How To Get Angry Without Losing Your Enlightenment

Anger. It’s a bad thing, right? It’s low-brow for spiritual types. Better to “OMM” your way through, don’t you think?

No. I don’t think.

Anger is not primitive on the journey of enlightenment. Jesus overthrew the tables when he got angry at the moneychangers. Buddha might have been grieving for the world at large when he left his wife and child and the life of a prince, but my guess is he was also just a wee bit angry that his family shielded him from the true nature of the world for those less fortunate throughout his entire early life.

Anger is real. It’s normal. It’s natural. And I believe it’s holy, in the right expression.

My good friend Eve Bruce says, if you’re not depressed, you’re not awake. I say, if you are depressed, it’s pretty likely you are angry. That’s not philosophical blowing smoke. I was clinically depressed from age 11 to age 35.

Of course, I didn’t know I was angry. I thought I loved the world and people and nature and everything. How could I be angry? Yet every psychic/healer/seer I ever met said I was angry. After a while, I had to consider it might be true. But what was I angry about?

Turns out, EVERYTHING.

No, seriously. The world was just plain screwed up, people were mean and ugly to each other, there was no real soul to anything, and suffering was a constant for too many people, not to mention animals and the earth itself. What’s NOT to be angry about?

Once I tapped in to those feelings, it was like striking oil. Everything gushed anger.

The human condition? A shit-bag, flea-infested, rotting corpse, if you asked me. Mean people suck. Well, yes! And because of them, bullied kids kill themselves. As. In. DEAD. So mean people don’t just suck, they are living, breathing terrorists. And everyone, including the school principal, is okay with this?

I fumed: How could you look around and not see all there is to be angry about? How could you not rage? And then, once the depression turned to what it really was—pure, holy, hot anger—how could all this be going on with no one  DOING something about it? How can we all just sit here and pretend it is all just the way things are?

As any of you who know me well can attest, I’ve gotten over the emotional bleeding-out aspects of a lot of it. I’m not a festering pool of angry goo. The rolling aspects of my anger does not spew out onto others. But that doesn’t mean I’m not angry.

It means I let my anger move me.

Have you ever seen a pot boil without the waters rolling? Of course not. It’s the nature of boiling water to roll.

It’s also the nature of anger to move.

Try to be angry and sit still. Oh sure, if you are trying to release the anger, or transcend it, or stuff it, you can sit still with it… with a lot of effort. But to let the anger be what it is, to have it’s say and to move you, you must move.

Imagine a woman who is beaten by her husband. What happens if she gets angry? She doesn’t just sit there. She doesn’t take a long pull on her cigarette, a glazed look in her eye, and silently hope he got it out of his system for good this time.

I know about this first hand. Not because I was hit, but because I was in the next room when a woman I babysat for was beaten to a pulp by her husband. I was 13 years old when I woke to the sound of a fist hitting flesh. And screams. And pleading. And drunken swearing. And a telephone being ripped out of a wall.

He didn’t know I was there, and terrified, I slipped out the back way and to a neighboring house to call the police. Thing is, she didn’t want me to do that. Apparently, it caused more trouble.

When I looked at her the next day, her face black and blue and her lip cut wide open, all I got in response to my naive “How can you stand it?” was that long pull on the cigarette, that glazed look, and a shrug. I never saw her again.

She didn’t let her anger move her. But I let it move me. Not right away. Not until I got past my own hells and my own depression.  But I did. And I still do.

It’s not low-brow to get angry. It’s sane. 

Being a “spiritual” teacher (a term I don’t always like), many expect me to be nicey-nice, to be gentle and calm and well, spiritual-like. They get uncomfortable when I don’t play it that way. But as Molly Ivans, the New York Times reporter and syndicated columnist, said: “What you need is sustained outrage.”

She knew, as I did, that anger is an appropriate response to the violent, unjust, and deeply damaging things you see out there in the world. It’s a force for good, if used wisely.

But how?

How do we sustain a healthy anger, and yet not let it eat us alive? How do we move with our anger, embracing the truth about the ugly world that comes at us from a thousand directions, and yet not become just another angry person? How do we not take on the ugliness ourselves?

We. Get. Creative.

Creativity is the only way I know to let the pot come to a rolling boil inside you and not scald everyone in your path. Creativity needs fire. It needs energy. And anger is as good a fuel source as any.

A few years ago, I led women in five cities to create music videos that shared our values in the world. Values like self-worth, real beauty, honoring our ancestors, and supporting our young. We gathered because we women were stuck, wanting to see our values in the media and fearing we never would. We took matters in our own hands and got ourselves unstuck.

For the rest of my life I will remember one of our tribe, a larger woman who wasn’t at all sure she was beautiful, out in middle of a bustling New York City street smiling and blowing a kiss straight into the camera. She was afraid, as we all were. But she did it anyway. It was the sweetest Fuck You I’ve ever seen.

Last year I created I was sick to my stomach over how many kids were so deeply lonely, and even killing themselves (often), because they were gay or bi-sexual or transgender or queer. I had just such a brother myself, and even with our mother’s love, he took his own life. I’d been boiling over that one for years.

And so finally, last year, I just had to wonder… How many beautiful young people didn’t have a mom saying what every child needs to hear: “I love you no matter what?” And how much good could we do if we stepped up and said it ourselves? So I gathered forty moms and a few dads and we made a video and wrote letters and put them onto a blog.

In 40 days we had more than 35,000 interactions. We made people cry, in a good way. But the one comment that sticks with me most of all, and will for the rest of my life, is a young woman writing saying that she was holding her brother as he sobbed—neither of them had ever thought they would hear a mother say they were loved and accepted for who they are.

Take that mother-fucker ugly distorted moms. I’ll love your kid even if you won’t.

Maybe you don’t think that last line is enlightened. Maybe you think it unnecessary roughness. Maybe you think I shouldn’t say fuck. Maybe you think I should have more compassion. Be more… I don’t know… nice.

Maybe on some days, I agree with you. But not on the days when that young boy is sobbing in his sister’s arms. On those days, I am not the archetype of Mother Mary Full Of Grace, I am Babayaga who rides around on a broom and has a tongue long enough to lick her own ass. On those days, you don’t want to screw with me, because the water is boiling and I am about to DO something.

But wait. I promised you enlightenment in the title of this. So here is my shot:

We are not here to be holy and enlightened in our pristine emotional states while the rest of the world suffers hell right here on earth. We are meant to roll up our sleeves, get our hands dirty, and encounter our own anger as part of that process.

So use your natural anger as fuel. Find out what you gets you angry—really, really good and rolling angry—because that is a really good hint at why you are here as a member of the human race. There are a million things to get angry about, but the things that you get angry about are yours. They are part of what make you, you.

Then go out and get creative and do something, for God and Goddess sake. Don’t wait until you know how to make money at it. Don’t wait until you know how to do everything you are going to need to know how to do. Don’t try to do it all right, let alone all perfect. Just do some good on net.

And for sure don’t worry about what people are going to say (okay, I did worry that I might offend the LGBTQ community instead of help them, because I just didn’t know if I was being sensitive or doing it in the right way, but I did it anyway). There will be people who don't like what you are doing. Or don't like the way you are doing it. And of course, the haters are the very thing you are trying to change, so don’t expect you’ll escape their wrath. It’s part of the deal, and it’s not personal.

Most of all, don’t calm yourself down enough that you go back to sleep, which is to say back to living your ordinary life in the ordinary way, as if nothing ugly is happening in the world. Don’t let yourself stay depressed and stuck and sitting there with only good intentions.

The world needs you. It needs me. It needs creative anger. It needs our unique contribution. Those cries we hear are our callings, and to be happy, to be awake, even to be enlightened, we must follow them.

I’ve already got my next social change project on the not-too-distant horizon. It’s edgy, bold, and in your face. It will require me to be just angry enough to DO some good. I can only hope you’ll either join me, or get your own thing going. (More on that soon.)

Together, we just might change the world.

Together, we must try.