There are quite a few things that I'd love to devote my entire day to, but let's be clear: jury duty isn't one of them. Alas, last week my number was called and it was my turn to go on down to the courthouse for my civic duty.
To be honest, I think I was in denial about the whole thing, half-hoping that by some miracle it would disappear off my schedule before the date arrived. But as the minutes ran out, I finally came around to accepting reality. I packed a bag full of books, brought my laptop, my phone and my journal and settled into a day that I expected to be about as thrilling as a trip to the DMV.
Upon arrival, I wasn't surprised to feel a truckload of tension in the room. In fact, here were 150 people who did not want to be where they were, something akin to being held prisoner (minus a few unpleasant things... like delousing). Weirdly, I was actually relieved to be sitting in the assembly room, with nothing other to do than to read the book in my lap. Which made me curious, why wasn't I reacting like the others? I looked around to a myriad of approaches our hostage/jury duty situation. Some people were totally pissed, pacing in the aisles. Some were on their phones, complaining loudly to anyone who'd listen. Some were tapping their toes, sighing, and breathing audible protests at their plight. There was even one dude to my left that was just plain-ol'-drunk. Which got me thinking about this topic of anger, and how we handle it.
A recent survey on American rage showed that 68 percent — that's two of every three people — get angry at least once a day because of something they either heard about or read in the news. And that's just from the NEWS! The truth is, most of us feel angry a lot of the time. From minor irritations (red lights, long lines, missing socks, and weather delays) to bigger frustrations (co-workers, children and significant others) to full-blown fury.
And this isn't necessarily a bad thing. Anger is an important emotion, with a loving message meant to help us navigate the world in a safe way. Anger is our protector, it keeps us safe and keeps our boundaries clear. When we strip anger of any violence or any attempt at domination and get down to the root of it, we can see that anger is - at its heart - a form of care. It illuminates what we belong to, what we wish to protect and what we are willing to risk ourselves for.
Here are five mindful questions to help you transform and shift your relationship with anger in ways that are healthier and more enriching:
1. What do you fear about anger (both your own anger and the anger of others)?
Many of us have irrational and painful stories about anger. Whether we grew up with an abusive parent, witnessed hostile arguments fueled by alcohol, or had a someone close to us that was explosive and unpredictable, we need to clean up our story around anger so that we can experience it as a free-flowing emotion without being afraid ourself or others.
2. What judgments do you have about anger?
We shape our judgments around our past experiences with anger. If we see anger as bad, or as a lack of personal control, or as something deeply shameful, we will try to contain it, stuff it down or turn it off, which will ultimately become toxic. Without free-flowing anger, we are not alerted to boundary violations that must be restored. Without free-flowing anger, we do not have the internal power to keep ourselves safe from physical, emotional and spiritual threats.
3. What needs to be let go?
In order to restore our relationship with anger, we may need to shed our history, baggage, and painful memories. We may need to put aside our compulsion to try to control others, our attempts at peace making and our hyper-vigilance in order to arrive at a place where we can welcome our honest emotion.
4. What would it look like to experience loving or whole-hearted anger?
For most of us, our experience with anger is synonymous with a closed heart, meaning: we disconnect from one another when we are angry. Anger is not meant to disconnect us from one another, it is meant to be met with an open heart. This means that we would stay connected not only to our highest sense of self, but also to one another. Instead of closing down and withdrawing, we would stay present, loving and continue to communicate our deepest truths in a peaceful way.
5. What truth do you need to speak?
When it comes to anger, it's usually not about what it seems to be about. It's often about something much deeper, something much more vulnerable. We experience anger because something is being threatened and something needs to be restored. When we experience free-flowing anger with conscious awareness, we have a better chance at finding that deep-down soul-truth rather than spinning around lost in reactivity. Once we find that soul-truth, we can begin to restore the relationship, build trust and gain intimacy.