While we’re on the topic of Pinterest, I read somewhere on there that:
“Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”
I am not sure that there are truer words. Anger is like a fire that sucks up all the oxygen. And yet we feed it (often unknowingly) because it’s there. On some level we must think the anger we carry is no different than our liver, or our kneecap. It’s part of us, and sometimes it is inextricable from the mass of thoughts, moods, behaviors and feelings that make up who we are.
What I have found though, is that fairly universally, anger is about feeling wronged. And feeling wronged is about the expectation that we not be wronged.
More specifically, it is about our marriage to being right: namely, it is about our marriage to ourselves. Who are we without the torch to carry? What do we become when we extinguish the fire?
Anger is our way of feeling right–and not just right about an intellectual issue, but right within ourselves. We are sometimes so married to ourselves that we will go to any lengths to preserve the self we think exists. We will even carry extra weight that will do absolutely nothing but weigh us down just to maintain this sense of rightness.
Perhaps in the deep recesses of our hearts, we are afraid to release our anger. We are afraid of what peace would bring. We are afraid that in losing our anger we lose ourselves. Because, see, we were right. They were wrong.
Laying down that heavy load means that perhaps an issue may never be resolved. It means that other person may never know how wrong they were. Or how wrong we thought they were. It means we acknowledge on some level we might have been wrong. Just a teensy bit. Or maybe just….wrong to be so angry. So we hold on tight and then tighter. Because we think we are guarding ourselves. And it is tiring.
My Dad (a heart surgeon) told me once that a few hundred years ago some doc (not sure who) came up with the concept that washing hands between obstetric patients would save lives. He theorized that infection was caused by invisible microbes transferred from person to person by touch, and that the simple act of washing hands would prevent or significantly decrease the rate of infection between mothers. When this doc presented his theory to the medical community, he was “laughed out of the room”. The doc was correct of course. But others were so profoundly, deeply married to their own righteousness that they would sooner ignore objective data than wash their hands and save lives. It was maybe a hundred years later before washing hands between patients became common practice. And in the mean time countless women died in childbirth as a result. To me that is nothing more than a deep-seated need to be correct, no matter the cost. There is some dark need in the human mind to be right, and if we are not right, then we are not right. And see, we need to be right.
So we walk around, fiercely protecting something that should not be protected. We wrap ourselves around our anger and let it fester, let it grow, because we can not imagine life without it. We can’t imagine ourselves without ourselves.
But the truth is that we can still feel right with ourselves without the anger. In fact, we can feel so much more right in ourselves by letting go of anger. Laying down the heavy stone, the burdensome suitcase, the baggage we think we need on our journey, brings us home to our true selves: the bare naked self, the exposed and raw version of ourselves with open empty hands.
Ever overpacked for a trip and wondered what the hell made you put all that stuff in that suitcase and carry it around like a dope? We might reason with ourselves…but I NEEDED that 4th pair of shoes for the other night out. And the 3rd swimsuit was a back up suit in case I felt bad about the other 2….we had to have that much stuff, see, because we packed it. So it must mean that we needed it. Or …. did we? Probably, no, we didn’t need all that crap. In fact we might have had a lot nicer of a trip without so much stuff to carry.
Being angry in a moment, in an event, and even for a long time after, is natural. It would be absolutely impossible to never be angry and forgiveness takes time. But forgiveness sets us free and permits us to move on, to move away, to lay down the cross we bear. As we are swimming in the lake, struggling to stay afloat, we can make the choice to drop that heavy stone and watch it sink until it’s out of sight. We know that somewhere, at the bottom of the lake, that rock is resting in the dark. It will always be there. But slowly, and eventually, the rock becomes irrelevant–just part of the lake-bottom scenery. And in the mean time, without that rock, we are much lighter. Turns out it’s much easier to swim without the stone.
So this week heralds my pronounced efforts in dropping the stone, and lightening the load.
I don’t have to carry the load and drown myself. I don’t have to drink the poison.