Tag Archives: anger

The Volcano in my Heart

Okay, now I fully acknowledge that the story I’m about to relate to you is flagrantly insignificant in relation to events that occur around the world on a daily basis.

But part of the reason I’m sharing it is because I feel like these sorts of momentary, insignificant episodes, to which I too often respond badly, are contaminating my life with negativity. I want to let go of the anger in my heart, and not let it erupt in such awful ways, but then things like this happen, and before I know it I’m far too enthusiastically expressing my disapproval.

Remember how completely awesome (and around my childhood home, fairly rare) those cardboard tubes are that hold the wrapping paper? Well, yesterday my husband produced two of them by wrapping up birthday presents for our oldest. These tubes were smaller in diameter than usual and extra thick, rendering them quite sturdy. As a child I would have incorporated them into my play for at least a week, then hoarded it in my closet for years, occasionally pulling them out to use in some new and creative way (I was an only child until I was 13. Which helps explain why all of the sibling conflict I see between my children on a daily basis makes absolutely no sense to me.)

Our youngest, age 2 -1/2, asked me if she could have them.  I said yes. She played with them for about 15 to 20 minutes, even taking them outside, using them like ski poles, looking through them, tapping things, etc. Having a grand time.

At one point after she’d come inside and was still blissfully engaged in tubular play, our 5 year old son comes in. He asks her if he can have one. She, adoring him like a loyal subject does its king, immediately obliged. He proceeded to bash it into walls, chairs, the floor, and within 30 seconds it had broken in half. He abandoned it and asked her for the other one. Without hesitating she handed it over. He begins to bash the second one.

Enter a crazy, psychotic, raving lunatic, AKA their mother. Shrieking like a demon fresh from the underworld, I grab the still intact tube from him and howl about how he had just ruined everything for her.

Later, as I pondered it, of course he’s 5. It’s his personality to destroy everything in sight (PLEASE don’t tell me “He’s a boy” because there are boys who don’t destroy everything and girls who do. So just please don’t even go there. I won’t be able to hear anything else you say if you do because I’ll just figure you’re a genderist who assumes every single thing depends on genitals.)

But at the time, I was reacting to the horror of what I was seeing, the wanton wastefulness! The gratuitous injustice! The unthinkable evil of taking advantage of a person littler than you who worships the ground you walk on!

Absurd, I know. In the grand scheme of waste, injustice and evil, this wouldn’t even be let in the door. The Judge of all Horror would laugh and tell this incident to run along and play.

And why couldn’t I have just walked up calmly and said, “Dude, really? Give her back that one so she can keep playing. You got your share and now it’s destroyed,” or something similarly chill and wise.

If I could just stay up on the mountain in my mind’s eye, where everything appears to fit into the context of reality, and nothing is blown up bigger than it really is… Can a person live like that? And would it help, or would it just generate new problems?

Because I know that leaving my perspective down in the trenches of nitty gritty daily detail, where the bullets fly past my ears and the muddy bloody walls appear to be closing in, turns me into a very angry, overwhelmed individual that I don’t want to be. Down there, I feel like my only recourse is to explode out of the trench, gun blazing. That’s no way to live, and no way to parent.

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Whose fault?

Chapter 8 of the Tao Te Ching, as translated by Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English, reads thus:

The highest good is like water.
Water gives life to the ten thousand things and does not strive.
It flows in places men reject and so is like the Tao.

In dwelling, be close to the land.
In meditation, go deep in the heart.
In dealing with others, be gentle and kind.
In speech, be true.
In ruling, be just.
In business, be competent.
In action, watch the timing.

No fight: No blame.

I think this is one of the most beautiful, simple yet profound things I’ve ever read, and if I had to issue one memo of wisdom to the world (or, if I were being high-tech, if I were to tweet one message across the globe), this would probably be it.

I had such an eye-opening experience yesterday which showed me how I am still so quick to assign blame and swell with righteous anger, even though I abhor the idea in theory.

Some background: kids are mischievous. The kids in our neighborhood are normal in that respect. There have been scooters “borrowed” and abandoned in far away places, big wheels trashed, balls purposely thrown into the woods, cars egged, etc.

So yesterday I was returning from a quick errand, and as I’m turning off the main road and onto the little road that goes through our neighborhood, I see the metal box that we keep our sidewalk chalk in, and it’s laying on its side just at the intersection of the white line on the edge of the main road and the line that would divide the middle of the little road, and the chalk is strewn.

My first thought… What little punk did this?

I pull over the van, retrieve the box and chalk, ready to drive through the neighborhood and interrogate every kid I see. Why would someone do such an annoyingly mean thing? That’s the last time I let anyone play with our chalk… or anything else for that matter…

As I’m driving, and luckily not encountering any kids, I remember how we were outside earlier, me and my friend and our four little ones. I remember how my 2 year old was carrying around the box of chalk around the driveway, occasionally stopping to scribble something.

I remember how the van’s back bumper is wide and flat for stepping on to put stuff on the roof.

I remember how my 2 year old loves to put stuff on the bumper, despite my pleas for her not to.

My imagination re-members, connects, puts back into place the pieces of the truth, which is that a few minutes ago I drove out of the neighborhood slowly, then accelerated onto the main road, which would have caused the box to slip off the bumper in the exact spot I found it.

In a second I go from arrogantly angry to humbly grateful that no one ran over the metal box with its sharp corners, which could certainly have done some damage to their tires, at least.

The fault was mine, and it was an innocent mistake, but I was so ready to assign not only blame but a malicious intent to someone else.

How often to we approach a situation with an angry heart and a judgmental attitude, when we truly don’t know what’s going on?

No fight: No blame.

We can at least start there, right?

From Furious to Curious

Maybe just a cutesy saying, but after I saw it on a Facebook wall photo, it stuck with me all day. In my quest to heal myself from my angry outbursts, I will consider any possibility to reach that goal.

I get the “curious” part on an intellectual level. Instead of lashing out in fury, allow your energy to focus on the situation with an open mind, allow your pointed rage to ask questions instead of shouting: “What do I need in this situation?” “What is most important here?” “What wonderful thing can I help bloom out of this chaos?” Or whatever inquiry fascinates you at the moment you find yourself about to blow your top.

Yesterday this technique, being fresh, was enough to distract me. There were a couple of situations in which I was able to turn my anger into an internal dialogue that siphoned enough of the frustration that I was able to be chill.

But then I went outside to water the garden. I’d been watching the sky all day and seeing big dark clouds come and go, hoping they would just go ahead and dump some of their load on us and do my work for me. No dice. So I’m out there, on edge waiting for one of the kids to come out shrieking, whining or begging, as is their habit.

And my new hose keeps kinking. Everytime I so much as breathe much less take a step the stupid thing twists and stops the flow.

The first couple of times I felt the anger, I remembered the idea about turning it to curiosity and I was very curious about what I could possibly be curious about in this situation.

About the tenth time it got kinked and I had to stop what I was doing and go over to untwist it, I was just royally pissed. What can I possibly want to know about any of this? I know why the water keeps stopping. I know what will happen to my plants if they bake all day in this Southern summer sun and get no drink. I know precisely how much they mean to me.

I learned that sometimes I am just tired and don’t want to keep encountering obstacles to accomplishing the things that need doing but which I have no energy for. Sometimes I am too tired even to be curious.

Which strikes me as frustrating, in and of itself.

My Anger

I found an old freewrite from 1996… making me realize that I’ve been struggling with feelings of overwhelming anger for far longer than I’d been mindful of.  By way of warning, I think this freewrite gets a little intense, but when I do these kinds of exercises I try not to censor myself.  The words express the intensity of the emotion more than representing any kind of reality.

I carry a really heavy anger, it’s shaped like a cube with orange and purple stripes all over it.  I keep trying to lose it, at the bus stop, in the grocery store, under the pews at the church, but it’s got my name and address written in permanent marker, and I’ll be damned if people don’t keep bringing it back to my doorstep, all heaving and sweaty from carrying that horrifying weight.  “You left this ugly thing on my porch!” They shout at me.  “Keep your stupid crap out of my face!”

Often times I’ll leave it outside for a while, try to pretend it doesn’t exist.  But sometimes I actually miss it.  I’ll bring it in and put a little doily over it, put my feet up on it while I watch the tube.  I’m not sure exactly what it’s for, sometimes someone’ll piss me off when I’m out walking and I’ll think about throwing it at them.  But somehow I know I’d never get the red stains off where it bashed their skull in, and then it would be an even uglier thing to carry around.

Who Comes to Us in our Dreams?

When we pass the night in our sleeping fantasies, do we really get to see people who have passed on?  I have to say yes.  To awake with the solid certainty that I have been in the presence of a loved one is a feeling I cannot question.  If somehow it is just an illusion, then I will gladly remain behind that curtain.

Many years ago I lost a partner to a drug overdose.  We’d been together for a few intense, sometimes violent months. Beneath the storm of our external relationship there was a deep, true connection that could not be severed.

His goals in life were to be the next Great American Poet and to make sure he never ran out of beer.  My goals were to write the Great American Novel and to get him to quit drinking.  Something we had in common was that we wanted to have a child together.

On September 29th, 1995, I learned that he had died the previous evening of a heroin overdose.  That night, after finally passing out from the exhaustion of crying my soul out, I dreamed that we were in each other’s presence again.  I told him we needed to make love again, to try to make our baby.  He just smiled a really big, peaceful, joyful, knowing smile, an expression that clearly said, “Don’t worry about it,”  and hugged me.  As we embraced there was no boundary between us, where his arms ended and mine began.

On October 13th I discovered that I was pregnant.

In the last week I had a dream about my Grandma who died in December of 2009.  In the dream she was laying in a bed, curled up facing away from me.  Somehow I knew that when she turned around, she might have any kind of face, even the most nightmarish rotting flesh from a horror movie (and I avoid that genre for just that reason).  But I knew that it was my Grandma, no matter what she ended up looking like, so I curled up behind her, just to be near her.  As she turned around we both sat up to face each other —  and she was very young, early 20s, the age I imagine she would choose to be if she were given the option.  She was glowing with joy.  She somehow morphed into a young man, or he came on the scene and the focus shifted away from her, but however it happened, I knew in that moment I would be granted a wish.  I immediately begged with tearful sobs to be healed of my poisonous anger, the explosive frustration that attacks me and the people I love all too frequently.  (As you may know, anger is something I’ve struggled with for a long time, such as in this earlier post.)

Well, since then I’ve had the same frequency of outbursts as usual, but yesterday at the thrift store I found a book called “Anger” by Thich Nhat Hahn.  It seemed to be a little gift from the universe, a little push in the right direction (hopefully.)

I don’t know where the certainty is that I’ve really seen the deceased person.  As I say, it may be wishful thinking, it may be a foolish desire to hang on to something I’ve lost, but no matter what, I , who am pretty open to critical analysis and alternate explanations, refuse to doubt.

Is Anger About Control?

I am determined to find a new way to deal with my angry outbursts.  The books I’ve been reading suggest that I look my anger in the face, embrace it, listen to it.  When I read Thomas Moore’s suggestion in “Writing in the Sand” that to be self-possessed (to act in loving, healthy ways) is to be open to life, not to resist what is happening but to surrender and harmonize, to move forward with open heart and surrendered will, I realized how tight my grip is in those moments that I explode in rage.

The other day, to name just one example, I was trying to cook something and my three year old had been sitting on a chair at the kitchen table when he had an accident, for which I kept my cool.  I stopped my cooking chore, got him out of the puddle on the chair and began to clean him up.

As I’m doing this, my 16 month old is climbing on my desk chair and banging on my computer, reaching for scissors, scribbling on important papers.  I keep stopping my cleaning task to get her off the chair, telling her “no,” trying to clean up my son and get him some clean clothes so isn’t standing there in the middle of the room cold and naked.  I leave the room and run to get him some clothes.  When I get back, she has climbed up on the kitchen chair and is standing in the puddle of urine, splashing happily.

I freaked.

Now, whatever I should have done or not done, whatever the ideal course of action was, my internal reality was that I had a death grip on the situation and the more it slipped away from me, the tighter I clung to it.

I think this desperation for control stems from my belief that if I don’t have complete control, then I’m not doing a good job.  Taking responsibility and being a good Mama is equal to never losing that death grip on people and events.  Intellectually I know this is wrong, but in everyday life, that is my process.  I need to replace it with something healthier.  I cannot simply eliminate bad habits without cultivating new habits in their places, because life does not operate in a vacuum.

The worst part is that I see my kids act out in anger, and although I understand that almost everyone is going to display immature reactions at a young age, I can’t help but think that they might have learned some other ways to deal with things if I’d healed my anger sooner.  I have a responsibility to learn how to let go, to face things bravely and calmly and to know that the best I can do is to stay open to solutions and channel love and grace as I do what needs to be done.

A Big Resolution

On this New Year’s Eve, I have lots of small resolutions I could list: projects I mean to finish, people I mean to keep in better touch with, ways I mean to take better care of my family.

But if I could just make one resolution come true it would be this: to develop a core of wise calmness with which to respond to people and situations instead of my current strategy, which is to give into the temptation to lose my cool and stomp around hollering like a crazy person.

I fully sympathize with the pressure I’m under on a daily basis.  I frequently have many people clamoring, often not so quietly or politely, for my attention and my assistance.  I can (after the fact) look back at myself in a certain situation, say, with two pots working on the stove, my husband calling to have me edit a story, my three year old refusing to listen to his 8 year old sister’s demand that he stop whacking her with a dinosaur, all the while having a screaming baby beside me, and I can say, wow, no wonder you started hollering when one of the kids wrinkled their nose and said, “Ew! I don’t WANT that for dinner!”

But the reality is, I don’t want to excuse myself, however much I may understand that my angry response is natural.  Stressful situations are a part of everyone’s life.  When my kids are grown there will still be something that tries to push me over the edge.  I want a new response.  One that might not fix everything, but which will truly be the best response possible, and one that I won’t have to feel like crap about afterwards.

A few years ago, I went through a dark emotional time where I was intensely jealous of my husband.  I used to have to get out of bed and take my stewing to the living room, because I was absolutely consumed with pain throughout my heart and my body.  I sat with the horrible feelings, I wrote about it, I talked to people, I prayed, I desperately tried everything.  I have no idea what did the trick, but that nasty agonizing jealousy went away.

I believe the same thing can happen with my anger.  If I can only have one big change this year, I want it to be a connection to Oneness so deep that love and joy cannot help but infuse themselves into the world through my heart.

From Essential Sufism edited by James Fadiman & Robert Frager

“Some Israelites insulted Jesus one day as he walked through the marketplace.

He answered them only by repeating prayers in their name.

Someone said to him, “You prayed for these men.  Do you not feel anger at their treatment of you?”

He answered, “I could spend only what I carry in my purse.” — Attar