It takes a lot for me to lose my temper, but in no time at all - having exploded - I'm regretting it and apologising. This may have something to do with my dislike of displays of temper in others. But apart from a genuine fear of angry people, which may have arisen from observing my father's temper tantrums (he would jump and down in shows of sheer frustration!), there is also something about anger being an undignified loose cannon; it’s an ugly and negative emotion.
When I saw that the third word David Whyte had chosen to write about in his book, Consolations, I anticipated that he might say something about righteous anger and that he would doubtless reiterate what a Gestalt therapist had once said about it being a valid emotion. And maybe he would say something about repression. I did not expect him to come out - at first reading - in favour of it being something positive; because anger’s typically considered a bad thing that should be justified - and kept on a short leash.
I was surprised to read that he feels anger “is the deepest form of compassion,” and that it is “the purest form of care.” I can appreciate that it illuminates what we care for, what we want to protect and what we are willing to “hazard ourselves for” and that it touches “the limits our understanding” - that it is a violent response to our helplessness. But does it really represent the “unwillingness to live the full measure of our fears or of our not knowing in the face or our love”?
I have never associated anger with fear before; but Whyte is right: anger is another face of fear. It is a response to feelings of powerlessness. We do turn to anger (violent speech and action) when we lack any other way to express our feelings, or means to carry a burden.
Of course, anger is also a response to vulnerability; but is what we experience when manifesting anger, merely "what remains of its essence"? Is it to be reduced to our inability to “hold what we love helplessly in our bodies or our mind with clarity and breadth of our whole being”? Of course, random acts of violence are responses to powerlessness, but where is love; what is it that we are loving? What about ‘road rage’ or the drunken violence that spills out onto our cities’ pavements on Saturday nights?
I’m answering my own questions. I can see that understanding the many faces of fear is key. I can appreciate that what we call anger on the surface only serves to define its true underlying quality, "by being a complete but absolute mirror-opposite of its true internal essence." No bad thing if, by understanding it, anger is disempowered, but I am still left wondering how anger relates to compassion for self. We are not always good at looking after ourselves - we don’t necessarily know what’s best. Is Whyte talking about protecting ourselves? But just what is anger's true internal essence?
Whyte maintains that “anger truly felt at its centre is the essential living flame of being fully alive, and fully here; it is a quality to be followed to its source, to be prized, to be tended, and an invitation to finding a way to bring that source fully into the world.” Isn't this another way of saying that anger isn’t a good thing? Because I'm left with the distinct impression that anger is an inappropriate response. Is this all that Whyte is saying; that anger is a quality?
I am not saying Whyte’s wrong, but it’s going to take me a little time to get my head around his take on anger (!) It could be, of course, that I don't altogether understand what he's saying...
If you do, then please enlighten me. It can't be that difficult.