Last Monday, I spent the morning at my desk, openly weeping for my fellow humans. I read through the updating news reports on the Las Vegas mass murders, my sorrow and anger compounding as the the political and racial implications of major media coverage and our government’s response became clearer.
A few hours later, news broke that musical icon Tom Petty had died. Social media filled with warm laments for our fallen hero; meanwhile, my inner empath took over and I couldn’t help but feel the icy void that the Las Vegas victims’ and Petty’s families and friends must be feeling in that moment. The brutal aftershock of a raw, fresh wound.
That same afternoon, I was accused of being a bully at my workplace. My boss, a smart, progressive, hard working guy, sat me down and asked me to cool my jets, because the person I was apparently bullying – a 48 year old white man – was refusing to come into the office to work. My mind filtered through all of our interactions, searching for times I had been a bully. Perhaps I ignored him or snapped a few times when busy or stressed, but that didn’t feel different from what I would do with anyone else. And even though I couldn’t figure out how I had bullied this person, I felt awful.
I went home that day in shock.
Is this reality?
What is happening to my community and my country?
Am I a bad person and I don’t even realize it?
I felt shaken to my core, like I was not safe in this world. My day went on, I went grocery shopping and did some chores, and then I went to the new Brazilian Beats Samba class at Hustle and Flow. The instructor Beto helped me crawl from under my shroud of despair and kept us moving, smiling and laughing for a beautiful 75 minutes. The class was an oasis of joy in an otherwise dreadful day. It was liberation from my sorrow.
Afterward, however, it was as if a floodgate had been opened. I started to get very angry. I felt betrayed and let down. I felt absolute RAGE as I thought of the victims claimed by daily acts of domestic terrorism. RAGE as I thought about how our elected officials happily receive money from the NRA while innocent people are openly murdered in their constituencies.
I felt this RAGE as I thought of Tom Petty’s heart failing and how our culture teaches us to place little to no priority on health and self care. RAGE at how that can so often leave our children and grandchildren without guidance and support, washed away in grief.
And I felt absolute RAGE at being accused of bullying by a person who has had access to every cultural privilege in the workplace. Who has likely never felt the pungent emotional sting of racial- or gender- based discrimination, the latter of which I know quite well.
It doesn’t seem right, does it? That I would feel so angry after enjoying something as joyful as a beautiful dance class. Our commitment to movement is supposed to help us let it go. But it is right, and I feel grateful. Opening up and allowing myself to move, smile and feel the freedom that dancing offers gave me the space to recognize, embrace and integrate a wider range of emotions. I found access to my anger and I could see it clearly.
Emotions are fluid and fleeting if given the space to move through us. However, many of us have dealt with “stuck” feelings that don’t let us move on. Anger and rage are tough emotions, ones with which most of us are uncomfortable. But these negative emotions must be acknowledged and processed despite our discomfort – otherwise, we end up feeling shackled to them, weighed down by something deep and internal that won’t go away on it’s own. Ignoring them is like throwing a blanket over the fire alarm and pretending you don’t hear it while your house burns down.
Mainstream media portrays happy people living easy lives in which any pain and suffering is resolved in the space of an episode or the few hours until the next snapchat or instagram post. But that’s not our narrative in real life. We must let go of our desire to outrun anger and rage to be truly free of them.
Spending time in the darkness of our suffering and facing our negative emotions is a paradoxical experience. Yes, we feel the anger and it hurts; but in feeling it we create for ourselves an opportunity to learn and develop personal meaning and morality. We prevent our anger from crystallizing into deeply held beliefs that hold us back from realizing our potential. We make room to allow something else to replace it.
Anger is a powerful teacher and spirit guide. When it feels suppressed or muffled, we can use physical practices – yoga, hiking, biking, dance, rock climbing, whatever calls us – to allow it space to speak its truth. When we are aware in this way, our power comes naturally, and we can give freely to our community and ourselves from a place of compassion.