Fuel for change

“I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” —from the movie Network

by Scott Kalechstein — 

We all know how harmful anger can be. Anger with the intent to hurt, project guilt and punish can easily cut and sever the delicate strands of connection in our relationships. But does that mean that all anger must be destructive? Can anger sometimes serve the purposes of healing, as well?

There is a scene from the classic film about the life of St. Francis, which has had a strong impact on me. Francis had been experiencing a spiritual awakening, and his heart was opening due to spending time with the animals and the natural beauty of the forests and meadows outside his hometown of Assisi. One Sunday morning, his father, furious at his deviant behavior, literally dragged him to church, determined to have him worship and behave like everyone else.

Formally (and reluctantly) dressing the part of the son of a rich merchant, Francis glanced around the church, his heart going out to the poverty-stricken people standing in the back, a stark contrast to the wealthy, who were seated up front, adorned with the finest robes and jewelry. You could tell from the anguish on his face that he was deeply troubled by what he saw.

He then gazed upon a huge portrait of a bloody Jesus on the cross, who, as the story goes, was having a particularly hard day at the office. Francis tried to connect to the spirit in Christ’s eyes, but was having great difficulty with the image of torture he beheld. He had been making personal contact with a very different Jesus, a being of pure joy, and felt none of the passion of Christ’s suffering and sacrifice emanating from the portrait.

While the congregation recited an uninspired and dreary chant, Francis suddenly found his voice as well. Summoning up the warrior within him, he let out a bloodcurdling scream at the top of his lungs: “Noooooooo!”

The entire church was shocked into silence. After a few moments, Francis softened, and smiled sweetly. He again said, “No” (ever so gently), and took off his robes, giving them to a downtrodden brother while walking out of the church and into the rolling fields of nature’s bounty. This was where Francis held his services, naked and free, the way Spirit had beckoned him to.

Many of us try to be “yes” people and often have a difficult time saying “no” and setting boundaries. Yet, we need no just as much as yes. Like Jesus dealt with the moneychangers in the temple, we need to be tough at times, in the name of love.

In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron says this about anger: “Anger is a map. Anger points the way, not just the finger. Anger is meant to be acted upon. It is not meant to be acted out. We are meant to use anger as fuel to take the actions we need to move where our anger points us. Anger is our friend. Not a nice friend. Not a gentle friend. But a very, very loyal friend. It will always tell us when we have been betrayed. It will always tell us when we have betrayed ourselves. It will always tell us that it is time to act in our own best interests.”

As a child, I watched my oldest sister express her anger and challenge my parents’ abusive ways. In response, my father sometimes used physical force to vent his rage and assert power. Seeing this, I concluded that expressing anger was dangerous, even life-threatening. I became adept at hiding my feelings so well that I had no idea when I was angry. I left my emotional body and lived in my head, an intellectual world with no pain and no joy.

In my young adulthood, I was attracted to spiritual paths and teachers who reinforced my belief that anger was a no-no. When a hint of anger surfaced, I would rush to all kinds of forgiveness meditations and visualizations, not realizing that the first step in forgiveness is to allow myself to explore my feelings.

I was terrified of the hot, powerful surges and urges that anger invoked. I wanted to be spiritual and nice. I needed everyone to like me, probably because I didn’t really like myself. In choosing to avoid making waves and rocking the boat, I didn’t realize that I was also anchoring my ship in the harbor. I was safe and secure, but not fully alive and participating in life.

For many, anger is a hard, protective shell, and they find it difficult to feel the hurt, fear and sadness underneath. For them, the stretch is to spend time with their softer, more vulnerable feelings beneath that shell. For me, my emotional stretch lately is to be with my anger … not to rant and rage, but to feel it in my body, listen to its message and use it to propel me forward.

Anger can motivate and inspire purposeful action. When I was starting out, I tried my craft at a club where Simon and Garfunkel, James Taylor and Joni Mitchell had begun their music careers. I was terrified! For eight minutes, I sang an original song and did stand-up comedy. When I was done, someone said, “Great comedy, Scott. You should just stick to comedy, though.”

I was crushed. Walking home, I felt my hurt and self-pity turn into anger, which soon led to a delicious determination. “I won’t let him dampen my enthusiasm. I’ll take singing lessons, and one day I’ll make a beautiful tape of my songs and mail it to him with a note: “Don’t ever put a wet blanket on somebody’s dreams again!” The next day I called up a voice teacher and made my first appointment, something I had been resisting.

I once wrote a song while very angry. I stomped my feet, laughed and cried. What a healing, to channel that emotion into creativity. It was directed toward my mother, the one who taught me the most about standing up for myself, simply because she gave me the most opportunities to practice.

Someone once said, “It’s important to let people know what you stand for. It’s equally important to let people know what you won’t stand for.” Anger can seem like a hard, foreign substance — a rock in an otherwise flowing river. I love that flowing river, but it is necessary at times to stand on the rock and not let myself be moved. It is on that rock that being true to myself becomes more important than pleasing others. It is upon that rock that I build integrity and self-respect. It is where I summon up the outrage needed to break through into an outrageous life.

 

Scott Kalechstein is a counselor, coach, minister, inspirational speaker, recording artist, a lighthearted miracle mischief-maker, and modern-day troubadour. Scott’s writings are not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any illness or medical condition. If while reading you laugh your head off and your heart opens, but symptoms still persist, please see your doctor. 415-721-2954, scott@scottsongs.com or www.scottsongs.com.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 28, Number 2, Apr/May 2009.

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