In a Dark Time – Working with Anger and Fear
“In a dark time, the eye begins to see…”
– first line of Theodore Roethke’s ‘In a Dark Time’, you can read the entire poem here
Where does your eye go when looking at the photo to the left? To the flame of course – the source of light, despite the fact that the darkness takes up much more space. This, to me, beautifully illustrates the meaning of Roethke’s famous line – in the dark our vision is simplified and clarified, stripped down to the bare essentials, and we are able to truly see.
Whether you are in a personally dark time, think our nation or the world is in a dark time, or all of the above, consider the ways that your vision has been clarified. Within yourself, what fears, biases, or personal shadows have risen to the surface of your consciousness? Within society, what forces have come out of the shadows? In a dark time all is laid bare, and that is uncomfortable and scary, but it also creates the opportunity for liberating or healing these forces, because they are ‘up’. They are not hiding in the crevices of your consciousness, or the corners of our society.
I have started many blog posts the last couple of months, all struggling to identify and offer advice on working with the energetic forces at work in the U.S. election. As you can see from my long silence, none of them quite came together. I realize now I never could quite see clearly enough what was going on, or what could be helpful. This is not a political blog, and won’t start to be one now, but in many of my client sessions, and in my own personal work on myself, it has been clear the growing divisiveness and vitriol of this election took a toll. Many of the sexual assault and abuse survivors I work with felt retraumatized by news events, doubly so this week with the outcome. It is hurtful to them that so much could be overlooked by so many voters. Of course many other individuals and communities around the country are feeling the same way about the racist, xenophobic, and anti-gay rhetoric. Reports of hate crimes in the aftermath of the election have fueled the sense that the darkest energies of our country have been unleashed, and feel empowered.
How do we work personally with all of this? Much has been written about anger in this election – the anger of voters on both sides, how it fueled the result, and how it is fueling the response. But I think the more relevant emotion right now is fear. Anger is so often a response to real fear – it is the emotional equivalent of the ‘fight’ response in ‘fight, flight, or freeze’. (Escapism is flight, denial is freeze.) Anger feels less vulnerable, more active. So we slide quickly from fear to anger, sometimes so fast we can’t even feel the fear. And once anger is unleashed it has a tsunami-like momentum. It grows larger and larger so quickly we can’t predict exactly where it will hit or how far it will reach. Fear becomes anger becomes hatred in no time. History has shown us this over and over.
I’ve written about the idea of the ‘kali yuga’ before – this phase of human history that according to many Indian and Tibetan traditions we are now in. The kali yuga is a time of growing darkness, and one of the ways this unfolds is through a greater solidification, or hardening, of physical and emotional forces within human awareness. Our bodies and the emotions we feel within them literally feel denser, and we have a harder time accessing the lighter end of the human awareness spectrum. Anger is a heavy emotion, and while it has its place, and its clarifying value, when so much of the human population is weighed down by it at once, it creates a darkness very difficult to see through. Anger is also the ultimate ‘otherizing’ emotion – when we are in the grip of anger, it is always ‘us’ and ‘them’.
The course then is to find the root of the anger, the initial triggering fear, and work with it directly. Taking the time right now to really identify for yourself the fears that have been triggered, and where you feel them in your body and subtle body, creates the opportunity for you to liberate them. Some of the triggered fears may be connected to emotional wounds or patterns you have carried for a long time. If you can liberate the root fears within yourself, or at least loosen them, you can work clearly, without the dark cloud of anger, to surface and liberate them in the outside world. This is truly what it means to be a part of the change you want to see in the world.
So this really, is what I feel is the foundation for working personally on yourself at this time:
- Recognize that darkness is clarifying, and look honestly at what it has surfaced, both within yourself and in the world.
- Explore the fine line between fear and anger within yourself. Work with the fear directly.
As for how to work with fear, there are many modalities, and you can use what works for you. I’ve listed some books at the end of this post that you can consider, depending on what you are working with. But to the extent that this blog focuses on chakra and energetics work, I wanted to provide a straightforward way of doing so. The following may be done as a visual meditation sequence:
- Who or what are you most angry with? This is an inquiry process that you may do alone, through conversation with another, journaling or whatever works for you.
- What fear is fueling that anger? This is an inquiry process best done alone. Identify what it is you are afraid will happen, or what fears the object of your anger (whether a person or situation) triggers.
- When you contemplate this fear directly, where do you feel it in your body/subtle body? Close your eyes, and bring to mind the fear you have just identified for yourself. Imagine what you fear occurring, or as present before you. Where do you feel this in your body/subtle body? (If this fear is related to a trauma, or the fear is overwhelming, skip this step and work with the fear as in your belly.) It’s important to let go of the story of the fear or anger – how justified it is, or how ‘right’ you are. Just let yourself find the energy in your body/subtle body. Feel into the energy of the emotion as you feel it, as opposed to staying in your mind and thinking about it.
- Now visualize a white light in your heart. This white light is wise, clear, compassionate, and bright. Take some time cultivating this. Imagine a ray of this light is emanating towards wherever you feel this fear is in your body/subtle body. The ray of white light brings soothing and balance. After a time, imagine the white light dissolving the fear energy entirely.
- Move the the ray of light to the chakra nearest to where you have been working. For example, if you feel the fear most acutely in your belly, direct the ray of light to your navel chakra. If you feel it in your head, shift the ray to your third eye. Imagine this chakra lit up with this white light as well. You now have two spheres of white light, one in your heart and one at the chakra nearest to where you most felt the fear. Sit with this visual for a bit.
- Now imagine you are sending white light from your heart and this chakra to the ‘object’ of your original anger – the person or a visual representing that which you were angry at. This white light is bringing wisdom and healing to this person or force (it is not empowering that person or force.)
- Dissolve the visual, and let yourself rest with the white light in your heart chakra. Let go into a feeling of peace and calm.
I want to be clear – there is nothing ‘wrong’ with anger. Anger is a very important emotion, as is fear. Women especially often need to first own their anger in order to own their power. But we can only wield anger productively as a force for change in our own lives or the world when it is not solely a vengeful or self-protective force. Doing this requires honestly looking at our motivations, and at our underlying insecurities and fears. Then we do not need to hunker down behind our anger, and can instead meet the challenges of the world bravely and clearly. It is the difference between yelling at someone with the intention to hurt them because they have hurt you, and yelling at a child when they are about to touch a hot stove or run into the street. In both cases you are loud and you are sharp, but with the child there is no intention to harm.
Obviously this is a big topic, in fact I would say it’s the core of the spiritual path. And as we navigate this phase in history, working with the energies of anger and fear will become even more important. Here are some books on other favorites approaches of mine that relate to this theme that you can consider, most of which I have mentioned here before:
Lama Tsultrim Allione’s Feeding Your Demons: Ancient Wisdom for Resolving Inner Conflict
May you find this helpful, and may all beings discover their inner wisdom and compassion at this time.