Spirituality and anger
Although anger has always been part of the human condition. Modern society seems to give us more opportunity than ever to experience irritation and annoyance. Traffic, relentless negativism in the news, instantaneous communication that provides us with the opportunity to respond to one another before we’ve had the opportunity to reflect on what we’re communicating…. Anger pervades our age. And the continuing injustice and ignorance experienced queer people experience on a daily basis provides even more opportunity for rage.
So what’s the relationship between spirituality and anger? Are they opposites – or even enemies? Can anger serve a useful purpose in the spiritual life?
Spiritual traditions can be helpful to us in understanding this powerful emotion. There is ambivalence about anger, with its power, inevitability and potential usefulness recognized, but with warnings about the potential for spiritual danger inherent in it.
From a Buddhist perspective, anger is a potentially destructive emotion often related to greediness and attachment. While anger can be a source of holy wisdom when it brings awareness, it has the potential to descend into hatred or aggression. His Holiness the Dalai Lama has said, “We can see subconscious anger in terms of a lack of awareness, as well as an active misconstruing of reality.” Anger is not to be repressed, but to be approached with mindfulness. As with other emotions, we have the seed of anger within us; someone else cannot “make” us angry. The proper response to anger is lovingkindness and non-attachment.
This ambivalence about anger can also be seen in Christian tradition. Jesus got pissed off frequently, usually in response to self-righteousness and injustice. (It’s easy to imagine he would be royally pissed off by much of what is done in his name in 21st century Western culture.) But Christian tradition also teaches that anger has the potential for becoming fixated and distracting us from our relationship with one another and with God. A Christian understanding of anger would seem to ask, “Does my angry response draw me closer to my community and to the Divine, or does it create destructive divisions?”
Wicca understands anger to be a force of energy – a type of magic – and centers on outcome. What we focus on creates our reality and changes who we are. Further, the world reflects back to us what we send out into it. There is the potential for anger to create a curse that changes who we are in the world – and who we are in our own self.
Anger at injustice is a healthy spiritual response. Anger helps us see what is wrong and can motivate action to create positive change in the world. This sort of response creates a blessing rather than a curse.
But anger can also reflect and intensify our woundedness and separation. It presents a temptation to self-righteousness and self-justification that separates us from one another, from the world and from our truest, best selves. This sort of anger is related to ego rather than spirit. It isolates us. Its power can make it addictive, and some people feel most alive when they are really, really angry. This is particularly a problem for marginalized folks like the queer community. There is so much for us to be angry about that we’re like the bumper sticker that reads, “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.”
Too often, the gay community has turned its anger on itself, attacking leaders and “devouring our own.”
Anger must be recognized, not ignored spiritualized out of existence. Doing that only forces our rage underground. Recognized, anger can be dealt with in healthy ways that leave us feeling empowered, understood by others, safe and connected. These are hallmarks of spiritual health.
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