We have been practicing the Nabhi Kriya for a few weeks now and talking a lot about our anger. I thought I would share some lovely ideas that we have been working on in class, especially as we have been also practicing yoga for peace this month. And a few thoughts below. And if this speaks to you here is a lovely meditation for releasing childhood anger. There is no shame in our anger after all – we need to learn to embrace it and own it and let it gently find healing…
Anger is one of the seven As of healing. We know we need to feel it and accept it in order to be healthy whole human beings. And yet we also know it is not acceptable to shout and hurt others or ourselves with words or actions or violence. And we know we should not stuff it down deep inside and smile as though everything were ok. That just makes us ill! So how can we feel our anger and let it out without harm?
In my experience anger is almost always about a deeper pain within. If we can be mindful enough to feel that pain, to stop and breathe and notice the feelings of heat and heart-pounding and shaking that often accompany our anger, and then to have a conversation with ourselves as we let our shoulders drop, our jaw drop, our breath lengthen.. if we can put our arms around ourselves and hold and soothe the anger and let it fall away so we can recognise the pain beneath it… well life would be a lot easier for all of us!
I have had some interesting experiences of anger this week myself. They served me as great examples of how anger can be destructive and how it can be felt healthily and become healing.
I was recently on the receiving end of how not to deal with anger! It occurred over a mistake I made when trying to help someone. This was my mistake and I accept full responsibility for it. It was a silly misunderstanding and could have been dealt with in a civilised adult way. Instead the person in question shouted at me and used personal criticism. What was more interesting was that she had a friend with her who I had never met before but was obviously in the mood to let out some of her own anger and found an opportunity and went for it! This is what human beings do. When we have a lot of anger it feels good to have a cause, and outlet for it, and we can become fiercely angry on our friends’ behalf without realising how subjective our reactions have become.
This particular encounter left my body trembling, my nervous system all fired up and wanting to fight. At the same time my mind was very calm and every so often the woman in question said something that indicated to me what her real pain was. Had we been in therapy, with her permission, I would have stopped her every so often and said “Wait, sit with that feeling. Be aware of what you have just said. That is where your pain lies.” I began to see her fury was about something much greater than what had occurred between us. I felt very forgiving and yet also very upset – upset that I had made such a mistake, empathetic to her own distress, that I had triggered, though not caused, and also frustrated that she could not see it was a mistake and be more understanding.
When adults have emotional competence and awareness, we can control our behaviour. We can recognise our feelings and take responsibility for them. And then own and express our hurt or distress when another upsets us, in an assertive but non-violent way.
Mindfulness, breathwork, yoga and meditation can all bring us to this place of discipline, loving kindness and a soft responsiveness rather than hard fast reactiveness.
My response, after the event, was to start to feel very angry myself! Looking into these feelings I began to realise what I was feeling was misunderstood, uncomfortable, a bit stupid and also – importantly – very frustrated that her anger prevented her from hearing and receiving my apology as genuine and heartfelt. She wanted to stay angry, and whenever she calmed down a bit, it was as though her friend stoked her up a bit – whereas I sought genuine connection and honest communication, she just wanted to stay cross and not have to relate to me again. I had to accept her choice, allow her feelings, but also I knew I had to assert my self (Assertion – another of the 7 As of healing) and say “Enough” to the insults. Put up an imaginary hand in Stop sign – in self-defence.
I knew I needed to let go of it and concentrate instead of taking care of my own feelings and reflect upon my own actions and learn from them so as not to make this mistake again.
I have since used these words each time I remember it and it gets to me! “May X be well. May X be peaceful. May X be free from suffering” It takes all the stress out of the memory and helps me relax and let it go again. And to stay true to my self that wants to live in a state of open honest compassion.
That very same day I experienced a very different and very healthy example of anger. In mother and baby yoga I offered to take a woman’s baby while she rested. The baby was unsettled so we agreed we would see how it went. The minute I picked her up the baby howled! A few years ago my ego would have reacted – “Oh no, this baby hates me! I am a bad person and hopeless teacher etc etc etc!” Now I am wise enough to know not everything revolves around me after all!
I gave her back to her mother thinking she must be hungry. She was, her mother responded and the baby was happy and fed and we have since had some lovely cuddles!
This was so healthy! Being a baby she had no other way of saying what she clearly needed to say “NO! You can’t feed me and I am unsettled because I am hungry!” We both responded to her clear messages, me handing her back and mother offering the breast. Her needs were met. She could relax. End of issue.
It is when these childhood needs go unmet, when our parents are not emotionally attuned to our needs, that pain becomes unexpressed, unheard and so unprocessed. It is then that it sits and festers and erupts inappropriately later on in life.
These days when I stub my toe or come home from a class late to find the washing up not done, instead of letting rip – or sometimes a few minutes into letting rip – I am able to stop, breathe, accept that the table was not trying to hurt me, or that James was busy putting the kids to bed (or God forbid.. just relaxing .. you mean it is not his duty to wash up at the moment when I want it done after all?) I actually enjoy feeling the anger melt away as Dr Gabor Mate describes – the shoulders drop, the jaw drop, the whole body relaxing as the real pain is felt – I am hungry, I am tired, my toe hurts. Then I can take responsibility – James, please could you clear up the kitchen a little after dinner when I am working? Sometimes? Or Jemima, could you please not leave your shoes lying where I will trip over them etc etc)
Here are some the other ways we have been using to nurse our angry feelings – I particularly love Thich Nhat Than’s idea of holding our anger like a baby. The below is taken from a report from peace yoga that we did in schools…
We looked at our anger, stress, grief, sadness and other painful emotions and we decided to take responsibility for them by caring for them rather than shouting or hitting out at others. We did this by using the breath, the body, loving kindness and some special prayers. Putting our hands on our bellies and letting them get soft and relaxed and balloon like with our breath was very healing. Many of the children said they would like to start each day with these prayers, or intentions, with their families and their classmates. They will show you the arm movements to this one:
Peace in my mind
Peace in what I say
Peace in my heart
Peace all around me
They passed the prayer around the circle – May (child’s name) be well, May (“) be peaceful, May (“) be free of suffering.
And we picked up our little angry/sad/hurt feelings as though they were babies (human babies, animal babies, even a baby T-rex!) and asked them what they needed, rocked them, soothed them and helped them to be calm by breathing “Breathing in I feel calm, Breathing out I am peace”.
We created a garden of peace in our imaginations where we can go if we feel sad, angry etc The children might want to draw these in class or at home. A special place they can always get to with their breath. When they sit very still and breathe, the butterflies land on their heads shoulders noses etc! ❤
I am sure you will be proud of these very peaceful loving young citizens of the world – they are great teachers to us all!
Love Light Peace to all