The Path of Illuminating Anger

Dear all,

Anger. A complex, nuanced, and often misunderstood emotion with many different facets. In this post I’d like to talk about one very important facet, illuminating anger.

It’s important to note that this type of anger is different than reactive and primal anger, both of which require a different practice on their path. This anger does not ask for vengeance or harm, nor does it simmer and boil over. This anger is the ferocity of recognizing a line has been crossed or is about to be crossed, and that you will need the sudden and often shocking accumulation of all the power you have inside to illuminate, hold steady, and act to protect that line. 

This is the anger of many folks who have been oppressed, rising up and owning their power and dignity in the face of hate.

This is the anger of those who have been victimized, who can see in a sudden flash that this was never their fault, and they have the right to their own power.

This is the anger that, once it illuminates, often cools — showing a clear and precise path forward that will protect you and honor your needs and boundaries as the priority. This anger is not focused on changing, punishing, or getting something back from the other person. This anger is about taking back what is yours, for you, by you, and keeping it firmly within you — regardless of what the other person does.

Like a lightening bolt striking against a dark landscape, this anger illuminates all that we could not, or would not, see. Until the moment when our truth could no longer be denied.

I refer to this anger as “illuminating anger” or “clarifying anger” because of its tremendous power to not only help us to see, but to charge us up with the energy of the lightning bolt to do what needs to be done. It is as if we are waking from a trance and suddenly realize we have the power to forever alter whatever situation we are in, if only we act from clarity and self-compassion.

Illuminating anger floods us with a potent combination of our own power to act, and the clear sight to illuminate what action or remedy is needed. 

Traveling the path of illuminating anger is not easy. As a queer woman, as a person who has experienced victimization, and as a person who has learned to disregard the path of illuminating anger, I have been to the place of seeing my power to act, knowing what is needed, and choosing to not act all at the same time. To stay in a harmful situation because it fed an unmet need of mine for connection, safety, and love — all of which cannot truly be met in a harmful situation. But the illusion of connection, safety, and love felt familiar and known — and the alignment with my power to act and create true connection, safety, and love, felt unknown. The path of illuminating anger felt dangerous because it would show me what I did not want to see, or was not yet ready to see.

For those who have experienced ongoing oppression and victimization, often the path of illuminating anger is fraught with a double bind of knowing, and having to convince ourselves to not know at the same time — of having to stay, and not being able to act. This creates a toxic pattern within us that twists us away from our truth and into patterns of appeasing, care-taking, fawning, numbing, and disassociation. This internalized pattern is a survival skill used to get through a situation that is, or otherwise feels, life threatening. This double bind — to know and to not know, to stay and to not act — leaves us confused, scattered, powerless, and entrapped. Unable to leave. We become prisoners of an oppressive dynamic, and then take that dynamic inside our own selves, becoming both the victim and the victimizer with our own power and knowing. We can get so wrapped up in this dynamic that we learn to justify and excuse even the most harmful actions against us, for we can no longer fathom seeing otherwise. It takes the enormity of the sight of our own power through the lightening flash of illuminating anger, to awaken us. To show us that our power is not for others to take, but is for protecting, feeding, nourishing, and growing our own selves.

Lama Tsultrim Allione, Buddhist teacher, author, and leader speaks of this type of anger as fierceness, saying “fierce energy is the fastest-moving energy we manifest as human beings, and the fierce deities represent the explosion of energy that destroys limitations and delusion.” (“Wisdom Rising: Journey into the Mandala of the Sacred Feminine”, pg. 177). This ferocity, this fierceness of conviction, is the jolt that wakes us up from our numbed out, survival driven states. It reminds us we are so much more than this moment and dynamic, and that we truly can find a way out, should we allow ourselves to take it. It is not easy. But this anger reminds us — it is possible.

The relationship between the fierce energy of illuminating anger, and the great love and compassion for self that must accompany it to create balanced action, is a delicate dance. Dr. Kristin Neff, researcher, author, and teacher on self-compassion, discusses this need for the balance of active (the illuminating anger) and receptive (love and self-compassion) in her powerful article “Why Women Need Fierce Self-Compassion”. Speaking of the patriarchal constructs that expect women to exist in a constant receptive state and excuse harm, she says “when we hold our pain with fierce, empowered truth, we can speak up and tell our stories, to protect ourselves and others from being harmed.”  She goes on to say, “in yin self-compassion, we hold ourselves with love — validating, soothing and comforting our pain so that we can “be” with it without being consumed by it. In yang self-compassion, we act in the world in order to protect ourselves, provide what we need, and motivate change to reach our full potential.” We need both the fierce light of illuminating anger, and the gentle, deep well of love and self-compassion in order to take clear, grounded action for change.

We need to trust ourselves enough to see clearly what is wrong. We need to love ourselves enough to act. And we need to have compassion for ourselves for all the times we were not yet ready.

Today I offer you an invitation to get to know the path of illuminating anger. I invite you to take out your journal, your art pad, your meditation cushion, or set out to your favorite spot in nature. I invite you to choose a situation where you feel confusion and lack of clarity. Where you think you may have an unmet need, or there may be a boundary being crossed – where you may be reacting from a place of powerlessness, numbness, or appeasement. Where you somehow feel out of alignment with your truth, but just can’t figure out how.

I invite you to breathe deeply, and to imagine your most trusted helpers, guides, teachers, animal beings, spirit beings, or internalized figures that hold only your highest good as their sole intent.

I invite you to ask them, “What am I not seeing clearly about this situation?”. Then wait, as if for the next lightening bolt in the middle of the storm. When you begin to hear them stir within your heart — Write. Draw. Breathe. Be with nature. Be with them. Let them speak through you. Let them spark the path of illuminating anger within you.

And let yourself begin the journey.

In Healing,