Dealing with Anger

I brought along a wood symbol for this healing service that I finished just yesterday. It has never been in the public arena before so you are the first to see it. I had something very specific in mind when creating it but I am aware that symbols speak in different ways to different people and that doesn’t mean that one is right and the other is wrong. I am inclined to believe the statistics that we forget 95% of what we hear while we can remember up to 80% of what we see. In that sense symbols speak more powerfully than words and are far very effective as a method of teaching.

So because this piece is quite small I am going to bring it down the Church to let you see it more closely and as you look at it see how it speaks to you or what do you see in it.

Obviously it is a vase but its much more than that. The first striking feature is the bright yellow color that takes up most of the surface area. At its base there is a green strip and also around the lip of the opening. In between there is this striking band of bright red that gives the impression that the vase is ready to burst open because all around the ragged edges are cracks. Finally at the opening is a large blue colored stopper with a fancy piece of stone with yellow streaks.

What do you think might be the meaning of the piece? Would anyone like to say? My intention was to create a symbol that we could relate to and would represent one of the greatest areas in our lives where we as individuals and as a nation badly need healing; namely Anger. Those of us who are Irish have a reputation for being quite an angry race but unlike the Italians and the French its usually not out in the open but hidden behind a bright exterior and its only when we look closely we find that its bursting to come out. At the top I put a blue stopper because blue represents intellect and its by our heads that we usually try to keep our emotions well hidden. No wonder our heads come under so much pressure that we feel as if they could burst at times.

For most of us anger carries a D in front so that it spells Danger. However it is also the emotion that fuels our creativity and so the main part of the vase is yellow. Yellow is the color we associate with being creative.

Anger can be instant like a flash of lightning, or prolonged like the roll of distant thunder. Sometimes we clash painfully, other times we distance ourselves and silently abandon the relationship. Anger handled the right way doesn’t have to destroy, it can bring two people closer together. So I would like to share some rules for dealing with anger from a spiritual perspective.

Rule 1 Keep it honest. Tell the truth and don’t allow your anger to control you. In other words when you’re angry don’t deny it. It can be used in a constructive way. We have a right to be angry when mistreated and wrongs are not made right. Saying, I’ve been feeling angry and because I value our relationship I would like to talk about it’, is honest, non-threatening and invites resolution. But it is dishonest to ignore, deny, supress, stifle or pretend you’re not angry. Even to dilute our anger by saying I am a little annoyed may be deviating from the truth.

Another form of lying is when my anger causes me to exaggerate and I say things like,’You never listen to what I say, or you always ignore my wishes, or nobody does anything around here except me.’ Such generalizations are untrue and serve only to aggravate and to polarise making sure that the real problem gets obscured and goes underground.

Yet another form of lying takes the form of blaming. If you’d arrive on time then I would’nt have to nag you’ or ‘If you would’nt nag so much I would have started that job ages ago.’ Blaming is a way of evading responsibility and giving our power away to others while pointing the finger at them.

Rule 2 Keep it non-lethal. The Bible teaches us to be angry but not to sin in our anger. While this validates anger as a normal emotion it also advises against allowing it to escalate to the point of causing damage. Words spoken in anger can be quite destructive. Words spoken in jest, sarcasm, self-righteousness or righteous indignation can cause permanent wounds. The well known saying, ‘Sticks and stones can break my bones but names will never hurt me is simply not true. Words spoken in anger can live in the heart and memory of a person and go all the way to the grave with them. At the same time the one who spoke the words can live to deeply regret them and feel powerless to undo their damage.

Loving to speak the truth because we happen to be angry is one thing but speaking the truth in love is quite another; only the latter is likely to lead to resolution.

Rule 3 Keep it current. Deal with issues as and when they occur and don’t store them up like green shield stamps to be traded in at a later date. To be hysterical over an issue might well be appropriate but to be historical is not. A passive approach of letting sleeping dogs lie is to forget that sooner or later they will wake up and bark because they are hungry. The Bible also teaches that when someone offends you go to him or her; try to resolve it and so restore the relationship. Two people will see the same situation from an entirely different perspective and so its important not to focus on apportioning blame and who is right but rather to concentrate on who is hurting because of what has happened. This is where the words of the poet Rumi are so applicable; There is a garden beyond right and wrong, I’ll meet you there. Every story has three sides. Yours mine and the truth.

When we avoid confrontation that is necesssary it can also have serious physical consequences. The stress may weaken our immune system, what we can’t stomach can give us stomach ulsers. It can predispose us to heart problems and may even cause cancers. Issues get into tissues and the body generally doesnt lie. At another level what we are avoiding will preoccupy our minds, drain our energy and cripple our creativity. It will even affect our relationship with God and others and at the same time deny the offender to opportunity to sort out the matter and clear his or her conscience. Ultimately if we refuse to deal with our own issues and resentments they will become a burden that the next generation will be forced to carry.

Rule 4 Keep the conversation focused on finding a solution. Fellowship is like two fellows in a ship. One can’t sink the other without also sinking himself. Resolving an issue is not about getting the upper hand; it is not about one winning and the other losing; it is about seeking a solution where both win and emerge with their dignity intact. Even where a public apology is appropriate it should never undermine the dignity of the one who is making it but instead uphold their self-respect. Demanding that the other party ‘grovel’ is itself a form of revenge and not a valid form of resolution.

Rule 5 Keep it in the laundry room. Its all too easy to air our dirty linen in public. When we’re angry and not confronting the issue, as we need to, its difficult to resist spreading gossip. Malicious talk is like wildfire; it consumes those who spread it and those who listen to it. There are two ways our dirty washing gets aired. The first is open embarrassment when you air your grievance where you know others are going to hear it. The second is by hidden embarrassment where we make jokes about that person, their family, their friends or their figure. Such an approach widens the gap and makes reconciliation very difficult.

Rule 6 Practice the art of forgiveness. This is not because the other always deserves it but more because I deserve to live a life without a burden of bitterness or resentment. For the one who doesnt forgive a hurt that happened ten years ago is just as alive now as it was then. What forgiveness does is that it releases the past out of the present and allows me to get on with my life. Finally while forgiveness involves only the hutr party reconciliation involves both and is not possible unless the other admits to having caused the hurt and asks to be reconciled. They may well choose never to do so but once I have forgiven that is no longer my problem.

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