Thank You Anger, Thank You Rage

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It is Thanksgiving again. I say again because we Canucks had one 7 weeks ago. Some of us, however, have a foot in that other country and so we have two.

Then today talking to my American daughter long distance, I fell to thinking about how family members trigger each other. Holidays bring this out in the best of families, although a casual conversation can do the job just as well. I had just had one of those and we were analyzing it. How could I have handled it better, we wondered. Possibly, I could simply have acknowledged to the trigger-er that I had been triggered. Then I wouldn’t have got that great come-back in, I mused.

At that moment, I came face to face with my anger.

It’s been several hours since then and I have had time to see some of its dimensions, although mostly they vanish into the distance only hinting at the monolithic scale of my rage. There are sound reasons for harboring such a monster. If it were purely personal I might even be able to let it go, but the abuse which engendered it was visited on those I loved as well, vulnerable small people that try as I might I could not protect.

Years of therapy have not actually made a dent in it, although I have pretended that it did and mostly packed it away.

I read once that Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese monk who had a dreadful war to teach him rage, said that we have to honour our anger.

That seems more sensible than the idea that we somehow have to get rid of it. Mosh plans, pounding pillows, clobbering punching bags, all they accomplish is fatigue enough to make you too tired to care. And they seem to establish the habit of expression. For me at least.

My anger is too great to let loose.

I can’t imagine the anger of the Jews who escaped to NYC, leaving all their relatives to die in the camps or the surviving Bosnians whose loved ones were butchered and thrown in rivers or any of the other genocide survivors. Or the anger of slaves, past and present.

Even the anger of those who helplessly watch what looks like the demise of democracy is hard to get the measure of, or the rage of those who see the life on earth in peril and idiots denying same.

Of course we can use our anger as an impetus to constructive action, but the supply is surplus to needs. So then what?

The Vietnamese monk tells me that if I see the suffering that motivates my enemy, my anger will dissolve. A long range strategy perhaps. I’m a slow learner.

Meanwhile, thank you anger. You are mine. You are valid and reasonable. You are inextricably part of me. Sit with me here on this stormy night as Thanksgiving dawns again.

I undertake not to use you to harm others and, by honouring you, I know I render you less harmful to my self.

 

 

 

 

Zero Dark Thirty: lessons in self-love

“If you lie to me, I will hurt you,” so says Dan, the CIA interrogator.

There has been much debate about whether Zero Dark Thirty was right to depict torture as the way that the U.S. got the initial information that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden on May 2, 2011. Either it wasn’t or the powers that be want us to believe it wasn’t, but that is not what I want to talk about.

The early scenes of the torture of detainee, Ammar, in a black op detention centre got me thinking about the nature of abuse. Jason Clarke portrays Dan, the torturer brilliantly. His Dan is bearded, exudes vitality and, of course, incites terror. The viewer readily understands his determination to uncover bin Laden’s hideout. Then the torture starts. It is, as ever, deeply personal, an intimate experience. Hands on. Ammar is naked, utterly exposed, totally isolated.  He is kept awake for 96 hours. (Is that even possible?) Or he is left in total darkness, his ears bombarded with loud rock and roll. His handlers wear black ski masks – except for Dan. He presents himself as Ammar’s friend. If Ammar tells the truth. If not, he will string him up by his arms, waterboard him, or stuff him into a box much too small and leave him there for hours. It is all up to Ammar. Eventually, Dan moves on to a friendlier phase with a cleaned up Ammar sitting down to a delicious meal and convinces him that he has already given Dan most of the information he asked for, so he might as well fill in the details.

Presumably, Dan learned these techniques in torture class and may well have practised them and been practised on. Others come by them without such training. Growing up with one presents challenges both then and afterwards.

Abusers tell you that they don’t want to hurt you. They have to because you deserve it. It is in your nature. It is punishment for what you have done. It’s because you think bad thoughts. It’s because of what you won’t do. If you stand up to the abuser, if the pain inflicted on you doesn’t bend you to his (could be her, but I’m going with his) will, others may be drawn in, smaller, perhaps, or just more vulnerable. But the abuser insists, he is really your friend, your best friend, your only friend. How could anyone else like you since you are —— (fill in the blank).

While this may be character building in the short run, it has some long term negative results. Your abuser may have fallen silent years ago. It may, in fact, be the 25th anniversary of his death and yet, he has taught you so well that you can now run the script yourself, even though you are not aware of it. So whatever happens, you find that you have not quite measured up. You’re just a bit slimy, not very nice, socially undesirable. You have, in point of fact, failed many times and in important ways.

Not only that, you are permanently pissed off. It was all grossly unfair. It was unjust. Nobody should be treated that way. Years later, you watch a movie called Death of the Maiden and identify deeply with the rage of the torture victim.

What is the answer to this self-perpetuating abuse?

Perhaps it can start simply with the idea that you have always been well-intentioned, no matter how things turned out. Perhaps it can go on to note that you have done your best and that effort needs to be respected. You have respected and even cherished others for these virtues. Why not yourself? Your love has flowed out to others, why not let it flow through you as well? There may be a hiccup of grief at the beginning, but once the furnace of self-love is stoked, it will begin to heat and heal the body so that it lets go of pain, so that it relaxes and unfolds.