Last month we looked at some embodied practices for befriending anger so that it can flow and be safely expressed.
Here are two more practices that incorporate somatic and intuitive awareness. If you like animals, you might find these practices appealing.
or a hawk? Pick an animal that you feel affinity and respect for.
Is it a mama bear? A badger? It doesn’t have to be a big animal; any animal that fights or hunts will do.
Let’s say you have chosen a lynx. Your first task is to study the lynx thoroughly. Try to find a photograph of a lynx, and put it where you can look at it every day.
Research its habitat and habits. Find out how it gets food, how it mates and raises its young.
Now reflect on situations where lynx behave ferociously or violently. Usually these situations are of vital importance to that lynx’s life, such as needing to hunt for food, compete for a mate, or protect itself or its children.
Does it make sense to you that sometimes a lynx needs to be aggressive? What do you admire about lynx aggression?
Now think of that same lynx at rest or play. Even big cats groom one another; even bears sleep. In the same way, the fiercest lynx is only fierce when necessary.
The rest of the time it eats, sleeps, plays, mates, nurtures its young, basks in the sun or grooms.
If you are still feeling affinity with lynx, start imagining that the angry feelings in your body, your anger, are a lynx. Notice where your lynx resides.
Pay attention to its mood or posture. Is it curled up at the base of your spine? Is it stretching its paws out within your arms or legs?
Offer some appreciative attention to your anger-lynx. Assume that it has its own lynx-integrity and lynx-purpose.
Notice that your lynx’s ferocity is aroused when it perceives a threat*to you or someone you care about. Your anger-lynx is practical. Its behavior makes sense.
Just as a lynx’s menace is part of its wild beauty, in the same way, youranger is beautifully wild. Anger is not rational—it is not supposed to be! It is raw aliveness, pure lifeforce.
Let your wise anger-animal (lynx or otherwise) teach you. The wisdom of your anger-animal is your innate willingness to fight for yourself and protect others from harm.
Make a habit of checking in with your anger-animal. For example, when you feel angry you can say to yourself, “My anger-bear is growling! She is taking care of my loved ones, including me!” Or, “My anger-shark is alerting me that something is off.”
When you appreciate your self-protective anger on a regular basis, your body’s internal sense of safety increases.
You don’t need to wait until you are enraged to befriend your anger-animal. You can work with her subtler manifestations, such as mild irritation or impatience.
At this stage of practice, don’t worry about how you are expressing anger. For now, practice appreciating your anger-animal each day.
Steady practice will gradually shift your anger-animal’s state from tamped down to fully available.
Once your anger-animal feels more acknowledged and less neglected, at that point you will be ready to expand your repertoire of anger options.
zoologist researching a fierce animal species.
Think about how many weeks or months you might sit quietly, patiently observing wildlife in the forest, desert or ocean.
Now pretend your body is the forest or ocean habitat, and that your body sensations are that fierce animal.
As a zoologist, you are committed to watch curiously for flashes of annoyance, sarcasm, anger or rage that show up in the body habitat.
When you notice these feelings, give them your attention: “There it is! I have sighted the animal I want to study!”
Now observe carefully: what are those feelings and sensations doing? Is there a sense of heat, lukewarmth, or a deep chill? Is there vibration or some other movement? What parts of your body are involved?
Can you detect the origin of the irritation or anger? Does it start in the throat, and then reach up into your jaw? Is it a sudden or gradual? Subtle or startling? Mischievous?
Stay curious and keep studying this fascinating anger-animal. When you feel angry or rageful, or when you are trying hard to not feel angry, where in the body do you feel the most sensation?
Are you clenching your butt? Are your teeth grinding? As you observe, you might want to take “field notes,” such as:
“I notice a fight pattern between the stomach and the throat: the stomach tries to push an angry roar up and out the throat, but the throat tightens up and pushes it down.”
Observe what is happening in your eyes, in your breath. Continue to watch yourself with scientific curiosity.
Eventually you will start to identify familiar patterns of posture and sensation that accompany the arising of irritation or anger.
Let your sensations take on a personality, a species. What animal species does this remind you of?
Discover what your anger-animal excels at. Hiding? Dodging? Pausing before striking a deadly blow?
Does it move like a scorpion? A rattlesnake? Or is it a fleeing octopus, leaving behind an inky, stinky cloud?
As you observe these behaviors, appreciate how sophisticated they are. How effective. If self-judgment comes up, remind yourself, “I am a zoologist studying this anger-animal.”
I recommend doing this practice every day for a week or two and adding your observations to your “field notes.”
Then go back and read over your notes, looking for patterns.
The more familiar you are with this interesting anger-animal, the more awareness and choice you can access when you need to express your feelings or correct boundary violations.
Undoing your habitual anger patterns and developing new ones requires patience, playfulness and imagination.
The good news is that repeated practice WILL shift things.
Repeated practice over time is how we grow and change; indeed it is how we developed our original anger patterns in the first place.
Once you have befriended your anger; once you feel a sense of agency and dignity about your own anger, then you will be in good position to decide your next steps.
You can plan ahead and rehearse (using repeated practice over time) how you want to respond to people who cross your boundaries.
You can practice re-negotiating old boundaries, or making new choices.
These next steps will propel a new virtuous cycle of anger-agency:
As you witness yourself setting clear, firm boundaries with others, your body will increasingly trust its ability to stand up for itself. This embodied confidence will reduce your need to get angry.
Appropriate anger is the birthright of every animal, and every human animal. Wishing you well on your journey of anger reclamation!
*Your body-mind’s perception of threat may be a mis-perception, especially if your past trauma reactions are triggered by the current situation. However, for the purpose of building your anger options repertoire, you do not need to “prove” whether or not the danger you perceive is real or a projection; right now your task is to practice claiming and working with your anger.
While I hope this article will increase your insight and self-compassion, neither this article nor the practices I have shared are meant to replace therapy, anger management programs or community-based transformative justice support.
For the sake of you and your loved ones, don’t go it alone. Get some community support.