By: Emily Vandarwarka
The world is crazy right now, and I am deeply troubled by the amount of disconnect, divide, distrust, fear, anger, and violence permeating our country. The other morning, I listened to an interview on the radio discussing the way people flock to rally around a topic that makes them angry. The interviewee argued that there was nothing wrong with spreading discontent and creating a community that fed into fear and anger.
A quick aside about anger: Anger is typically considered to be a secondary emotion, meaning that we may indeed be angry, but that it is in response to feeling something deeper. One of the most common ways we experience anger is through fear. We are afraid our team won’t meet quota and receive bonus, so we are angry with our team members. We are afraid our child is going to fail a class, so we are angry with them for not completing their homework. Other primary emotions that lend to a feeling of anger include jealousy, embarrassment, guilt, and loneliness.
Back to the story. I was appalled by the statement, because anger is a dangerous thing to expend our energy perpetuating. How anyone could propose otherwise was stirring up a serious what-the-hell-fest inside me. I was totally aghast.
Anger is contraction, and I believe in promoting expansion, love, and openness. My definition of expansion is synonymous with love. To expand is to embody peace, love, trust, calm, openness.
I felt my entire body contract. My breathing was shallow and my hands tightened around my steering wheel. I was scared (and angry) of what impact this mentality could have on individuals, communities, and humanity in general. But in an awesome moment of clarity, I found just enough expansion within myself to let go. I relaxed my body, concentrated on breathing deeply again, acknowledged my fear, and then got curious.
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What is underneath the anger people enjoy or are attracted to? Could there be something about anger that feels expansive in certain circumstances? Is it the feeling of anger itself, or is it feeling anger as a collective that people seek? Do people actually enjoy feeling angry, or do they enjoy being part of a like-minded community?
If we were to suddenly change the dialogue of the angry group to acceptance, love, and kindness, would people be just as eager to participate if they felt the same level of camaraderie? Or, perhaps, they see their anger as a necessary form of expansion; they feel that they are acting in anger to promote what they believe is right.
Because it was an interview I was listening to, I couldn’t actually ask these questions out loud and get an answer. But as I followed my curiosity, I felt myself relax and expand. I was able to think about the statement from a logical, rational perspective instead of feeling personally attacked, scared, and defensive.
I was able to go from the viewpoint of “I am right and you are wrong” toward a more open-minded, impartial exploration of the situation.
Anger can feel like action, like a release. It takes energy to expend, and when we are afraid or upset, anger is an active outlet that can feel good temporarily. The trouble is that the energetic action of anger can easily turn into divisive content, hurtful language, and physical violence when it’s not appropriately directed, driving us further into pain and isolation.
When we align around anger (either as a community or inside ourselves), we are burdened by its weight. Anger is heavy. It manifests itself physically in our bodies; we get sick, feel tired, and its energy blocks our capacity for love and expansion, which is weightless, peaceful, and calm.
Nothing is going to change until we start asking these questions and seeking a deeper level of understanding between each other and within ourselves. Simply saying “you’re wrong and I’m right” is contracting and doesn’t solve anything. It puts us at odds with each other, causing each side to feel threatened and defensive.
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Presuming to know why someone acts the way they do is egotistical and serves no productive purpose. It does not take us closer to understanding. We are all complex beings with unique histories, experiences, fears, needs, and motives. Consequently, our emotions, decisions, and actions are driven by these complexities.
Often, we do not even understand our own feelings and actions. Until we ask ourselves the right questions, we can’t discover that it is our loneliness that caused us to join a group of people promoting a value we don’t actually stand for. But loneliness (or poverty, or physical pain, or lack of time, or any other limited resource) can cause us all to act in ways that we perhaps wouldn’t otherwise choose. It’s human nature to pursue any basic need we lack.
It is when we begin to ask the right questions that we can discover alignment in our lives. This alignment allows us to expand instead of contract. To be brave, kind, curious, open, and loving instead of fearful, judgmental, angry, and stuck. We quit desperately responding to what we are afraid of, and begin calmly pursuing our purpose.
We are healthier, happier, lighter versions of ourselves when we find alignment and expansion in our lives. The same powerful feeling of “release” that can come from expressing anger also comes with alignment and expansion. The difference, however, is that with anger it’s temporary and eventually leads to further burden. With alignment and expansion, that feeling of release is permanent and allows the burden to dissipate from our metaphorical (and physical) shoulders.
With that, I encourage you today to ask more questions and be curious. If a co-worker makes a decision you disagree with or your spouse snaps at you, do not assume you know why they acted the way they did (which we often take personally, adding to our psychological burden). Be curious and ask questions.
This goes for yourself, as well. If you are angry, pause to ask what is beneath that anger. Are you acting out of expansion or contraction? Is your contraction helping or hindering your ability to move toward love, toward openness, toward calm? What do you need right now?
Remember, contraction is incredibly heavy to carry, but expansion is weightless. Seek out a lighter version of you today.
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Emily Vandarwarka provides transformational whole-health strategy and coaching for the complex demands of life today. She specializes in eight-week programs for digital detox, restoration and revitalization, and life-crafting.
Originally published at www.ellevatenetwork.com.