These are personal "homework" notes written for Kira's Ways of Knowing workshop during a week the topic was Anger (and its complements).  It's a big, general topic.  I found myself both "catching it in the act" experientially, as well as noting ideas, beliefs, and topics for further study.


    Some observations this week:

    • While doing movement/dance/meditation practice, I felt a smooth flow of moving, feeling, and "energy" -- collectively, the substance of the experience of emotions, including "anger" - within an unifying sense of embodied (somatic) wholeness.  This would take some time to describe... the overall effect shifts my "experience" of emotions in a potent and profound way. 
    • A subtle mood of irritability, and under that, frustration, in which I noticed my tension and held impulses to "lash out" about people's trivial behavior.  I'd like to be more relaxed / loving at times like that, but it didn't work just to "drop it" or try to adopt a more relaxed and positive attitude.  It did help though, to "remember" experiences outside the pattern.  Things did change, though, as I (a) changed conversation to topics I and others enjoyed, (b) caught up on my sleep so I felt rested and relaxed, (c) took time to make my living space more orderly and aesthetic, and (d) completed a couple of projects I had been putting off. 
    • A set of familiar "themes" related to my values and character, desires and aspirations, skills and and capacities (and their deficits, of course).   I have certain way(s) of "being in the world".  I use (employ. feel comfortable with, and enjoy) knowledge for its practical uses in pursuing positive "values" I "believe in", need, or desire... and notice myself defending this -- getting "effortful",  tense or even subtly aggressive -- in social activities where this way of being in the world is not supported.  (As an example of this, see the paragraph below starting with "I resist easy formulas..."). 
    • Anger mixed with fear, grief, apathy about broad trends in the world such as environmental degradation  and social injustice.  I would not mind if some of my apathy "woke up" a notch into something more like active grief or anger (but I do think of that as a "phase").  At the same time I sense the contrasting "positive" desires and emotions related to these same issues.

    I resist easy formulas and simplifying definitions, especially regarding something as complex as human emotion in its full context.  As a general orientation, I note that:

    For every reasonable generalization, there's also (1) a contrary or opposite that's also true; (2) a set of conditions needed to maintain it; and (3) another set of conditions tending to refute it.

    Abstract and intellectual as that sounds, it has emotional underpinnings defining way of thinking and relating.  When I feel oppressed by and resist what I interpret as fundamentalism and dogmatism (in any field) it leads to subtle conflict.  Generally, I believe people use ideas in an attempt to structure themselves and their social world; what I hope is to able to see their positive motivations and work toward some constructive collective relationship. 

    Beliefs about Anger and Emotions

    • It is important to study / understand phenomena like anger and human emotions in a broad context and to understand the origin and nature of different theories about them.
    • Anger is a useful, adaptive mechanism that has helped organisms evolve, adapt, and thrive.  It is a mode of functioning of human emotions, which are threaded though and inseparable from other aspects of human consciousness, intelligence, and behavior.
    • Emotions are complex phenomena that involve all the human functions that are categorically (but not actually) separated -- moving, feeling, sensing, thinking, belief, behavior, relating.  To really understand emotion it's necessary to see the interactions of those functions within the larger unities of human life.  It will benefit both individuals and human collectives for philosophers, neuroscientists, and spiritual educators to sort out and resolve these ancient categories into something more accurate and humane.
    • Emotions are fundamental to good "intellectual" thinking and decision-making (and at other times, equally disruptive).
    • Emotions are most usefully seen as forms of social communication and intelligence, rather than as private subjective phenomena.  Emotions in general and anger / aggression in particular are social phenomena, both in theory and in their actual way of "coming into the world" both in the moment and over time.
    • The meaning and nature of anger depends on its place, use, appropriateness, and social context.
    • The nature of anger depends on personal factors such as individual biology, character, skills, habits, and "consciousness."  There are no universally applicable prescriptions that would define "the best way" to relate to / handle / work with / understand anger.
    • I don't subscribe to simplistic formulas that say anger is something that's good to "express" for therapeutic reasons.  Dramatizing (acting out) anger in stereotypical ways may or may not have constructive results for individuals or their groups.  It depends on a lot of factors. 
    • It's helpful to study anger and other emotions within a more balanced framework of "positive social psychology" rather than its status as something that is (a) individual/subjective/"internal", (b) pathologized, and (c) socially problematical.  For a more workable approach to anger, these assumptions need to be challenged.
    • Anger and other emotions provide energies that can be used in positive ways.
    • Anger and other emotions are also exploited and manipulated to control people for many reasons.
    • Anger participates in many problematical patterns and pathologies, but does not "cause" it. 
    • Anger is not a problem to be "solved" but a basic human "capacity" to be understood and "lived." 
    • There are differences between "anger", "aggression" and "assertiveness" that are important to think about (also see the quote below). 
    • Emotions are embodied, and can be experienced and "worked with" through awareness, movement, and expressive practices, not just cognitive styled "thinking".
    • I believe spiritual traditions and religions are (and should be) evolving in their understanding of human emotionality and individuality.

    Anger In a Broader Human Context (Benevolence, Compassion, Forgiveness)

    When dealing with anger, conflict, and aggression in its many forms, whether as a friend, a member of a group, a citizen, or a parent, I believe it's possible to "hold" the anger in a larger, positive context of compassion, cooperation, and love (or unconditional positive regard as it's been called).

    As a personal observation, I've noticed that when things get tense in a group, when there are conflicts, it's often because people are trying to influence the group to do things in certain ways.  Some familiar (and shortsighted) interpretations construe this in negative terms as "a struggle for power" or "an ego thing" or an attempt to save face,  "avoid pain", or displace aggression onto others.  Other interpretations see a humans in a more positive and intelligent light.  For all the negative interpretations, I think the following are generally also true:

    • People are doing the best they can, given that they don't have a god-like understanding of the world and other humans.
    • They are jockeying (negotiating) to arrange, with positive intent,  for the group to do things in the way that makes the best sense to their way of understanding.
    • They are trying to arrange things so that their positive "gifts" and abilities can most easily be used.


    I recently saw the movie "The King's Speech".  In this true story, the Duke of York is called to take on the role of the King when his older brother abdicates.  The difficulty is, he has a speech impediment -- a stutter -- that makes him incapable of public speaking (and consequently of taking on the role of leading his country).  This takes place at the brink of World War II.  The King forms a relationship with a resourceful speech therapist who creates a therapeutic relationship with him, mentors him, and helps him change his speech patterns, which are in part psychological in origin, in order to find his "voice" and his identity as someone capable of leading his country.  A "voice" is difficult to change however, and his need to take on the role of King and lead his country during wartime is a great motivator.  Without this -- a social need bigger than the man -- he would not have succeeded. 

    In one instructive scene, he is watching a newsreel of Adolf Hitler speaking to a huge crowd, shouting and gesticulating.  His young daughter Margaret asks him what Hitler is saying.  The King replies:  "I don't know what he's saying, darling -- but he's saying it very well."  I liked this insight because the King was going beyond seeing Hitler categorically, as an enemy of the state (Hitler is to this day, an iconic "monster" of anger and evil) to draw from him a part of the energy he himself needed to succeed as King.  In the following scene when he is delivering his speech, his mentor is right next to him with an encouraging and benevolent expression, and fluidly, when necessary, a fierce one.  The film shows the people of his nation listening to his address -- he is announcing the declaration of war and the coming sacrifices that will be required -- and taking courage from him. 

    This quality of benevolence plus fierceness -- in which anger coexists with and is guided by love -- has been called "heart anger" and has been called an archetypal quality of leadership and kingship.  Martin Luther King had this quality in his speech. 

    In an article titled Compassionate Wrath: Transpersonal Approaches to Anger, Robert A. Masters makes the following distinctions:

    As an emotion, anger is an aroused, often heated state in which are combined a compellingly felt sense of being wronged or frustrated (hence the moral quality of anger), and a counteracting, potentially energizing feeling of power, both of which are interconnected biologically, psychologically, and culturally. Rather than being a single, clearly perimetered entity, anger appears to be a complex process, a shifting, fluxing interplay of many states of mind and feeling. Desire, frustration, aggression, self-pity, righteousness, confusion, hurt, pride, calculation, blame, feelings of abandonment -- all these and more may arise and pass or overlap in a very short time, during which we conceive of ourselves as “being angry.”

    Anger, contrary to much of popular opinion (both secular and religious), is not necessarily the same as aggression. Aggression involves some form of attack, whereas anger may or may not. Aggression is devoid of compassion and vulnerability -- it is, says John Welwood, “hardness cut off from softness” -- but anger, however fiery its delivery might be (or might have to be), can be part of an act of caring and vulnerability. Jean Baker Miller argues that the usual way of thinking in contemporary culture does not significantly consider anger in the context of relationships, but rather links it with aggression. Aggression may not be so much an outcome of anger, as an avoidance of it and its frequently interpersonal nature and underlying feelings of woundedness and vulnerability. Viewing anger as necessarily aggression -- or even as the cause of aggression -- gives us an excuse to classify it is a “lower” or “primitive” emotion. Something far from spiritual.

    Philosophy and Science of Emotions

    I have collected a few notes on the topic of emotions from perspectives of science, philosophy, and spirituality.  I find this background very helpful for understanding the nature of anger and other emotions and their role in human behavior.

    Tag page (Edit tags)
    • No tags
    You must login to post a comment.
    Powered by MindTouch Core