Living the Soulful Life
Fuel for Change
By Scott Kalechstein
“I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!”
— from the movie Network
We all know how harmful anger can be. Anger with the intent to hurt, project guilt, and punish can easily cut and sever the delicate strands of connection in our relationships. But does that mean that all anger must be destructive? A knife that, in the hands of a murderer violates the flesh, in the hands of a surgeon can heal. Can anger, as well, sometimes serve the purposes of healing?
There is a scene from the classic film about the life of St. Francis, Brother Sun, Sister Moon (a movie I’ve seen about ten times), which has had a strong impact on me. Francis had been experiencing a spiritual awakening, and his heart was opening through spending time with the animals and the natural beauty of the forests and meadows outside his hometown of Assisi. One Sunday morning his exasperated father, furious at his son’s deviant behavior, literally dragged him to church, determined to have Francis worship and behave like everyone else in the community.
Formally (and reluctantly) dressing the part of the son of a rich merchant, Francis glanced around the church, his heart going out to the poverty-stricken people standing in the back, a stark contrast to the wealthy, who were seated up front, adorned with the finest robes and jewelry. You could tell from the anguish on his face that he was deeply troubled by what he saw.
Then he gazed upon a huge and bloody portrait of Jesus on the cross, who, as the story goes, was having a particularly hard day at the office. Francis tried to connect to the spirit in Christ’s eyes, but was having great difficulty with the image of torture he beheld. He had been making personal contact with a very different Jesus, a being of pure joy, and felt none of the passion of the Christ within the projection of suffering and sacrifice his eyes were resting upon.
While the rest of the congregation was reciting an uninspired and dreary chant, Francis suddenly found his voice as well. Summoning up the warrior within him, he let out a bloodcurdling scream at the top of his lungs: “NOOOOOOOO!!!!!”
The entire church stopped singing, shocked into silence. After a few moments, Francis softened, and smiled sweetly. He again said no, this time ever so gently, and took off his robes, giving them to a downtrodden brother he passed while walking out of the church into the rolling fields of nature’s bounty, where Francis had his Sunday service naked and free, the way Spirit was beckoning him to.
Many of us spiritual folks try to always be yes people and often have a
difficult time saying no and setting boundaries. Yet to be a spiritual warrior,
we need our no just as much as our yes. Like Jesus dealt with the money-changers
in the temple, we need to be tough at times, in the name of love.
In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron says this about anger:
“Anger is a map. Anger points the way, not just the finger. Anger is meant to be acted upon. It is not meant to be acted out. We are meant to use anger as fuel to take the actions we need to move where our anger points us. Anger is our friend. Not a nice friend. Not a gentle friend. But a very, very loyal friend. It will always tell us when we have been betrayed. It will always tell us when we have betrayed ourselves. It will always tell us that it is time to act in our own best interests.”
As a child, I watched my oldest sister express her anger and challenge my
parent’s abusive ways. In response my father sometimes used physical force to
vent his rage and assert his power. Seeing my sister being hit, I concluded that
expressing anger was dangerous, even life-threatening. I became adept at hiding
from my feelings so well that I had no idea when I was angry. I left my
emotional body and lived in my head, an intellectual world with no pain, and no
In my young adulthood I was attracted to spiritual paths and teachers that reinforced my belief that anger was a no-no. When a hint of anger surfaced, I would rush to all kinds of forgiveness meditations and visualizations, not realizing that the first step in forgiveness is to allow myself to explore what it is that I am feeling.
I was terrified of the hot, powerful surges and urges that anger invoked. I wanted to be spiritual. I wanted to be nice. I needed everyone to like me, probably because I didn’t really like myself.
In choosing to avoid making waves and rocking the boat, I didn’t realize that I was also anchoring my ship in the harbor. I was safe, secure, but not fully alive and participating in life.
I had tremendous difficulty acting with conviction and commitment, two gifts that await those with the courage not to sweep their anger under the rug.
For many people, getting angry is a hard, protective shell, and their risk is to feel the hurt, fear and sadness underneath. For them, the stretch is to spend time with their softer, more vulnerable feelings beneath that shell. For me, my emotional stretch lately is to be with my anger…not to rant and rage at people carelessly, but to feel it in my body, listen to its message, and use it as fuel to propel me forward.
Anger can motivate and inspire purposeful action. Back when I was new to performing my music, I tried my craft at Folk City, a Greenwich Village club where Simon and Garfunkel, James Taylor, and Joanie Mitchell had gotten started. I was terrified! For the eight minutes I had on stage, I sang an original song and I also did some stand-up comedy, a form of _expression I felt much safer with. When I was done, someone from the audience said to me, “Great comedy, Scott. You should just stick to comedy, though.”
I was crushed. His comment invalidated the part of my performance that I felt the most fragile and hopeful about. Walking home, I felt my hurt and self-pity turn into anger, which soon led to a delicious determination. “I won’t let him dampen my enthusiasm! I’m going to keep on singing, take singing lessons and get really good at this. One day I’ll make a beautiful tape of my songs and mail it to him with a note: “Don’t ever put a wet blanket on somebody’s dreams again!” The next day I called up a voice teacher and made my first appointment, something I had been resisting and procrastinating about for quite some time.
Anger can seem like a hard, foreign substance, a rock in an otherwise flowing
river. Although I love that flowing river, I am learning that it is necessary at
times to stand on a rock and not let myself be moved. It is on that rock that
being true to myself becomes more important than pleasing others. It is on that
rock that I build things like integrity and self-respect. And it is on that rock
that I summon up the outrage needed to break through into an outrageous life.
“Anger is determination in disguise.”
— Phil Laut
Scott Kalechstein is an inspirational speaker who sometimes breaks out into song during his talks and workshops. He is also an inspirational singer who has been known to break out into speaking in between songs. Scott travels near and far, comforting the disturbed and disturbing the comfortable. Please visit http://www.scottsongs.com for song samples and more info, as well as to sign his guest book and be informed of when he is coming to your neck of the woods.
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