A cannon shot shakes the windows of the house. No, it’s not terrorists showing up in rural New England. It’s just winter. We have a steel roof. When the temperature is just right, the snow slides off the roof with the force of a cannonball and hits the ground with just as much noise.
Every winter, I’ve been out helping to clear the snow. But not this year. The ruin of stagnation has forced me to practically abandon any physical activity while I healed. Slow progress was made as I increased exercise each day from zero to 60 minutes. It is very slow healing. I am not used to the slow pace, and that nags at me, like a child wanting to get to the next carnival ride.
Neo interrupts my thinking: “Well, it’s been four months. What have you accomplished over all that time?” I can always count on Neo to hit me with a direct shot, without a warning over the bow. (Neo is my brain’s neocortex, which I’ve mentioned in previous columns.)
“I have tried to push harder and go faster to make this healing happen,” I reply. “It’s not helping. The old way of using the fierce ‘push harder’ is not working. I have used anger to motivate myself, to push myself harder, so that I can accomplish more. But no longer. The anger now adds stress experienced in a raw and unfiltered manner. I can no longer afford to do things the old way if I’m looking for genuine wellness.”
“Sounds like you want to get rid of anger. That’s a tall order,” Neo points out, puffing his chest. “There are many good reasons for keeping anger in your back pocket and pulling it out when needed.”
I take a deep breath, and with unusual calmness, say: “I don’t think I can get rid of it. I think it’s a part of who I am. But I do think I have misused and abused the energy of the calling behind anger. For me, the injustice connected to suffering and the objectification of others inflame me. I have used this fire to fuel my motivation, to continue the good fight.”
Neo retorts, “Yeah, man. Help the good guys and kill the bad guys — anger is good for that.”
I shake my head. “There is an attacking edge to anger, but it is not an absolute quality of anger. Rather, it is a self-imposed one. I willingly choose to attack with anger. It is unnecessary for wellness, and I see this attacking edge as harmful to my search for healing. I need to remove this self-imposed attack quality and embrace a transformed anger,” I say.
Turning his head slightly in a gesture of acknowledgment, Neo says, “Peace on earth and goodwill to all. I get it. But anger is also good for helping to get a point across. Get attention.”
“Not always, Neo. Powerful ideas have enough of a spark in them to kindle awakening in the hearts of all who can listen. All the fire of anger does is obscure the discovery of that spark. While healing, I need that spark, I need what’s behind that spark, and using anger to incite just gets in the way.”
As I walk over to the kitchen to cut up zucchini (there’s always too much zucchini in New England), I can see Neo crinkling as he wrestles with his thoughts about anger. As if a lightbulb had been illuminated over him, Neo blurts, “Sometimes I just want to blow off some steam. Anger is a good way of doing that.”
I respond, “Whenever I’m in one of those venting moods, I also have this internal dialogue that is filled with negative statements about people, life, and past events. It’s inner dialogue that points fingers at ‘he said this,’ ‘she did that,’ ‘not fair that this happened to me,’ and ‘I want this to go away.’ The venting is filled with a lot of energy, and somewhat of a rush can go with it. In the past, it may have helped. But now the emotional intensity of this venting is no longer healthy for me. And it can hurt people around me.”
I take a sip of holiday cider and continue. “There is a different way to look at how to use the energy behind anger, the energy of perceived injustice. It is a way of taking that energy and focusing it solely on solutions — not on people, not on personal injury, not on personal feelings. Every problem is a solution waiting to happen. It is shifting the focus of the energy toward constructive change, and in doing so, it changes the nature and quality of anger.”
Neo has been tapping lightly on the table for the last 30 seconds, and now he jumps in. “You will need that anger if your life is threatened or the lives of your children or grandchildren are threatened. You’ll need that anger energy then for sure.”
Taking a deep breath after a lengthy pause, I say, “Most of us are not faced with actual life-threatening situations. There are places in the world where such threats are real, and in those situations people need to act in a way that preserves both life and humanity. But for most of us, it is the perceived threat or illusions of threat that enter our lives. Remove the illusions and you remove the need for anger to function in this manner. Anger is reframed, transformed.”
Neo nods. “So the gift of forgiveness, tolerance, and patience is in keeping with the holiday season. It’s a good gift for yourself and for others. And a good New Year’s resolution!”
This is an example of reframing, a powerful tool to help facilitate positive change. Anger will no longer motivate me to push harder and faster. Let it go! It’s OK if it took four months to go from zero to 60.
How can the holidays be a time for practicing reframing and letting go for you? Please share in the comments below.
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