This one’s a repost as the blog it was on is now defunct. Though I wrote it a few years ago, it seemed appropriate given the political climate and the many people rising as activists to fight against a bigoted regime.
There’s a quote from Star Wars: Return of the Jedi that has nagged at me for years. In my 20′s, it was an inspiring quote that brought a lot of energy to me when the chips were down and I was fighting the good fight.
After I did a lot of feminist leadership training, I reversed my opinion on the line: “Your hate has made you powerful.”
Here’s what has itched at me. Hate is “bad,” right? So why is it some of my greatest creative bursts come when I’ve been enraged enough to see red? I have painted large murals in mere hours when fueled by my wrath…I have felt that hot, dark pulse of creative inspiration in a moment of anger.
But if I am feeling hate, then I’m not a spiritually-developed, balanced person, right?
This was the struggle I went through as I engaged in a multi-year mystery school program of personal and spiritual development. This mystery school also led to my getting training as a leader of spiritual groups and facilitator of rituals. I had always thought of my anger as just one piece of my energy. I had thought that my anger was something that I–as an artist, a creative–had the power to transmute.
Sometimes I even thought of it like the Bene Gesserit women from the novel/movie Dune who transmute the Water of Life from a poison into a water that others can drink and that offers a deep spiritual experience. (Yes, sort of like Siberian Shamans and mushrooms, but that’s another post entirely.) However, the more work that I did in this leadership program, and the more I was exposed to principles of nonviolence, the more I began to fear my own anger. The more I began to do personal work exploring myself and my motivations and my emotions and my boundaries…the more shadows I encountered, the more I tried to work to “fix” myself.
And…I have to liken what happened at that point in my life to this metaphor. I was like a half-trained programmer working with a huge amount of code. I feel like I was trying to hack my life–hack my Self and self-identity–and I deleted too large of a line of code. Of course the rest of the app (in other words, me) didn’t work right after that.
What I mean is, I decided somewhere in there that anger, rage, and hate were inherently “bad” and if I was taking energy from them then that made me “bad” as well. So I basically began the process of cutting off that source of my energy, my power, my motivation.
It was like a tree cutting off half of its taproot system.
Motivation, Anger, and Bullying
I used to have a limitless supply of energy for a project. The bigger the project, the more energy I had for it. And somewhere in the depths of my brain…in my subconscious…in the mire of my old wounds and my pain from my past, the energy that I had often came from hate. Specifically, my hate for my peers who had abused me in middle school. Somewhere inside of me, every time I was doing some big huge project, like running an event, I was saying “Fuck you” to the kids who had bullied and abused me in school.
I just recently read an article about the long-term effects of childhood bullying. http://www.bilerico.com/2014/04/bullying_causes_decades_of_harm_new_study_shows.php
I certainly suffered from years of poor self esteem, which has a rippling impact on the rest of my life. I’ve written other posts on working with the wounds of our past. Somehow, when I did a big creative project, like when I’d organize one of the Star Wars themed parties at a Sci-fi Convention, I felt like I was giving my classmates the finger. Like I was somehow proving that I was indeed better than them.
That I was beyond all that they had ever done to me.
There were times when my energy for a project was absolutely inexhaustible. There are times when I’ve stayed up for days, fueled by limitless energy. I think I maybe got a little unnerved when I realized how much of my creative energy was being sourced from the deep, bottomless well of “Fuck you.”
Need For Approval
Tied up within that was my own need for approval, largely from mentors. Since from grade school through high school I didn’t really have many friends among my peers, I had always sourced my need for approval from teachers, adults, and other people in authority. Basically, I wasn’t getting friendship or affection, but what I could get was approval for good grades, or approval for being “good.”
And, as you might expect, that became a factor when I began doing the deep personal work at this particular mystery school. I desperately wanted the approval of my mentors.
So when I learned how much anger towards those bullies I had been harboring those years, and when I was exposed to techniques of nonviolent communication, and as I did more personal growth work, I got the idea that sourcing my energy from anger made me “bad.”
Well, I didn’t want to be “bad.” I’d never get approval from my mentors if I was “bad,” right?
It took me rather a few years to unravel what I’d done to myself, and how I’d gone a little overboard in my course correction. I had already been facing a lot of depression symptoms–largely, exhaustion, brain fog, and lack of motivation or interest in things that used to interest me. Those symptoms got worse as the years went on.
Any time I felt a rush of energy from that “fuck you” source, I felt a rush of corresponding guilt, and then exhaustion. Instead of staying mad, I’d get tired. Many times, I’d feel the overwhelming need to sleep, immediately. I started doing less events, and less grandiose events. Less projects, less creative work. And then I’d get sad and tired thinking, I haven’t done any cool projects lately, nothing worth doing.
And that would make me more sad.
It’s really hard to say how much of this depression was from me trying to change too much internal programming, and how much was from what I’d later discover was an intolerance to gluten, dairy, and to other preservatives and chemicals. I can say that when I finally started eating the right foods for me (basically the paleo diet) many of my depression/exhaustion symptoms reduced tremendously.
But what I think also happened in the intervening years of personal growth work is that I regrew my taproots in a healthier way, and I renegotiated my work with my anger.
Boundaries and Self Esteem
Back when I was sourcing my project and creative energy in “Fuck you,” it was pretty simple math. I had terrible self esteem. I had a poor sense of self and self identity. When there are old wounds, old holes in the ego, one of the ways that manifests is through extreme defensiveness and arrogance. It’s a coping strategy.
I can sum it up as: if everyone is hating on me, then I have to defend myself proactively. And the best defense is to be better than the people who were making fun of me, bullying me. If I am superior to them, then what they did to me doesn’t hurt as bad somehow. But, that kind of behavior tends to extend out. It becomes easy to not just be arrogant towards the people who have bullied and harmed me, but to everyone, because everyone is a potential threat.
It’s the defense mechanism that keeps a lot of us sane when we’re being bullied and abused…but it can go too far.
In the years I was involved with that mystery school and the years after, I continued to do my personal work. I grew an actual, healthy sense of self esteem. I traded my arrogance for confidence. If someone teased me or insulted me, I would no longer lash out defensively. Instead, I’d realize that what they were saying probably was a lot less about me, and more about their own projections or issues. I got a lot more centered.
I began to be able to hear the difference between, “I don’t like what you did on ___ project,” and, “I think you suck.”
As I developed better boundaries, better self esteem, I got a lot less angry at my former bullies. I recognized that the adults around me weren’t all the kids from school. And then I began to recognize that the kids in school that bullied me, tormented me…that many of them were acting out their own issues of abuse.
That indeed, a lot of what they had done was not about me at all. I was just a convenient target.
What’s my Source?
For those many years, I had lost that energetic taproot. I was depressed a lot. I didn’t have the energy to do the big events, the inspiring events. I wondered rather a lot about where the source of my inspiration had gone, where my muse had gone. I felt I was on a desperate Grail quest, begging for the scraps of the edge of the cup to refill my heart again, to bring that life force back that seemed to have vanished from my life.
The combination of several things began to bring back my life force, my muse, my inspiration.
Changing my diet reduced my exhaustion, as did leaving an emotionally abusive relationship. But it was the years of work on building up a healthier sense of self esteem that formed the core of that. It was also remembering what it was that brought me energy and life force in the first place helped me to sink those new, healthy taproots back in. In other words, I began to remember that I used to do events that I was inspired to do. It wasn’t just that I ran an event or did a project because I wanted to show off–it was that I was genuinely interested.
And anger wasn’t bad, I realized. Anger was passion. Anger reminded me that I cared. If it was me being angry at some years-distant abuse, I had to think about what I was really angry at. If I was angry at someone for something and it turned out I was really actually projecting my anger from some long-distant wrong…then I knew I needed to look at that, examine it.
But it didn’t mean that all anger was automatically bad.
There’s the righteous anger of the activist, standing up against those who oppress others. There’s the righteous anger of the abused. Being angry at the people who abused me doesn’t make me bad.
There are all sorts of things in this world that make me angry and that I have nothing to do with that anger. I get angry at how people bully each other. I read the news or hear about people hurting each other and I am sad, hurt, angry, and it’s not something I can fix for them, not something that I can change. There are times when people have hurt me, and it’s ok to be angry at them.
I think that there’s a lot of anger that is sourced in love–and what I mean is, we get angry when something we love is violated or hurt.
I deeply believe that the most potent muse, the most potent source energy, is love. And love, passion, and anger are all a bare breath away from each other, emotionally. They make our blood pressure rise, our cheeks flush, our heart palpitate. I, in having the capacity to love, in choosing to feel desire, yearning, and passion…also have the capacity to be passionately angry when that which I love is violated.
In center of my heart I have the power to transmute my own fury into creativity, life-force. I bring myself back into alignment with love using that energy to spur me from entropy to action.
These days, I’m no longer cut off from anger as energy…I just have a far healthier relationship to my own rage. The core of my source energy is following my calling, it’s working with the energy of what inspires me, of life and life force and love. And I’m a human being and I get angry, and that’s a part of things too.
Personal Growth: Creating New Shadows
In doing some of the personal growth work that I did, I created an entirely new shadow. What I mean by shadow is that we (humans) have basic needs. Needs like sex, food, shelter, approval, attention…except, culturally, we’re often taught that some of these needs are bad.
When I began doing the work of personal transformation, I didn’t start out having issues around my anger. I was already using it for creative work, channeling it. But in that particular group where I did so much personal work, there was the subtle pressure that anger was “bad,” as I’ve said. So I created an entire shadow–I tried to not be angry ever. I thought that if I was perfect and centered and spiritual, then I wouldn’t be angry. That I should never feel hate.
Once I re-embraced that shadow, once I accepted that I’m a human being that feels anger and feels hate from time to time, then I could accept and love myself again instead of fighting myself. I could renegotiate my relationship to that anger.
Sometimes, I get pissed off, and I put that energy into my creative work, instead of hating myself even more for not being perfect.
Overall, I work to source my energy in love, in my calling. The work that really draws me is the work that I know is going to bring good things out there, bring some joy or serve community. Maybe it’s one of my fiction stories, or a painting. Maybe I’m teaching a workshop on leadership or running a weekend conference. Maybe I’m helping another author organize an event. When I focus on the joy, and let the occasional anger flow into the project and transmute it into something good, I feel pretty balanced.
There are times when “my hate has made me powerful.” Hate is that emotion that I feel when something I love is violated. When I need that boost of energy to make a big change in the world. I hope to help build the kind of world where we aren’t hurting each other so much. Where we try to help one another. Where we try to help heal each other.
I don’t live in that world yet, but every time I get angry, I try to fuel it into work that will help make this world a better place.