Here is the posting on Craig’s List:
I have been writing in the last few postings about my experience working with anger on a medicine walk in nature the last time I was in the desert. A friend from Ireland sent me an email about this topic, and he said something very pertinent about anger: “It really scares people because when you are angry a person becomes very unpredictable, unmanageable for want of a better word, and most people handle interpersonal conflict very badly. They just want to escape from the source of the conflict and anger.” As I cast my mind back over the last five years or so, I can see this has played out in my life repeatedly. When I have expressed anger, most people do what is called “cut off,” responding in such a way that our contact is severed permanently.
Looking out the window at the heaving, wind-tossed waters in the Burrard Inlet, it seems the stormy, helpless frustration I have felt is reflected perfectly in the steely waters. The outer reflects the inner in the mirror of nature.
The most recent loss of friendship occurred in August-September this year, and it was this event that prompted me to renew my efforts to look at how I handle anger while I was in the desert. A friend whom I have known for 20 years, who said he appreciated me and was glad I am in the world, kept putting me off when I asked him to get together with me at the summer retreat. Three times, I approached him to set up a time and he said he couldn’t talk about it then. Several other times I approached him to chat and he fobbed me off on other people. Then he said he was going to warn his friend that I was dangerous!
By the third time I specifically asked him when we were going to get together, and he said he couldn’t talk about it then, I was feeling really hurt. I owed him $11 and change for a domain name he’d registered for me, and that was part of what we were going to talk about. So my brilliant, hurt, and now defensively angry self wrote “Fuck you. Forget the whole goddamn thing” on a $20 bill, and I gave it to him. I admit, I felt some pleasure in expressing my anger in a way that discharged my debt but would cause him embarrassment if he tried to use the money. I saw a little humour in it, too. What I really expected was that he would realize he’d been acting like a jerk, apologize, and make some time to get together. What actually happened was that in the absence of his apology, I later phoned to apologize to him, left a message of apology, and he sent me an email saying he didn’t listen to my message, had blocked me on Skype and email, and didn’t want me to contact him. Cut off.
This made me really question how important my friendship was to him. Not very, I had to conclude. This was a deep shock, and I think it’s better to know the truth. But it was also painful, and it led to this exploration of anger that I’ve been documenting here. The brilliance of that note was to reveal the truth, and I’m still glad I wrote it! My sorrow is that I must have hurt him, and I regret not honouring his innocent, radiant being, which is a much deeper truth than the surface interaction of our egos that I have been describing. As Walt Whitman said, “I am large, I contain multitudes.” And at this point in my journey, the ego heap is still bigger than the heap of my true nature. Rumi said “Pay Satan heaps of gold for pain!” I am grateful for the learning.
Writing about this story now, I see a little more deeply into the original template for this defense mechanism. As all little girls do, I wanted my father to love me, care for me, and protect me. Unfortunately, my father had an uncontrollable temper and was both physically and verbally abusive. The hurt I experienced as a young child was much more than I could cope with, and the one who I wanted to turn to for comfort and protection was the one who was hurting me. This is an impossible situation, and the young soul finds ways to cope that build lasting impressions in the body and in the behaviour patterns. For example, a defensive way of curving the shoulders inwards, and the defense mechanism of responding to hurt with an angry outburst designed to push the other person away, which I have been exploring here.
What I have deeply longed for is that when I respond to a hurt with anger, the person who is behaving in a way that hurts me would realize how I felt, and turn to me with love, caring, and acceptance. I wanted my friend to hold me and soothe me. When I was a young girl, after my father beat me, I would lay on my bed crying for hours. Sometimes, eventually, he came into my room to soothe me and comfort me. I had forgotten that part of the pattern until now, so this makes a little more sense to me now. After the big storm, sometimes there would be a tenderness. This helps explain why the pattern has been so persistent; occasionally, at the end, there was a pay-off of love after the suffering.
You might be wondering why I am sharing this here. My intention is to help you understand the type of healing that can occur through doing work in nature, like the vision fast or a medicine walk. So I am giving you an example from my own life, and, miraculously, my understanding is deepening through this process of describing it to you.
So, back to the Eureka Valley, October 2009, with my guides Ruth and Larry mirroring my intention for the day walk I was going to go on. I had been talking about the anger, and made the connection about the steps I go through (which I described last time), and how I needed to change the order of events by inserting the step where I care for my hurt self. I forget exactly how it happened, but I’d also been talking a bit about the work I’ve done relating to my inner man (which is also work of the west shield) and Ruth suggested that I need to be both mother and father to my inner child. This was a revolutionary idea! I had never thought of the inner man as a father. I’d always related to him as a lover. But what Ruth suggested made total sense the moment she said it: what I needed to do was be both mother and father to myself! The idea of being father to myself had truly never occurred to me, and I could see how this was what I’d often wanted from the men I’d been in relationship with. I often chose men who were great fathers to their own daughters, in that unconscious way that we all have of trying to work out our unresolved issues through relating to others!
So part of my intention was this: I am mother and father to my hurt self. But this still isn’t the whole story. There was another piece in the mirroring of intention, which I will talk about next time.
As I mentioned last time, when they mirrored my intention for my day walk, Ruth and Larry helped me clarify something about anger. I have long understood that when I have a very angry, charged response to a situation, it is usually because I am feeling hurt about something. The anger is a defense, which for me feels more comfortable than the feeling of hurt. (This is not so for everyone; for some people feeling angry is a very uncomfortable feeling, and they might have a different defense mechanism for helping them not to feel angry.)
So I have learned that anger is the clue that I am feeling hurt. It also provides the strength I need to take care of the hurt, as well as to respond to the outer situation. So I have known this for a long time, but since I don’t like to feel the hurt, I usually still go with the automatic response of the anger, discharging it to try to get rid of the person or situation that hurt me, rather than attending to the hurt. It’s only later that I get around to feeling the hurt, and maybe calm down and talk to the person in a constructive way.
Anger diagram 1
event that hurts me – angry outburst – go away and be alone – feel the hurt – understand what happened – apologize to the person and try to undo the damage of the outburst
Sometimes the final step is expensive, if I actually damaged an object, and sometimes it is not possible to undo the damage and I lose a relationship. It is also interesting to learn over time that the “event that hurts me” is often not as bad as I thought. Due to my own history, I can interpret things inaccurately, feeling hurt when there was objectively no hurt intended. As I described this sequence of events to Ruth and Larry, I could see that I need to make a change in the sequence.
Anger diagram 2
event that hurts me – go away and be alone – feel the hurt – take care of my hurt self – understand what happened – talk to the person if necessary, saying what happened, how I feel, what I need, and what I want from them (this last point describes the four steps of non-violent communication, by the way)
So you can see that the angry outburst is missing from the second diagram (darn!). Instead, I take care of my hurt self. Also the nature of talking to the person at the end is different, since it is not about damage control but about asking for what I need.
So this is part of what emerged with the mirroring process. But there’s more to the story, and I’ll tell you that next time!
As I have written previously, the south is the place where we feel our emotions and act on them in an unmediated way. When we mature from childhood into adolescence, moving around the wheel from the south to the west (from summer to fall), we start to be aware of the effects our actions have on others, and gain deeper understanding about why we feel the way we do, and who we really are.
I’d like to illustrate this movement by sharing something of what I have learned working with anger. This has been a long process of discovery, involving years of healing and deepening understanding. My latest trip to the desert to assist at the vision fast brought a new layer of healing, growth, and maturity. So over the next little while I’m going to share with you what I have learned, both because it may be useful in your own inner exploration of anger, and because it illustrates so beautifully how the ceremony of the vision fast and the teaching of the four directions can help us on our inner journey.
Intentions and claiming
When people go on a vision fast, at least in the form of ceremony that we use at The School of Lost Borders, they state the intention of their fast before they start their solo time. Usually the guides will spend some time with each faster, helping them clarify their intention until it is in the form of a sentence or two, beginning with I am a woman… or I am a man… and followed by the qualities the faster is claiming.
During the time in basecamp, Ruth, Larry, and I worked with each other to clarify our intentions for a solo walk that we took while the fasters were out fasting. So when it was my turn, Ruth and Larry listened while I said what I wanted to claim, and they helped me clarify my intention. This was a magical process, because through talking and exploring with them, a clarity and understanding of what I needed to do emerged that was completely unexpected…
As I have mentioned previously, I went to the desert hoping to do some work with my anger. I have lost friends in the past when I expressed my anger, probably because I didn’t do it skillfully and it scared them, or hurt them, and the feeling of fear or hurt was stronger than the feelings of caring for me that they might have had. The fascinating thing about this is that my anger usually has arisen as a defense because I was feeling hurt or afraid because of what the other person had done! So it is perpetuating a cycle of fear or hurt.
But, I also want to remind you that anger also contains passion, aliveness, and creativity. So although expressing anger in an unmediated way (yelling, swearing, throwing things, hitting a rock with a hammer, thrashing around in bed next to your partner, kicking or punching the wall) may have undesired consequences, it also has a hidden treasure that is worth retaining. I feel the excitement of the passion I feel for this treasure as I write, and look forward to continuing this exploration over the next few postings. More to come!