Let’s face it, when you see people show up with torches and Nazi flags professing their hate it can ignite anger, hate, disgust and a host of other emotions in you. How can you handle these emotions responsibly?
First, be mindful. When you see images of angry torch bearing protestors you may think, “What is wrong with these people? They are so ignorant, uncultured or evil.” Yes, it is awful, but we can’t stop there. What are you really saying? Are you saying you are smarter, more evolved and better? Are you saying they are beneath you and you are superior? Superiority is superiority. Yours is not better than theirs. This mentality is the root of the problem in the first place. We have to do better. We have to look deeper at this.
If you spend a few seconds on social media, you are quickly immersed in people telling other people what they need to do about this. You see people pointing fingers in every direction, which actually gets us nowhere. All it does is relieve the ones pointing the fingers from doing anything about it. Blames tricks people into believing they are powerless. The fact is there is something each of us can do about it, and it might be the last thing most people are actually willing to do – deal first and foremost with your own feelings. No one else is responsible for your feelings. They may be responsible for their behaviors, but your feelings are yours. Spewing them all over social media, the office or your home might feel good for a minute, but venting is much different from healing.
There is power in anger, which is why feeling angry can feel good. It is also why it can be addictive. Think about it. When you don’t own your anger and decide it is always someone else’s fault you feel righteous and superior. It feels powerful, but that power always requires making someone else wrong. Just ask the protestors in Charlottesville.
What does it mean to own your anger? In my office it means expressing anger unfiltered and on purpose. This is incredibly challenging for people. They like to jump right into analyzing and fixing and right over being with what they actually feel. What they don’t understand at first is the fix is in the feeling.
Noticing what is here now and being present with that takes learning and practice. I invite people to say whatever they want regardless of how petty, mean or childish it may sound. This is when they drop the act completely and have one goal: to be real and raw. We pause, notice and feel deeper into moments. Old wounds that need to be mourned might show up. They might meet face-to-face with a situation in which they feel oppressed that needs attention and action. The experience is different for each person, and it is often surprising.
I must tell you being with yourself this way requires bravery. I am thankful to those who embark on this type of journey. They are moving themselves forward and in the process inching the world forward. Peace in the world is actually an inside out kind of job. The war within is where you begin. Are you brave enough to go there? Will you do your part in moving the world forward?
This election has many people feeling stressed out. Check out this piece featuring yours truly on Fox 2 Detroit for tips on how to handle election stress.
I sometimes still treat you as something to conquer instead of the friend and guide that you are. I promise I am really getting this more and more. And even though I had the realization that I looked at you as something to conquer quite a while ago, I still fell into the familiar pattern of judging your messages as problems instead of seeing them as messages from you. You are the one who has always been with me – the one who is with me more than any other.
As my ally, you are constantly letting me know what works and what doesn’t. You are constantly showing me what needs attention. As much improvement as I have made in listening to you, there are still times I shut you up. I tried to convince you that the issue had been fixed when you knew better. As a matter of fact, what I perceived as an issue wasn’t even that; it was an attempt on your part to communicate. You never gave up though. You never stopped telling me. I am grateful for that and know my actions didn’t always show it. I am grateful that my learning here continues in large part because of your persistence and because of my willingness to expand myself.
I am committed to continued growth in this area. I am committed to expanding my awareness and paying closer attention to your messages a little sooner. I will give you more attention instead of putting my busyness first or trying to shut you up because some expert gave me the solution. My God, how many times have I told you to be quiet because an expert had the answer? No more, my friend.
You have showed me so many things. Remember years ago when I used to drag you to work when you were clearly telling me that wasn’t a good idea. Remember when I was forcing so called healthy foods down your throat when you were telling me no. I’m so glad I’ve gotten clearer. Remember when I was forcing dozens of supplements down your throat. Man, you made that one so clear, and I still did it for over a year. I kept doing it all because someone, check that, many people knew better. At least that is what I told myself and you.
What about the times I would feel guilty for taking a nap or the times I said no to a nap because I bought the lie that those were unproductive. HA! Oh and sexuality, how many lies did I buy about that! Thank you for setting the record straight. You have taught me so much. You told me when I was working too many hours and putting too many things or people before me. You let me know when I had emotions that needed space for expression. Sometimes I put you through hell. You had to use some tough measures because I didn’t acknowledge your initial messages. Remember when I wouldn’t speak up because I didn’t want to seem rude or difficult even though you were clearly uncomfortable. My sincere apologies, dear Body.
You even taught me not to beat myself up about the times I didn’t hear or ignored your messages. You made it clear that beating me up doesn’t resonate at all with you. I couldn’t pay someone enough to teach me what you have taught me, and I sure as hell tried. Thank you, Body. I am here, and I am listening.
I am a series of transformations. I have reinvented myself over and over again. I have faced myself head-on, and sometimes I hid from myself. My soul, my being, my essence didn’t care though. It was going to keep pushing (and at times dragging) me forward. When I let fear reign the pushing and dragging was hardest. When I allowed myself to jump even with the fear, things lined up in ways I could not have thought of with my logical mind. I have felt fear to the very depth of my bones, and I’ve learned how to sit with it and even befriend it. This seems to work far better than trying to hide behind boos, food, religion or even wellness – all of which I have done.
I know myself at an intimate level now, and, trust me, I don’t always like that at first. I know when I am hiding and I’ve gathered resources along the way to deal with that. I have even learned how to allow the hiding temporarily. Teaching others how to navigate transformation has been one of my reinventions. I left a career in accounting to follow a calling to help people at a deeper level. It just so happens that the same year I completed my Master’s Degree in Counseling, I got married, sold my home, moved from my hometown where I lived my whole life, and started a new life with my husband. The marriage, the sale of my house, and the move from New Orleans to Michigan all happened in one weekend. And did I mention my husband and I are from two very different cultures. He is first generation American and my family has been here for a few generations. Talk about having to face ourselves!
Life really is a series of processes, and so are we. We have to look at ourselves consistently along the way. What is going on in every area of our lives is always a reflection – do we dare to look? We’d rather hold up the mirror for other people, and of course, we need each other for that at times. Do we look when the mirror is held up for us by others and by life? Ultimately, it is our mirror that holds the most clarity and freedom. I’ll say it again: our lives are a reflection – a reflection showing us what needs attention. The health of our bodies is a reflection. Our relationships and job satisfaction are reflections. Our relationships with money and sexuality – you got it – reflections. All of these reflections constantly guides us and point us in a direction. I do dare to look – sometimes sooner than others, but I look. With each reinvention I become more whole….more me. And now I sit side-by-side with people (or sometimes stand in front of groups) and help them see their reflections. I get a front row seat in witnessing their transformation.
What is waiting to unfold for you?
Many voices came up around this writing. There are those who are going to see my references to religion and Jesus and immediately dismiss this. There are those who are going to think I am challenging their faith. And there are those who might be inspired by it as it relates to spirituality or other aspects of their life. All of these voices are welcome. Some of the anticipated voices caused me to wonder whether or not this post was a good idea, but I would be missing the point of this experience if I chose not to publish this. So here it is.
I grew up Catholic. Truth be told, I am not sure how Catholic I really am anymore at least by certain standards. I still value the richness of some rituals but also struggle with what I call the “stuckness” of the Church. In my childhood home Good Friday was observed like this. We did not turn on televisions or car radios, and we fasted that day. Thanks to my mom we kept things really simple. It was a day of remembering what Good Friday was all about. I have gone to Good Friday services and been part of the reading of the Passion many times over the course of my life. Somehow this year Good Friday felt heavier than ever to me even just reflecting on it in my own home. The pain and suffering was ever present. I’m not sure if it’s because of the state the world is still in. So many people feel like someone is threatening their spirituality. Many people are not given the liberty to freely practice their religion, and so much violence still occurs in the name of religion. Maybe the day’s heaviness was also an energy that still lives on in other ways. I try to look at such occurrences as opportunities to do my part in bringing healing to these world issues.
I sat and read some things in one of my books by William Barclay – a biblical scholar. I like his books because he explains the context of the time. He explains the Jewish traditions, and it helps deepen my understanding of the Gospel readings. One of the things I read that day was about the crucifixion of Jesus being completely political, which again reminded me of the state of the current political arena. As I read and reflected I did my best to allow these heavy feelings to stay and move through me. The day came and went.
As Easter Sunday approached I tried to decide whether I wanted to go to Easter Mass or not. Sometimes the Mass experience is wonderful and sometimes it leaves me furious. I often prefer to go sit in the silence of an empty church. I went back and forth. I decided because Good Friday was so heavy this year for me, I would go. I wanted to participate in the celebration of the Resurrection – the rise from suffering. My husband and I got ready and headed over to the church. We settled in with the Easter crowd, and I noticed the beautiful flowers and soothing music. The first reading came from the Gospel of John. It spoke about Jesus as the way, the truth and the light and how Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father except through me.” I sat in the pew reflecting on that reading. What does that really mean? It seems we have made it all about religion. Is that it though? Had I really thought about what that meant? Sure I had, but here was the question once again looking to go deeper. I wanted more time to think about my own interpretation of this reading. I made a mental note to write my thoughts about that later.
The Mass goes on, and here comes the homily. This is the part where I sometimes have trouble. The priest begins, and so does my inner turmoil. I am hearing nothing about the celebration of the Resurrection. I waited. I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt. I waited some more. I heard a little about the Resurrection, but it all came back to a lecture about what’s right and what’s wrong or who’s right and who’s wrong. Where was the celebration? After all, Mass is just that. Even the priest acknowledged that every Sunday Mass is really a celebration of the Resurrection. I didn’t feel the celebration. I didn’t hear the joy. I kept hearing force. I even thought of shaking his hand later so that I could share some compassion for this palpable frustration. I kept thinking, “Maybe he’s making some points. Just stay with him”. Then the homily was over. I made it.
It was time for him to walk around the church blessing everyone with holy water. The priest dips an instrument into a beautiful vessel filled with water and sprinkles the congregation. This is symbolic of Baptism and renewal. As he went around the church people were chuckling a little because they were getting wet, but I could only feel force. It was time for me to go. I looked at my husband, and said, “Let’s go”. My body was almost moving before I could even register my thoughts. I remember this one woman in particular watching me, and I remember feeling guilty. Maybe I was wrong. No one else was leaving. Was I doing the right thing? Should I be leaving? How many times in my life have I heard that the Mass is not about what the priest says? I can respect that, and I can also respect my own feelings.
I paused with all these swirling thoughts and questions. My husband and I walked into the overspill room where the Mass was being projected on a screen. I sat in this room where I could also look out the window at nature. I just stared out of the window thinking about this whole experience. What was this? Whose was this? I had recently had a similar experience at a doctor’s visit and so much came from that. I sat and compared the two. I allowed the questions and the guilt to simply existed. I knew intellectually this guilt was not appropriate, but I could not deny its presence. I was also aware of the ancestral energy that was potentially impacting me. After sitting with all of this a little longer and feeling myself relax a little, I was clear. I was ready to leave. I touched my husband’s hand, and he knew I was ready. This was not the first time I walked out of a Mass. It was the first time I paused this way before leaving. I had to let all of these questions and feelings have space before simply moving on.
We walked outside to a statue of Mary. We said a prayer there then walked across the beautiful church property and left. In the car, we proceeded to have conversation about the experience. My husband shared his perspective being a non-Catholic witnessing this Mass. And, of course I was not short of words about mine. I shared with him my thoughts about the first reading. What does it really mean to follow Jesus? I shared my observation that we’ve made that all about religion. But what does it really mean? When I look at His life, I think of one who knew His purpose and followed it. People thought what they thought about it, and He continued to move forward. To me that’s what it means to follow Jesus. It means finding our purpose and following it and letting people think what they think about it. This is no small task, and it goes far beyond religion.
I thought more about William Barlcay’s work. He explained that Jesus is still alive and still very much present. Then he described the tendency of people to look for Him where he is dead. That spoke to me so profoundly. I had to think about what that meant for me.
I reflected more on the Easter Mass and remembered feeling more peace and more clarity as I sat and looked out of the window at nature. I felt more peace when I allowed my feelings to simply exist. I felt more peace when I honored my own experience. I didn’t have to stay and go through the motions when everything in me was saying it’s time to go – when it was clear I was not being fed the way I desired. I realized it actually takes courage to get up and walk out when no one else is. What if that was actually Jesus leading me out? I remembered walking with my husband on the grounds of the church and stream of water flowing through the property. It was clear to me that Jesus is alive in me, in nature, in music. God is alive in my marriage to a man who is Hindu. God is not limited to one religion, one church or a particular circumstance. Most faiths believe that God is unlimited, so why do we limit God to particular religions, parameters or experiences. I know these things, but it is so easy to forget.
My husband and I arrived home. As we pulled into our driveway on that gorgeous day, three eagles were hovering over our home. I am not even sure I would have believed it myself if I didn’t have my husband as a witness. There they were with open wings soaring so effortlessly in the blue cloudless sky. In many societies, the eagle represents spiritual illumination and connecting to the Greater. Somehow this was confirmation for me. Eagles fly high and have tremendous vision. I couldn’t help but think of the need to rise above routine in order to see clearly. And once again I thought, “What does it really mean to follow Jesus?”
We’ve gotten to a point where the feeling of anger has gotten a bad rap. We are so afraid of anger and so judgmental of it. Simply feeling angry feels like were out of control. I’ve had clients tell me, “Julie, my anger is out of control. I can’t control my anger.” It is then that I ask, “what makes you say that?” I hear things like, “I’m so angry I could scream. I sometimes feel so angry I want to punch someone.” “Well, did you punch someone?” is my next question. The answer, “No.” Then your anger is not out of control. Simply feeling it does not equal out of control. Hauling off and punching someone then we might be having a different conversation. So here it is…FEELING ANGRY IS NOT BAD! Allowing ourselves to feel angry and expressing that anger are actually VERY health emotionally and physically. Pent up anger makes us sick. It stops our flow. Healthy expression is good. Problem is we aren’t really taught about healthy expression, so we end up stuffing it. It seems we are either taught to avoid this feeling along with several others completely, or we have witnessed or experienced some really not fun expressions of anger, which makes even considering expression seem terrifying. Then there are all the worries around what will happen if I express my anger.
As a matter of fact the whole idea of avoiding negative feelings that we are taught makes me want to scream. Excuse me for a minute while I go find a pillow to scream into. Ok there, that is better. I’ve also been known to take a tennis racket or a fist to a pillow… Ask my husband. After the fact this must be an amusing scene, but hey it works. Even when I was a child I could be found humming a cabbage ball (a southern thing… a ball the size of a cabbage…not an actual cabbage) against the bricks of the house when I was really mad. Maybe this explains why I developed such a good arm… But I digress. Ha!
So back to anger. Anger is there for a reason. Go with it versus against it. Here are some healthy suggestions for going with it:
1. Venting to a friend can be very therapeutic. If this becomes a constant about the same topic this is no longer therapeutic. Now we are just recontaminating… Not good for our mind, body, or Spirit not to mention the friendship! It may be time for an appointment with a therapist. And when you vent really exaggerate it. You may want to give the friend fair warning that you are really gonna get into it. If you see a therapist and they frown on this, find another one!
2. Writing a letter.. Even if it is just for you to burn… Or journaling. Getting these feelings out on paper can be really beneficial. Once dumped out onto a page it can stop stewing in our bodies and rolling around in our thoughts. The clarity we get from writing is an added bonus. Again, for the first writing really get into it. You can always edit later if you want.
3. As you heard about earlier, scream into a pillow or in your car. Be sure to roll the window down for a second after… Don’t keep it in the car. (I’ll have an entire post just about this soon.) I have scared the crap out of my brother with this one on the phone when, out of know where, I screamed. He is used to it now when I am tense or angry and need a release. Right after it becomes hilarious. I have learned you might want to announce the scream first! I think my husband has learned to be able to predict when this is coming.
4. The tennis racket method you heard above is great. Make sure the pillow can handle it.
5. Telling the person we might be angry with about it in a healthy way, which means watching for name calling and blaming. You might need to try number 1 through 4 above to get clear for this one! More to come about healthy disclosure of anger, hurt or disappointment later.
Well, there you have it! Let me know which of these you might decide to try and how it feels. If you feel this will help others, please share.
During the holidays my husband and I attended a beautiful Christmas service called Christmas Carols and Lessons. Within five minutes I was moved by the music and then surprised by what hit me. The first passage was the story of when Adam and Eve hear God coming in the garden and they hide. God asks “Where are you?” Adam replies “I heard the sound of you in the garden. I was afraid because I was naked so I hid.” God asks, “who told you that you were naked?”
Unlike my Hindu husband I had heard this story many, many times. But for the first time, I sat there and thought, “wow!” We have been fooled since the beginning of the Old Testament and maybe well before that. Maybe this is obvious, but I had never quite listened to the story this way. I usually just heard all the wrongness and punishment in the rest of that story. This time was different. We have so easily bought what other people or culture in general have told us is wrong. Adam and Eve didn’t know they were naked until the serpent told Eve to eat from the tree. They did not believe there was anything wrong with how they were being. They did not believe they had to cover up and hide until someone or something interjected. I guess body shame started way back then, but that is a post in and of itself.
Back to today’s reflection…. How often do we travel through life thinking we are wrong simply because someone or something told us we were and we bought it? What if their truth is not our truth? I am not here to say whether we should be walking around naked or not. Although I am sure we could have a lot of fun with that conversation. The point is whose life are we living? Whose voices are we hearing? Do we even know how we feel or what we want? Do we even really recognize our own voice? Or are we following an accumulation of ideas and rules that other people convinced us was the right way to live — ideas that other people told us define success or a happy life? I ask myself and my clients these questions often. I ask the questions not to come up with an answer right away. I ask to create an opening and an openness. I am a firm believer of the great poet Rainer Marie Rilke’s idea to, “have patience with all that is unresolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves…”.
The questions are reminders that these are our lives to create in our own authentic ways. The questions help give insight and direction in an intuitive sort of way. There seems to be an immediate awareness about what comes from within versus what is some rule passed along that we have been trying to squeeze into. I don’t ever intend to stop asking questions. They are a reminder of possibilities. They point to the responsibility and privilege to shine our very own light. It is so easy for the world’s rules and occurrences to mute or attempt to extinguish that light. That’s never the end of the story though. It doesn’t have to be unless we let it.
The last lesson of that Christmas service brought it all home. It is a passage from John that reads, “…light shines in darkness and darkness could not over power it”. As we settle into the new year, let us remember our light. How willing are we to travel into our authenticity — that light that we are here to contribute to the world? Each of us has our very own that only we can be. The journey into this begins with the questions.
-Julie Booksh (Counselor & Speaker)