On Women's Anger
|Monks in India performing a "lama dance"|
They say anger is a poison. When I was in India, I watched exiled monks in a monastery perform a "lama dance" in which dancers ceremoniously "kill" the three poisons-- greed, anger, and delusion.
In the Zen tradition, we take a precept to refrain from anger, or not give rise to anger. People interpret this precept in a variety of ways, but in any event, we are called to in some way control our anger.
In the Dhammapada it says:
"They insulted me; they hurt me; they defeated me; they cheated me."
In those who do not harbor such thoughts, hate will cease.
For hate is never conquered by hate.
Hate is conquered by love.
That is the eternal law.
But hate is not the same as anger. Anger is not the antithesis of love. Black women writers articulate the healing power of anger best. Toni Morrison writes, "Anger is better. There is a sense of being in anger. A reality and a presence. An awareness of worth." Anger often arises to remind ourselves that we have worth, that abused and powerless people have worth. In this sense, anger is useful. It reminds us that we matter, when the world is telling us we do not.
Anger can be connected to love. bell hooks points out that rage is often born of love, that it can be transformed to an act of love. She writes in Killing Rage:
My rage intensifies because I am not a victim. It burns in my psyche with an intensity that creates clarity. It is a constructive healing rage. Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh teaches that self-recovery is ultimately about learning to see clearly. The political process of decolonization is also a way for us to learn to see clearly. It is the way to freedom for both colonized and colonizer… black activists must show how we take that rage and move it beyond fruitless scapegoating of any group, linking it instead to a passion for freedom and justice that illuminates, heals, and makes redemptive struggle possible.In The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism, Audre Lorde also points out that anger can transform. She writes, "The angers of women can transform difference through insight into power. For anger between peers births change, not destruction, and the discomfort and sense of loss it often causes is not fatal, but a sign of growth." There is a difference between the will to destroy another and the anger that comes when recognizing injustice or difference.
There is a great usefulness in rage. I think it is unfair to say that it is a poison. In fact, it may be dangerous to say anger is a poison. As Buddhists especially, we are taught that expressing anger is wrong. We are taught to fear and be ashamed of our anger. I don't think this is useful.
What I will say about anger is that anger is hard to control. In this week I watched anger start as a specific response to Noah's sexual assault and then spread and bleed into all corners of my life, like the watery part of a water-color painting that can't be contained. The initial anger was valid, but it soon took on a life of its own. A few days ago, I bitched out a receptionist at my school for no real reason. After I did that I knew I had allowed my anger to grow unchecked for too long.
Anger is useful, and rage can even be good. Black women writers teach us that rage can be transformed into love and passion for justice. I wish more Buddhists were explicit in saying that anger is valid. I wish we were encouraged to be in touch with our rage as much as we are encouraged to let it go.
But anger is not enough.
Thich Nhat Hanh expresses it best when he says "suffering is not enough." In Being Peace he writes:
Life is filled with suffering, but it is also filled with many wonders, like the blue sky, the sunshine, the eyes of a baby. To suffer is not enough. We must also be in touch with the wonders of life. They are within us and all around us, everywhere, any time.In this week of anger, I thought it would consume me. At some point I realized that rage is not enough. Being angry all the time is not a way to live. It is painful. It is hard to sleep, hard to concentrate, hard to find anything good in life. I had to trick myself out of the anger. I sat under trees, looking up at the blue sky. When I passed a stranger on the street, I tried to imagine what they were feeling. I tried to send them kindness.
I tried to be kind with myself.
Women's rage is vast, like a great, underground ocean, and we are afraid of unleashing it. For good reason. Sometimes I think women's anger, if unleashed, would flood the whole earth. I don't know how to control my anger sometimes.
I know my anger is born of love, that my anger is important and good and valid, and I know anger is not enough.