Monday, April 20, 2009

On Angrrr

I was incandescent with fury the other day. A friend called to break a long-standing commitment with me, and as a consequence of her actions I'll be out of pocket by several hundred Euros that I don't have because I am essentially a poor person. Don't get me wrong - I am rich in many ways; money just ain't one of them.

Anger is a fascinating exercise. These days, I can actually listen to what my anger tells me I want. It requires me to get to a place of calm and quiet the noises in my head so I can listen to what I need to do to take care of myself instead of the other person. The other day it started with a slow burn, the getting-hot-under-the-collar bit when calm gave way to pique and swiftly morphed into indignation after my friend announced that her pillock of a husband insisted on tagging along to a week-long class she and I are taking in Ireland this June. This man likes to keep his wife on a very tight rein. Feminist snark that I am, I'm very allergic to neanderthals who behave as if they own their wives. Him coming means I lose my roommate and will then have to spend more on a single room which I can't afford. My carefully drawn budget was in tatters and all patience and compassion went pffft. I was furious at him for derailing our plans, and at her for failing to stand up to him and for not having the backbone to honor her commitment. Isn't anger amazing? In a heartbeat it transforms my reasonably sane and cheerful everyday self into a self-righteous, judgmental, napalm-breathing battleaxe. I can be pretty scary when I'm angry. How easy it is to wimp into coward mode and find fault with others rather than to face what's really going on inside.

If I catch myself early enough and if the irritant is minor, taking deep breaths often helps. When I remember to, I pray the Serenity Prayer while being mindful of my breathing, and that's even better. But sometimes that slow burn comes to a rolling boil before I realize what's hit me, and when it happens, people who know me wisely clear out of my way. Fast. Nowhere is it more evident that I am a double Leo with Aries rising than when I'm angry. I burn; sparks fly. I swear like a linguistically-gifted Captain Haddock, only I spew epithets far ruder than "Blistering barnacles." Let me not name them here.

I'm not a hurler or a breaker. I like things too much to throw them at people, and I hate it when I miss. And what would be the point of pounding a pillow when it's much more satisfying to pound the object of my anger? Except that I don't; not anymore. My brothers who are now in their 40s have a pet name for me. They call me Sidekick, a reference to our childhood in Bacolod when I had the temper of Yosemite Sam and the unerring aim of Bruce Lee whose films I adored as a child. When provoked, I'd aim for their nether parts. My ruthless right foot rarely missed its mark, hence the justly-deserved Sidekick honorific.

Being angry is healthy. Staying resentful is toxic. Years ago, when I was more volatile and less wise, anger was a more frequent visitor. It turned me into a good bread baker. Into the dough would metaphorically go the object of my ire, then I'd knead my angst away. By the time golden loaves emerged from the oven my anger had usually dissolved, and fragrant bread was my reward. It taught me that anger didn't have to be destructive, it could be made positive and creative. Now that I have less time for bread-baking, I've discovered other constructive ways of expressing my anger. Dancing, writing, weeding or pruning in the garden, honing my knife skills in the kitchen are all good circuit breakers. Murderous thoughts still race through my head even as I engage in these calming measures. Thoughts that I am powerless to stop and deeply grateful that I don't need to act upon. So when fury came calling the other day, here's what I did. I remembered to breathe, and I used a Jin Shin Jyutsu self-help technique that involves nothing more complex than gently holding all my fingers one by one. I poured myself a restorative (read: very large) malt whisky, neat, and danced like a dervish to "Happiness" by A. Skillz & Krafty Kuts with the volume cranked waaay up. I sharpened my kitchen knives and cooked a pork belly-chili pepper stir fry. By bedtime I found myself oddly tranquil again. I put it all in God's hands and slept like a baby.

Only when I consciously surrender to the arc of my anger - owning it, expressing it, and letting it go - can I find release from its tenacious grip and accept the gifts of a cleansing fire. Once the ashes have cooled, peace and sanity are reborn. I am restored to the flow.

The Serenity Prayer

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

~ attributed to the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr

Painting by Youngheui Lee Lim


Naturelady said...

I've been baking a lot of bread lately -- maybe that's telling?!?
On a more serious note, the Serenity Prayer is one of my favorites -- very powerful!

Anonymous said...

Sun in Scorpio, moon in Aries and several major planets in lovely egocentric(?) Leo(so I really explode then carefully, thoroughly, plot really nasty revenge). The ONLY thing that saves my "intended(s)" (and me, mostly!) is (a higher minded) Aquarius rising.
I hear you on resentment -- very toxic! (Louise Hay says tumors are harbored resentments.)
Will keep coming back to this particular blog to remind myself to BREATHE.
So surprised that I didn't turn to baking to work through my anger. I am more likely to "walk" it off. (Pat)

Loney Kitchen said...

I have had the need to say this prayer over and over these past few weeks. Sometimes we do have to let go and let God.

Anonymous said...

Great post!

Megatonlove said...

Exhale and smile.

mimi joaquin burkhalter said...

I'm told by certain family members that I have a fiery temper too, although not one of them has ever witnessed a fit other than a very sarcastic tongue, shoot from the hip, call a spade a spade thing. And when I'm sad I cry and withdraw for a time. No one in my family is a doctor, but I'm been diagnosed by a Dr. Google (minus the letters M and D next to their name) in the clan as being bipolar. Apparently I got mixed in with a book of the week. You must be thinking "wtf do I care? I don't even know you." Well, I can relate to this post. Bikram Yoga is my medicine. And I tell myself... breathe.