Your best is not good enough, he lectured Usually after several stiff brandies. Outside, the Christmas beetles sang in chorus in The evening African heat. It was a life-time ago and, I suppose, to him he thought, meant to be helpful. Yet, even now, it is difficult to excavate the enormity Of what not good enough meant. Strangely, looking back, it was The wildness of the beetle song sung in tune to the darkening sun that Somehow kept me safe and enough.
And to begin with myself I need a lighthouse, sunlight, daylight but I need the juxtaposition of darkness. If there was no darkness, there would be no sunset where darkness meets light, there would be no dawn chorus, no light tiptoeing into the bedroom after the long night.
From a piece I wrote ‘What do I want to give myself to’
There was no actual declaration of war. It kind of just happened. It all began in skirmishes with disintegration. A slow motion, frame by frame shattering. If only I had known of impermanence then I would not have clung for dear life on the shards-scattered-splintered. I mentioned that the guns were trained on myself but that is not entirely true. Gunned down but gunning at the world. The raw red bone was in my head and in my soul. The numbness was not numbness but a strange out of touchness and a fragmentation and no place to contain the battleground. The shell shocked feelings rode out on a storm-flood. There is a possibility of explanation: the groundlessness, cratered by the total war heard in my head.
There was no actual declaration of war. It kind of just happened. A slow motion climb down into the darkest of nights, when the lights went out. The guns were trained on myself – target practice but more than that, lugging stuff at me and the only escape was scuttling behind the lines. The wounds were not wounds but, instead, only, there was a slippage into a strange disintegration. The numbness was not numbness but a rifle range of emotions. Intolerable and not contained. Flooding outwards. It is impossible to explain really, except by saying that the firing line had collapsed into me as the target and the shooter.
Obsessive thoughts caught in a rat trap grip and the cheese was not even worth it. I worry what people think. The darkened train carries the faces of their judgement on the window mist. I think I am burned out. I have no container to keep the embers - the hot coal ash floats in on the wind. I snatch them back - too hot to touch.
‘But in order to loosen their grip, we must first know what they are.’
Mark Epstein Advice Not Given: A Guide to getting Over Yourself
It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are. ee cummings
In the long descent into the dark fungus I forgot who I really was. I thought that courage was all about burying the stuff. Locking it up. Not going there. Shutting down. In that place the fungus took over and spread, sapping the energy of courage and who I was. Slow strangulation. Funny how the act of burial meant I was addicted to self, preoccupied. The opposite was not true. Not sure where I found the courage to go to the burial ground of my emotions and dig them up. But I became the archaeologist of my own soul. It’s not always been nice and I am not all grown up yet and who I really am is being worked on. There are bits of the dark stuff hanging around but that’s OK.
I wrote this at a time that I was dealing with stuff and how we can have break-throughs. Dealing with pain can be startling and then something changes …
Bone-dry, sand-blasted soul-sahara. There is no escape to green springs, no oasis in the stinging dust-storm of things unexpected. And then the rains came: the footprint of the memory of pain was washed away until the next dry season. Now a time of colours flowered and the bone-dryness drip-dried into the forgotten.
I am looking at ways to turn anger into something that does not harm and debilitate. What I am writing is provisional. I am not quite yet there with my thinking.
It is true to say that grief not dealt with, despair that has no where to go and a fear that sits with us by brooding and corroding us – all three can end up as anger.
What happens to anger that has no place to go? It turns on itself, leading to depression. In the wrong hands it can become uncivil, possibly violent and massively painful.
Anger and fear are on the same side of the coin. Maybe they are on the opposite sides but they are part of the flight or flight.
Too much fear can shrivel us, make us lose our sense of self. Equally, not feeling any fear is problematic. Without fear we become manic, self-destructive or even hubristic. The key is being self-aware of the feeling of fear or the lack of it. The same thing with anger.
Anger that has no self-awareness becomes self-righteous or self-loathing. Anger that is not looked after and not dealt with can become depression. It can go underground and can seep in the places where it becomes toxic and kills the goodness of the person.
Pema Chodron and others argue that we are responsible for creating all of our emotion. Pema refers to the work done by Jill Bolte Taylor:
“An emotion like anger that is an automatic response lasts just ninety seconds from the moment it is triggered until it runs its course … When it lasts any longer, which it usually does, it is because we have chosen to rekindle it.”
Alex Miles, writing in Elephant Journal picks up the same theme and says, quite clearly, that we are responsible for making our own emotions: “Although we may not want to admit it we are responsible for creating all of our own emotions. Every thought that we think causes a chemical reaction and that reaction causes a physical response.” Alex Myles, Elephant Journal (It’s about the Mindful Life)
Is it true to say that no one makes you angry? That you make yourself angry? Anyway it is something to reflect on and become aware of next time you have that sensation. I think that someone or something makes us angry. It does have a context.
Here’s the thing – the radical thing to think about – the emotion of anger lasts only ninety seconds and then we make up the story around that emotion and it can remain with us for decades.
At that moment of anger, be aware of what has made us angry. Give the feeling, the moment, oxygen and space to open us up. Stop there. Don’t act out. Don’t repress. Don’t blame it on anyone else. Don’t blame it on ourselves. Make it open-ended. It will pass in ninety seconds. Listen to yourself. Listen to your own suffering.
Being self-aware of our suffering gives us the gift of the chance to be kind to ourselves.
This next line has shattered my view. I always thought with anger – get it out.
Thich Nhat Hanh says, “When you express your anger you think you are getting anger out of your system, but that’s not true.” When you fan your anger and don’t stop to work out why you are angry then that’s a difficult place to be.
Attend to anger. Be aware of it. Have self-awareness. Befriend it. Sit with it. Don’t try to suppress it. Surrender to it. This is the renunciation. It is not allowing anger to control. Know that it exists.Can I let the anger open me and not try to shoo it away?
Pema suggests that we practise how to deal with such emotions in Living Beautifully.
Acknowledge the feeling, she says. Give it your full and compassionate and welcoming attention and drop the story line about the feeling. This allows you to have direct experience of it, free of interpretation. Don’t be judgemental of it. Just be present with the moment. She also urges us to think about where it is located in our body and asks the questions, ‘Does it remain the same for every long? Does it shift and change?’
If we let the story line go around the sensation, we will be freed of it and remember nothing lasts for ever. Becoming self-aware when it comes to the emotion of anger can lead to a great sense of well-being.
References – both enormously helpful in dealing with this stuff –
Pema Chodron, Living Beautifully
Miriam Greenspan, Healing through the Dark Emotions