For most of my life I have carried around a low-grade depression like a rock in my pocket. I have always identified and found comfort in sadness. Like home, it has been a place to go back to. In the past 18 months I have started the work of confronting my sadness and transforming it. I know that in order to transform it I have had to befriend a very scary ally to sadness… anger.
Depression and anger can be linked to the Three Gunas – Tamas (darkness, lethargy, depression), Rajas (activity, restlessness, anger), and Sattva (stillness, balance, enlightenment). As a dedicated yogini my work is to live in a Satvic state as much possible. I am very aware that my dark side lives in the Tamasic, and I have had an intense fear of anger that sits in the Rajasic.
When I studied the Gunas my teacher described how we must move through Rajas in order to reach Sattva. I remember thinking to myself, despite millennia of yogis studying these teachings, I was going to find a way to skip over Rajas to get to Sattva.
For me, sadness feels like a gentle breeze and anger is a tornado: uncontrolled, unpredictable and destructive. I grew up around anger and have known many people who live in the seat of hurtful, aggressive anger. It terrifies me - the volatility, the callousness and the hostility that erupts and then holds on and expands like a nuclear mushroom cloud.
I am terrified of that mushroom cloud and so I have avoided it in others and dismissed my own anger. When I have seen it in others I have cowered and when it has shown itself in me I have suppressed it. When I was not able to suppress it I felt guilt and shame in its aftermath.
The greatest blessing of my Yoga Therapy training has been the personal work and self-discovery. Amidst this self-discovery I became aware of my own anger. This discovery was and has continued to be one of the most important realizations on my path.
I had the privilege of working with Antonio Sausys in his Yoga For Grief training. The practice brought me face to face with my anger. For the first time I looked this anger in the eye. In the company of my Satsang - who were all on their own journey - my anger erupted and I was not scared, I felt powerful, safe, cared for. Afterwards I felt lighter. It was one of the most cathartic moments of my life. In speaking with Antonio after the practice I felt elated. I remember trying hard not to smile as I described what had happened - thinking that a smile would seem callous.
This work is so complicated, never easy, and I have a lot to do still. What I have learned so far is that the anger I experienced as a child and the mushroom cloud that has terrified me as an adult does not have to be the anger that is inside me. I am beginning to feel that I can express my anger - sometimes explosive but not aggressive - without it feeling volatile and shameful.With awareness I know that my anger can be strong but not crushing, it can be aware and it can hold compassion. When we hold compassion in our anger we can diffuse it.
To practice compassionate anger, begin with mindfulness. It will allow you to become aware of your own feelings and will lead to a caring outlook on the rest of the world. When you are feeling angry, releasing it in a positive way is critical. My tendency was to stuff it down. In order for me to release the anger it had to be unstuffed. This is something best practiced with an experienced yoga therapist or psychotherapist. Once your anger has surfaced practice a gentle breathing technique such as Nadi Shodhana to balance the autonomic nervous system. Chandra Namaskara (Moon Salutation) can be very soothing when practiced mindfully to music that makes your heart sing. Remember, forgiving (yourself and others) is a very important part of compassion.
Starting to develop mindfulness is a very important first step in compassion, stress reduction and inner peace. Learn more in my Finding Inner Peace in Chaos - 7 Days of Mindfulness FREE e-course
Have you developed a relationship with your darker emotions? Is there comfort in it or is it scary?