For years, I had been conflicted about anger. For sure I understand that fiery emotions over personal issues cause unnecessary suffering physically, mentally and emotionally.
What I couldn’t wrap my head around was anger – some people call it “moral anger – at injustices and global issues. This fiery rage literally fuels activists who are working to make positive change in the world. Would anti-racism be such a widely recognised concept if not for the George Floyd protests? Would Greta Thunberg have made such an impression without pointing fingers and staring straight in the eyes of powerful world leaders?
But still. I couldn’t reconcile what I learnt about being “spiritual” with what’s happening in the real world. In Reiki, one of the five basic principles was “Just for today, I will not anger”. The Dalai Lama was quoted as saying, “Anger doesn’t get you anywhere.” In the Bible, Psalm 37:8 says anger tends to evil.
Okay… so does this make anger “wrong”?
What am I to do the next time I encounter racism, misogyny, school bullying and any other displays of discrimination? How do I respond when people suffer because of systemic flaws and societal biases? Clearly, a righteous response is warranted, but what? And how? And am I being “unspiritual” for feeling pissed off?
It’s all about love
Wait, what? This pivot doesn’t make sense. Love and anger are possibly two ends of a spectrum. And I bet my fortune that I’m not going to be feeling gentle flutters in my heart the next time I see hate and fear being acted out.
I wasn’t sure at first but after sometime, I think I’ve finally managed to come to an acceptable way of dealing with angry feelings – and it truly boils down to love (don’t gag, I know).
- Love yourself enough to accept that your feelings are not “wrong”
If you feel angry about injustices, congratulations, you are officially human. Often, anger is also mixed up with grief and can stem from fear. This makes up for a whole crazy whirlpool of nastiness that clouds the head.
Trying to stuff our emotions or deny them is the worst possible way to live. It is also the surest way to be inauthentic. Feelings are inherently not right or wrong – it merely is an involuntary response (though this is debatable) in our system, wired from many years of conditioning. It is our minds that put a value judgement to emotions. But whether an emotional reaction is helpful or not is a whole other thing.
- Now step away from the emotion
After you’ve acknowledged the feelings, step away, pause. It isn’t rocket science, everyone knows that your judgement is often impaired in the heat of the moment. Most of us have said something we regretted when arguing with our partner for instance. And have you ever responded to an Internet troll, only to be caught up in a senseless circular fight that doesn’t lead to anything good? Refrain from doing or saying anything in the heat of anger – sounds like common sense, yes?
- Transmute the anger
This is the hard part and it takes practice. When a situation presents itself that demands righteous action, ask yourself this, “What is the most loving response I can provide?”
Now, social injustices are aplenty – this means we have loads of reasons to be fired up every day. But this is hardly helpful for any cause. When you reframe and refocus the anger to more action-oriented yet calm energy, you may find yourself being more effective in righting a wrong.
Let’s take racism for example. As a Chinese person in Singapore, I’m considered part of the majority. And while we largely live in harmony with other races, the minority groups have always faced micro-aggressions, mostly due to our ignorance and habits formed from hearing the way the previous generation communicated.
Now I can’t imagine and won’t assume how the minority groups feel on a daily basis, but I can’t ignore my inner urge to act. And the only way I can do that in a loving way to the society and to the next generation is to read more, follow minority personalities online, educate my own children on the importance of being inclusive and enroll them in a school with a diverse student population. Now this is my way of transmuting initial negative emotions into one that is love-driven.
Sometimes, the most loving response you can give is simply not respond. It is easy to want to take sides or take a stand when you hear one side of the story. Sometimes, we simply don’t have enough information to decide what’s right or wrong. Often, showing our displeasure (think troll-like behaviour) may not at all benefit the very people we are trying to help and only serves to frustrate us further.
Let’s circle back to the George Floyd protests. While there were instances of violence (inevitable due to the nature of the issue), I saw those who were determined to march peacefully and respectfully in honour of the victim – this is the highest, most loving response anyone could have mounted given the intensity of the collective energy.
So does anger have a place in a spiritual life?
To that I say, hell yes. Anger reveals our shadow, our fears and insecurities. It tosses up the lessons that we need to learn. Without the dark, there is no light.
On a more important note however, spirituality is not about ignoring the bad stuff that happens around us. It is about uplifting those who need help – and if it takes initial anger to get us to a constructive place and to effect change, then please, allow me to channel the anger I need to walk my highest path. Please give me the courage to acknowledge all my nasty feelings such that I may help others do the same and do the work that is needed to make this world a lighter, brighter place.