Much of the media seems confused by this. “There are no leaders,” more than one report has complained. “There are no demands, no agenda.” But there is, I suggest, something. There is something that links the diverse numbers who have assembled a piecemeal movement, first on Wall Street and now in cities across North America. They are all, every one of them, angry.
Anger has a bad reputation in our culture. Certainly in spiritual circles the emotion can be treated like the black sheep of human experience. It is avoided, derided, dismissed, remedied. We frequently try to marginalize or get rid of it. Quickly. “Him over there?” our attitude warily observes. “That’s anger. Best stay away from him. He’s crazy.”
But anger is an undeniable part of our emotional family. And there are many occasions in which this feeling is an essential member of the human tribe. Allowed to exist on its own terms - without what Chogyam Trungpa calls the “frivolousness” of our “heavy-handed interpretations and judgments” - permitted to exist without these, anger can be invaluable, an exceptionally precise and intelligent force. Like a flash of lightning across a starless landscape, anger can reveal with uncompromising clarity. When it erupts, a burst of rage can show us where there has been a violation and where a wound is in need of attention.
I was reminded of this in conversation recently. The topic was bullying. While our exchange opened quite broadly, it soon narrowed onto a painfully personal focal point. “There were four or five older boys,” I confessed. “Through the last years of grade school, I sometimes feared for my life.” For a long while my companion said nothing. Then, “What would you say to those guys today?”
I was tight in the throat, clenched in the gut. Shallow and quick, my breathing betrayed someone ready - even all these years later - to run. Hearing this question my jaw tightened onto my molars, impacting until even the enamel surfaces hurt. Fire-blue intensity shot through my system.
“I have nothing to say to them,” I blurted. “If they were here my only desire would be - ” I had no idea these would be my next words: “ - to kill them.” The air between us crackled. Both of us, I think, shocked into momentary silence. “You mean you felt like you wanted to harm them back then?” “No,” I popped. My veins pulsed with what felt like rocket fuel - clear, powerful, burning. “I want to kill them right now.”
This is anger naked of the trappings we often dress it in. There was as yet no attempt to push it away as ‘wrong’. Nor, in spite of my statements, was there any intention, any plan to act it out as ‘righteous’. Little in the way of storyline wound its web about the experience. This was anger relatively unadorned; a lightning sharp, sizzling bolt. And beneath its illumination, the violation I had endured, the aching hurt that lingered, a young boy waiting to be healed - to be held in an embrace of acceptance, understanding, and care.
Such is the power of this emotion when allowed to express without our interfering “interpretations”. When allowed to just be.
Right now I suspect this is what we are seeing burst forth on streets all over North America. Of course there are no leaders. Of course there are no coherent demands. Of course there is no recognizable ideology. I have heard talk of taxes and entitlements, for instance. Also of unemployment, homelessness, the yawning gap between rich and poor. But right now the movement is too raw and wild to be defined by such matters. Instead, it is simply about this: people are pissed.
As meditators, we are trained to see this for what it is. This is the technique, after all: to notice when we are adding our “frivolousness” to the mix and come back to bare experience. If we are able to do this here, able in this crucial moment to bring all those hours on the cushion into the stuff of our actual lives, we have an opportunity to witness an expression that is both beautiful and life affirming. There is a widespread sense something has been desecrated - something basic, fundamental. The flames of anger that are shooting up in response are revealing how deeply we are affected by this.
I thought of this after talking with a friend several days ago. He is a financial advisor and a self-described believer in capitalism. Speaking of the Wall Street occupation he surprised me with this: “I would be there if I could get away. Honest to God. If I could get away, I would be there in a second.”
What followed was an eloquent and animated defense of our current system of commerce, and a heated indictment of those who have manipulated it for personal gain. “They have destroyed something beautiful, something that works,” he said, his voice shaking with rage. “And they have hurt people - hurt millions of good, hard working people - in the process.”
I sat transfixed by what this man’s anger was revealing. Indignation, certainly. Passion. Conviction. Hurt. Behind all these, a sense of concern - for the well-being of others, for their right to earn and provide and prosper. This concern was so tender and so fierce it held me there, teetering near disbelief. I was being shown something I had not expected when my friend began what I first thought of as just another furious rant. I was witnessing an outpouring of love.
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