, this is shown by the knight in shining armour going into the forest to fight the dragon. The dragon symbolizes the knight’s inner fears and shadow self, so as he faces that and fights that, he comes into his emotional maturity and becomes a king i.e. the next step of his maturation and individualization. The dirty-ing up of his shining armour, or taking it off by the end’s tale, symbolizes the uncovering of his heart and his vulnerability, so that he can reach deep intimacy. This masculine way of fighting the dragon is also portrayed by Archangel Michael and his sword of truth, courage and integrity. And yet the question of this approach – to fight and slay the dragon, or the bear – remains: but what lies deeper?
The feminine approach is to befriend the dragon and make him an ally. Think of Game of Thrones and Queen Daenerys. She befriends her dragons, cares for them, and they protect her. So we sit with our fear, or with our anger, we hold its hand and ask it: tell me what you need to tell me, dear one. What are you afraid of? What are you angry at? Whom are your angry at? Why? We need to lovingly and patiently understand its unique language to understand how it will give us its messages. Am I angry because someone has crossed my boundaries? Or does my anger go deeper – way deeper? Was there a time of my life when I felt powerless and this anger is bringing these feelings to the surface now triggered by another person or similar situation? Have I suppressed a sadness for too long, which has now become anger? Is my fear trying to protect me from upcoming danger? Once we hear its message, we accept it, and thank it too – for it has shed a light in a space where there was no light prior.
When we befriend these wild animals within ourselves and learn to walk their lands with a kindness, patience and compassion of rhythm, they will become our most powerful allies – because they will guide us towards what’s right and what isn’t on our path.
In both the masculine and feminine way, the common way is to face the emotion with honesty. There is no right or wrong on how to approach it or work with it, and this is an individual choice we must all make depending on what it feels within us – or how we communicate and understand our emotions.
How to Deal with Anger.
First things first: When you start feeling anger arise within you, you need to immediately channel its energy in a healthy way. This means: go to the gym, or go for a walk even if it’s -30 outside, so that the cold air calms your mind. If you are in the middle of an argument with your partner or whoever else, please let them know directly that you are starting to feel off balance and need to cool off because you can’t focus anymore – and that once you clear your mind, you will come back to the conversation, so that you can work through the issue. And then you need to stay true to your word and come back, because otherwise the other person will feel disrespected and trust will begin to weaken.
Once things calm down, you must then begin your conversation with your emotion to understand its message, and what is the root of it. Otherwise, it will continue to manifest in the same way, until you hear it. Remember – these are wild things that need our attention because they want to be heard, otherwise they wouldn’t come to the surface and unhide themselves.
Some people use their fire of passion, or the energy of their natal Mars, to channel it into projects, business, sports or to fight for a cause (rather than fight their partner). This way their Mars doesn’t manifest as anger. I know a lot of people who have a strong Mars and they are lawyers, athletes or work in the military, or they have social causes that they fight for. And whenever I have a client who faces these, I often advice them that once they feel anger arise within them, instead of fighting their partner, to find a hobby or social cause to fight for – or channel the energy through a creative project and use the fire as motivation.
Photography by Katerina Plotnikova.
The Story of Crescent Moon Bear.
Crescent Moon Bear, or Tsukina Waguma, is a Japanese tale with hidden healing understructures, portraying how one can deal with rage or anger. There are many versions of the story but the one I know is that a young woman lives with her father who is incredibly angry as he was traumatized by the war. (In other versions it is her husband or sometimes her brother who is the angry one; the sought after magical thing is an eye lash, a ring or a feather; and the animal is sometimes not a bear but a fox or a tiger.) The man had become distant, hot-tempered and angry. He refused to spend time with his family and anyone who would approach him would suffer the fists of his rage. The woman was so saddened for her beloved father that she seeked the help of a local healer, asking the healer to give her some potion to make him love again. The healer said that such potion can certainly be made but the woman needs to go to the Crescent Moon Bear far up in the mountains and bring one of his silver hairs.
And so the woman began climbing the mountain, facing many challenges and wounds along the way, yet always thanking the spirits of the forests. Higher and higher she climbed, until she reached the top and the angry scary growls of the bear came closer and closer, louder and louder. Gathering up all her courage inside her frail gentle body, the woman approached the bear’s cave, quickly left some little food for him, and run back to hide behind a rock. The bear showeed its face, sniffed the food, grabbed it and went back into the cave. The next day, the woman did the same; and the next, and the next.
Each day she’d come closer and closer to the cave to drop the food, until one day the bear awoke and saw the woman before she could run and hide; the bear stood up, growled loudly, and showed its claws to kill the woman. The woman cried and pleaded, “Please, dear bear, oh please, I’ve come all this way, I mean no harm, I only need your help because I love my father and he suffers now! Please, help me!”
The bear paused, and calmed, as the woman continued her plea, “I’ve been leaving you food all these past days and nights, can you please give me one of your silver hairs from the moon in your fur?” The bear sat back even more calmly, settling itself into the snow, pulled back its claws, and with a deep blink encouraged the woman to come closer and take one silver hair.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you, dear bear!” the woman bowed in deep respect and humility. The bear growled again showing its claws – for he was a wild bear after all – and the woman ran down the mountain. When she reached the village, she went straight to the healer – who was tending to a fire in her hearth. And as she gave the silver hair from her frozen hands, the healer threw it into the fire where it was immediately consumed in its mighty flames. The woman cried in shock and fear, “What are you doing? I need the potion for my father! What will I do now?”
“Be calm, my child, all is well,” the healer replied. “Remember each step you took to climb the mountain? Remember each step you took to capture the trust of the Crescent Moon Bear? Remember what you saw, what you heard, what you felt?”
“I remember … ” the woman whispered through tears. “I remember very well ..”
The healer smiled gently and said, “Then go now child. Go home with this understanding and proceed in the same way with your father.”
Art by Susan Seddon Boulet.
The Healing Path.
In the story, we can see the characters as representing many parts of a single psyche. The woman is the part of us that acts from innocence, purity of heart and wishes to heal. The angry father is all parts of us that have been hurt or faced injustice.
The ascent up the mountain can be seen as the challenges of entering the unique emotional wild lands – the unknown territories of our emotions. Forgiving unhealthy thoughts and feelings, and putting them to rest is seen through the gratitude the woman gives the forest spirits and animals along the way; and as she practices patience and compassion in a slow approach towards the bear, we see the way to approach our untamed emotions as well. We need to take that knowledge and experience forward with us into our lives; return to the village – and realize that the things learnt along the way go beyond the forest and the trees. It is a practice each day; and there are no guarantees that we’ll never another forest again.
In her book “Women Who Run With The Wolves,” psycho-analyst Clarissa Pinkola Estés writes,
“In Zen, the moment the hair is thrown into the fire and the healer speaks her simple words, that is the moment of true enlightenment. Notice that enlightenment doesn’t occur on the mountain. It occurs when, by burning the hair of the Crescent Moon Bear, the projection of magical cure is dissolved … We can have all the knowledge in the universe and it comes down to one thing: practice. It comes down to going home and step-by-step implementing what we know. As often as necessary, and for as long as possible, or forever, whichever comes first.”
Anger as a Teacher.
The great philosopher-prince Shotoku Taishi who lives at the turn of the 6th century in Japan, taught, among other things, that one must do psychic work in both the inner and outer worlds. But even more so, he taught tolerance for every human, every creature, and every emotion. The balanced valuing of emotion is certainly an act of self-respect.
Even raw and messy emotions can be understood as a form of light that deepens us into greater understanding and wisdom. We can use the light of anger in a positive way, in order to see into places we cannot usually see. A negative use of anger would mean to lash out at those around us, and to destroy not only others but ourselves also. When anger or rage are suppressed, they may result in physical ailments – as they burns a hole inside of us making us sick, or merely reach through all the delicate layers of our psyche until we explode.
And then there is the other way. All emotions carry messages, wisdoms, insight and light – which illuminates and enlightens. Emotions are our teachers, if we allow them to. They are something worth having patience for; they are worth climbing a mountain for – as they may have treasures to give us. From those treasures, something useful, purposeful and meaningful can be shaped that will help us and help others too.
The cycle of anger is like any other cycle: it rises, it falls, it dies and it released and transformed into new energy. Allowing ourselves to learn from anger, and all other emotions, will thus transform it and channel it differently. This is how the energy of anger can become passion or creativity. Where as untransformed anger or rage become tortures and self-imprisonment. We can’t just move the energy of anger – we need to transform it too.
As the old saying goes:
“Before Zen, mountains were mountains and trees were trees. During Zen, mountains were thrones of the spirits and trees were the voices of wisdom. After Zen, mountains were mountains and trees were trees.”
While the woman was on the mountain, learning, everything was magic. By the end of the story, the magical silver hair was now burned and gone; it was time for “after Zen”. The mountains will still only be mountains, the trees will still only be trees; and yet on the inside something has changed and been transformed. We have gained knowledge, wisdom … Life will be mundane again, ordinary, and we may not see much difference. But the difference is deeper than what the human eyes can see.
We have deepened into more awareness, and we hold a pearl of knowing – a new sense of knowing from all we learned and can now hopefully live more artfully. In the future, anger will rise again, it’s inevitable. A word, a phrase, a tone, a comment, an injustice, a disrespect, a betrayal, or perhaps a crossing of our boundaries … and the red fires within us will rise. But we’ll know. We’ll remember. We’ll listen. And we’ll learn, again.
Note: Please be mindful that this is only a general guide. If you are experiencing uncontrollable rage or anger, I strongly suggest that you seek the help of a mental health professional. Such explosions of emotions can be very harmful and even traumatic to people around you, but also detrimental to your own health. This article would be an insufficient guide if you are struggling with post-traumatic distress or any other mental health disorder, many of which can cause intense and uncontrollable emotions, and one needs to seek a professional for help on how to manage them.
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Cover photography by Katerina Plotnikova.