Is There A Place For Anger In Spirituality?
It is assumed by many people that those on the path towards enlightenment cannot possess or exhibit negative emotions. Among the most serious of these is anger, which some teachers must be suppressed lest we demonstrate ourselves to be still deeply unconscious, and so we try very hard to stay loving, compassionate and, above all, calm—even in the face of obvious and severe provocation.
Of course, this rarely works and, in many cases, makes us disingenuous and unauthentic. Suppressing rage is not a hallmark of spirituality, nor is denying such feelings helpful in our spiritual evolution. Occasionally getting angry is a part of life—including our spiritual life—and an important one to recognize.
But what good is it?
SEE ALSO: The Power Of Pilgrimage
Ego Anger Versus Righteous Anger
First of all, it is important to differentiate the different sources from which anger originates. Most of the time when we get angry, it’s because we feel we’ve been offended in some way, or we’re the recipient of unfair criticism.
The natural reaction to such provocation is to lash out, withdraw within, or otherwise make every attempt to protect the ego. In other words, the anger one feels when slighted is ego-based and a part of the ego’s natural defense mechanism. Fortunately, this type of anger naturally subsides, if not disappears entirely, the further one progresses towards spiritual maturity. Once we decide we are not our ego—that it is simply an element of who we are while we reside within the world of physicality—and as the ego is successfully transcended through meditation and other spiritual practices, we become less prone to reacting in anger when attacked, making instances of ego anger progressively uncommon.
The other kind of anger is called righteous anger, which is those emotions we feel when we see others being marginalized or victimized in some way. It is the sort of anger we feel in the face of racism or bigotry or outright cruelty and is a natural byproduct of compassion. In other words, we often feel anger because we are empathetic enough to feel other people’s pain and want it to stop. It was the energy behind many social reforms over the centuries from abolition and women’s suffrage to the civil rights movement and anti-war protests.
Anger Energy Versus Love Energy
Clearly, anger is often the energy that drives societal and cultural change, and in that respect, it can be useful and even positive—if it remains nonviolent and channeled in a compassionate manner. Unfortunately, history has taught us that change brought about through anger often manifests violence, which also drives social change, though in a more negative manner that often results in making matters worse rather than better.
A good example is seen in the Russian Resolution of 1917 when millions of Russian peasants took to the streets demanding an end to the repressive tsarist government, only to end up finding themselves living under the bondage of an even more repressive government under Stalin. Obviously, love energy is far more powerful and constructive and will transform societies more completely and positively than angry energy will, though, admittedly, it may be a slower process. However, anger energy still has its place in creating change, but only if it is tempered by love and compassion—especially towards those one perceives as the “enemy.”
The Way of Spirit
There is nothing about enlightenment or spirituality that mandates that we must not occasionally experience negative emotions. In fact, I would hate to get so spiritual that I could overlook cruelty, injustice, and genocide as simply a part of duality and the process of spiritual evolution. It may be those things, of course, but I don’t really want to be “okay” with things like the Holocaust. Even Jesus got into heated debates with the Pharisees because he saw their worldview as a roadblock to experiencing true communion with God, so anger in and of itself is not the problem.
It’s not that we get angry from time to time that’s important—it’s what we get angry at and why. It may not be the most useful energy we can tap into, but it is a part of us and something we need to acknowledge and accept in ourselves. As long as it is softened by love and compassion, it can even be an effective tool for collective spiritual growth.
In fact, as long as we live in a largely spiritual unconsciousness world it may, on occasion, be the only tool available to encourage spiritual evolution. Only once the entire world comes to enlightenment can it be successfully shed and relegated to the “old way” of doing things. Until then, however, we might as well learn to acknowledge it and live with it, for to do otherwise would not be true to the nature of divinity that resides within us.
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