Unexpressed anger will burn you out

embodied fire speaking Sep 03, 2020

A few years ago, I was having coffee with a dear friend, and he asked me this question: “What are you most afraid of these days, Anne?” I went into myself to feel this question, and I stared at him for a moment. I noticed a subtle ache in my chest. I kept my attention there, and the answer sprung forward, “I am afraid of what my anger can do. I am afraid I will lose the people I love if I let myself be angry.” 

After he left, I reflected on my answer, which had surprised me.

A few months prior, as the #metoo movement was catching up to spiritual figures, I began to feel anger at the events that were unfolding in the news. In France, a world-renowned Tibetan Buddhist teacher had to step down from his leadership position after allegations of sexual and abuse of power. I had been a guest at his temple just a few months before. Taking in his teachings on a silent retreat I had not known what was happening behind the scenes. Back home in Nova Scotia, Canada, the head of the Shambhala organization, a teacher I had also met with and learned from, had to step down after his own sexual misconduct came to light. A few months later in Brazil, the acclaimed healer John of God, had come up frequently in my conversations with Wayne Dyer, who had credited him for healing his leukemia, was indicted for rape and accused of the sexual assault of hundreds of women.

I ached for all the people who had been hurt by these teachers. I felt personally betrayed and manipulated. I reflected on how easily we place someone on a pedestal because of their reputation or special abilities. I had long been conscious of the maxim not to give my power away, wary of the dynamics of the teacher-student relationship. Uncertain of the merit of gurus. But I had a blind spot, there was a part of me that had put these teachers on a pedestal. 

Underneath the sadness and the feeling betrayal, I felt angry. And that was a new experience for me.

I didn’t identify it as anger right away. I was accustomed to banishing anger to the dark corners of my being and not feeling it at all. It felt like intensity rising inside me, and intensity that desperately sought to have a voice, and demanded that something be done. I was used to feeling compassion for the victims of any injustice, but I hadn’t felt it has my own outrage, let alone talk about it.

Over time I learned to appreciate this new energy and recognize it as my own repressed anger. Anger for all the times my power was taken away from me as a child, for all the times others used me for their own needs, for all the times I was silenced by violence in this and other lifetimes. Anger for my ancestors, whose memories I carry in my cells.

I feared my anger, and I was ashamed of it. A memory of deep rage flashed in my mind.

It happened when I was in tenth grade. I had traveled to Quebec City with my basketball team, we were playing a tournament game against an all-girl private school, and they were vicious. When the refs weren’t looking, they’d trip us and throw elbows into our ribs. The coaches didn’t seem to be seeing what was happening, and I remember just steaming inside. I’d never experienced anything like that playing sports. In the last quarter, I saw my friend go down in pain. One of the girls from the other team grabbed one of her breasts and twisted it until she was on the floor. Something in me snapped. I ran across the court, screaming and cursing in a fit of rage. I’d never been in a fight before, but something in me had been unleashed. I pounded on her as we both we went to the ground. Eventually, the coaches pulled us apart, and I received a three-game suspension. 

I was mortified by what I’d done. In that moment, when I went from zero to sixty, in what felt like a split second, I didn’t have any control over my reaction. The injustice of it all and the loyalty I felt toward my friend propelled me, and I didn’t question what I was doing, not for one second. Something in me was capable of violence, and it terrified me. But mostly, I was ashamed of displaying this anger publicly. This shame was deep-seated. It was not ok to be angry, even if it happened because I was protecting my friend. 

After that, I became very careful. I feared anger. I learned to push it back down any chance I could catch it before it blew up. I took great lengths to avoid conflict. Better not to unleash this beast again. I carried this for years to come, which led me on many occasions to not being able to speak in my own defense in my young adult years. 

It didn’t occur to me that anger could be good. That it could be not just a healthy expression of my fire but that it was actually essential in my healing, in my ability to put up boundaries to protect my soul and the soul of others, as well as in the manifestation of my dreams. 

In the words of Maya Angelou: “If you’re not angry, you’re either a stone, or you’re too sick to be angry. You should be angry. You must not be bitter. Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host. It doesn’t do anything to the object of its displeasure. So use that anger, yes. You write it. You paint it. You dance it. You march it. You vote it. You do everything about it. You talk it. Never stop talking it.” 

Your fire needs an outlet. It needs an action, a sound, words, an exhalation, an outward expression. If there isn’t an outlet, it will burn something else inside, it will consume you. But there is a big difference between embodied anger and disembodied anger. 

 

Disembodied fire happens when a person is not grounded, and the fire is projected onto someone or something else, and there is often an intention, conscious or unconscious, to hurt. When it is happening, you lose yourself. Your fire is directed at friend, colleague, spouse or child. Or it can be directed back upon yourself. Often, you assign blame to the object of your anger.

Disembodied anger can have a ballistic quality. The heat and pressure rise quickly, you lose your connection to your entire being, there’s no time to pause, breathe, or even think before you do or say something. It happens quickly, and it does not discriminate or consider the wellness of others. It’s not rooted in wisdom, it doesn’t have a higher purpose, and it creates more karma.

Embodied fire is very different. It manifests as righteous anger and safe boundaries, and it has an important place in a healthy society and a healthy body. When you embody your anger, meaning that you are aware of your entire being and grounded in your physical body, your anger has a higher purpose. It is there to protect, to keep safe, to make things happen, and to draw the line in the sand: “enough, no more.” 

Embodied anger is a grounded fire response, like a volcano. Sometimes the lava can hurt others, but the intelligence by which it is guided respects the interconnectedness of all beings. With embodied fire, you take full responsibility for what moves through you and you don’t project or blame anyone else. Your words and your actions are divinely discerned. They are filtered through the wisdom of your soul that is communicating within your body. 

We can’t expect to understand the larger impact of our embodied fire in the heat of the moment. Our intellect can’t possibly keep track of all the connections at play in a situation. We have to trust that when we are grounded, embodied, connected to our soul, shining the light of our fire is more likely than not to inspire, bring change, and support the greater good. Where there is injustice, righteous anger is the appropriate response. It is a response that simultaneously contains wisdom and passion. It is the inspiration of spontaneous right action. Even if it means someone receives a little burn. It is the same fire that powers the sun. We can’t ask the sun to withhold its rays for the sake of the single flower that can’t handle the heat.

Perhaps you have been like a sun withholding her rays. You’ve had to, your survival was at stake. You held back. You betrayed your light to meet the needs of others. Words were left unspoken, and actions were left undone. This intensity of unexpressed energy lives in the cells of your body today. It’s trapped. You are not trapped anymore, but your body remembers a different story, and it is still running on old beliefs and information. It keeps your fire in check for the sake of safety and security. But you are an adult now and can create your own safety.

The fire burns with celestial intensity. You can feel its power when you accompany deep breathing with healing work. With intentional breathing and attention, you can feel the energy move through you. It takes courage. In my work with individuals and groups, I’ve had thousands of opportunities to witness the moment before healing happens. The person who is healing is often scared, sad, or even terrified as they process.

It might even feel like a question of life or death, as if by surrendering to this emotion and allowing yourself to fully feel it and process it, you might die. Along with the body’s safety mechanism, the ego sounds the alarm and warns you of an existential threat, even if you are perfectly safe. In actuality, part of your identity will die, and the ego believes that it is a real and significant part of who you are. 

This is why we often refer to healing as “work.” When the going gets tough, you need to summon the fortitude to trust that your body can handle its own fire. If you find yourself in this situation, you can support yourself with the following practice: Bring your attention deep inside your body, perhaps at the base of your spine, in your feet, or in your lower belly (it helps to put your hands on your belly and feel the sensation of the connection between your hands and the skin of your stomach) and take a deep breath in through the nose and out through the mouth, even if it feels counter instinctual. Breathing deeply and consciously, combined with guiding your attention away from your mind, are the best two things you can do to support your body in doing its job, in doing what it is designed to do, which is to process energy and restore your wholeness. It innately knows what you are capable of.

I want you to know that there is a place in your body that remembers wholeness, that remembers how it felt to create each present moment out of the fire of your soul. I invite you to go back to a time when you were carefree. See if you can bring back a memory of you running through a field, on the beach, down the street, when you were fearless. Close your eyes, breathe deeply, and see if you can put yourself back into that child’s shoes, that child’s body. How did it feel to be fully embodied, to engage your fire freely without restriction? Notice the sensations in your body and bring your attention and breath there, allowing that cellular memory to increase and the energy to take up more space in your body. 

If you can’t remember a time from your childhood when you felt carefree, find a photo of you from when you were 3 to 6 years old. As you breathe deeply, look into the eyes of that child, and see if you can feel what they felt, if you can put yourself in their shoes. Sadness might be the first emotion that comes. If that is the case, allow yourself to breathe into the sensations of sadness in the body, perhaps in the chest, the throat, the head. Allow your body to process it. Because the fire is on the other side of the sadness. But the little you might need some time to heal her sadness before she can show you her true power.

When my friend in the cafe asked me what I was most afraid of in my life at the time, and I answered, “I am afraid of what my anger can do,” I meant that I couldn’t see where all this intensity was leading me. I didn’t have a point of reference for healthy anger, and I was afraid that my anger would make me bitter and that it would isolate me from the people I love. I was also fearful that it would redefine me and make me emotionally unsafe for others.

I realized I was afraid of anger because I remember losing love over it. I remember that when I did express it, I lost connection with, attention, and respect from the people who’s love meant everything to me. I have carried in me a belief that in order to keep the love I can’t let anger take over. After all, it’s not very “sweet” for a young girl to have a temper. So in reality, it wasn’t anger I was really afraid of, it was loneliness, and the abandonment anger could bring. 

Now I know that fire is healthy. Fire is passion, clarity, creativity, and it gets things done. When I speak my fire, I make light manifest. And I accelerate my becoming.

All your thoughts, emotions, and spirited action, including your anger, are fuelled by the light of your soul. Nothing comes from darkness. Nothing. The fire of your soul has a strong will to reshape the landscape of past hurt in your being. And it is the fact that it pushes through your body and attempts to fill all the shadowy spaces that create the feeling of intensity. The pressure is the suffering you feel, and it intensifies the ego that wants to blame and judge. So when that fire gets to be spoken in the very moment it rises in you, in an embodied way, you literally shape your world and create your destiny. You become.

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