QUESTION: I have a question for you: how can you deal with the process of awakening and deep anger? I am talking about the kind of anger where you want to kill everything - our thoughts, our repression... How long does this anger last?

ANSWER: Anger is a friend when we can decipher its message. Yes, it is a complex emotion, but particularly tough to deal with in our culture. Not to mention in spiritual circles. We are taught it is bad or something to overcome. We talk a lot about processing it - but, in fact, what we mostly do is either repress it or act it out. We put on the fake plastic smile as we interact socially but inside we are ready to explode. Our aggression can come out physically or mentally. We want to tear someone apart when they move their yoga mat too close to ours. Or when they sit too close to us on the subway. Or cut in front of us in a line. How long does this anger last you ask? How much time you got?

Let’s first take the physiological contributors of anger out of the equation. If we regularly abuse foods and drinks, like four espressos before noon or heavy alcohol before bed, our livers take a beating. This kind of behavior leads to what we can consider physiological irritation, which agitates the abuser. We would be on edge constantly from a nervous system point of view. The smallest thing would set us off. And hence, constant anger in response to the most minute external irritation. It would add a continuous barrage of stress or lack of sleep, as well. We consume heavy amounts of coffee, nicotine, or alcohol because we do not want to be here. We want to check out. Same with staying up late on a regular basis. There is usually an underlying anxiety that makes us unconsciously not want to slow down enough or stop. 

Now to the emotional/psychological aspects. Think of anger as different warning lights on the dash of a car. It can be a blinking turn signal that is telling us of a change in direction. It can be a warning light that the oil is too low or a check engine light that is notifying us of a more serious issue at hand. What all these lights have in common: is a need for our attention. Once we understand what is being communicated, we can take appropriate action. The awakening piece further heightens things. We usually wake up to a life where many aspects of ourselves are unfed. We could be partaking in behaviors, situations, or relationships that do not feed us, or worse, poison us. Anger in these situations is a pointer to pay attention and to reset our course.

Let’s take a situation where deep anger arises. We might have already acted out or we might be boiling on the inside. Maybe the anger is too hot to deal with right away, so we need to settle down for a minute. Once more calm, we can run through a checklist. What is the message that is being relayed? Did it arise simply because we were too tired or overworked? Is the anger notifying of us of a need in change of direction? Do we need a change of relationship with something or someone? Is there a deeper issue at hand that needs a more drastic examination? Are we being fed? Is self-care present? The list can go on until we get some clarity on what is going on.

Of course, one can also use constant anger as a way of keeping intimacy with life at bay. Much like a porcupine that threatens those deemed a threat with its quills at the ready. We also might be using a similar technique with anger, constantly throwing it out when people get close to us. As I said, anger is a very complex emotion.

One last thing. I regularly come across people who use spiritual practices as an anger avoidance or repression mechanism. We can use a deep meditative or spiritual practice to push aside or repress anger. This might sound counterintuitive but is, in fact, common. We can also do years of psychotherapy or analysis and not get in touch with our deep rage. So if we are someone that never gets angry, it would be useful to delve into our unconscious and examine if there is any repression taking place. 

If deep anger is up for you constantly, at least you can work with it. It is in your conscious sphere. Sit with this uncomfortable heat and dissect it. What is its message? What needs healing? What needs realignment?