I have never been a morning person, but for the most part my resistance to first light is a matter of delicious comfort, pure and simple, that I’d prefer not to disturb. My bed is firm, my body warm, my face cool where I just flipped the pillow. If I am alone, I relish the spaciousness of my queen mattress, and stretch, spread-eagled; my petite frame barely finds the boundary where this dream space ends and The World begins – why acknowledge its existence at all? If I am partnered, the scent that swells from the nape of your neck when you adjust to my rustling…it drives me awake with adoration, and then the core of your heat draws me to you and invites me to slip back into that safe goo of shared semi-consciousness.
Having grown up in the Northeast, I associate early morning with wet curls that crystallize and snap while waiting for the bus; a father’s gentle insistence that we help shovel last night’s snow; braving frozen campus bridges and the winding of winter sirens pummeling us with micro daggers of ice, all so that we could graduate and “get the fuck out of here”…
Now in the relative comfort of Northern California, having been a singleton lately, and on a regular schedule for over two years, I’ve found myself suddenly more adept at Being a Morning Person than ever before. I wake up quite precisely an hour before my alarm, and wallow around in the In-Between while I snooze until absolutely necessary, but rarely with dread or discomfort. Sliding the scale between sleep and waking life is a rush all it’s own. I am on my own. I am my own. The day does not threaten, and indeed even feels promising. When you are creating a world you love, the temptation to deny it is so obviously folly, and you laugh at your Old Ways.
Then I woke up angry. More than once. I almost wish I could say it was a blatent feeling – a seething, violent rage that chews at my ribs and spine, so that I snap at every person I see and argue with everyone, including myself, in my head. A physical tension that I allow to manifest by lashing out at others, some abuse in my glare or my words, a whipping unwillingness to see anything but the blinding red hotness of my fury. This classic expression I could at least pinpoint, and likely even handle well; its irrationality and negative influence on others would allow me to detach from it rather quickly.
But this Anger is not dramatic. I used to have the temper of a succubi, a teenage passion for screams and righteous vengeance that left my eyes bloodshot and ashamed, my throat ravaged to the point of disfunction. I hurled defenses and accusations at my parents, crying a mantra of victimization and bitter injustice until I collapsed in exhaustion, barricaded from my foes and my problems by a chair propped against my bedroom door. A letter, a hug, a mature, loving conversation was the calm after the storm, and the catharsis of my physical rage left me well-rested and open to renewal. But just thinking about how draining and painful it was makes me praisefully grateful that I don’t tend to have that kind of conflict any more, and that my wonderful parents are some of the realest people I have been blessed to love as family.
This anger is different – wiser, maybe, certainly more complex, and very very crafty. It has to be, to get to me – I make a conscious effort to observe myself in Ego, to see where I become reactionary and defensive, to measure out Grace and Patience as an antidote when I occasionally feel a rush of heat swell dangerously close to expression. Not that all anger should remain unexpressed – standing up for one’s Self, or against injustice, oppression and abuse, may have its place, with a strength born of passion – but I now aim to sit with and transform my anger, rather than hurling it at the supposed cause, or attempting to remove it from myself completely, like a surgeon cutting away at symptomatic rot.
The calm steadiness of this rage is almost sinister, and it frightens me, but I acknowledge that its paradoxical tranquility allows me to observe it in new ways. I ask, “Where do I feel you, Anger?” I sit up in bed and the space from my belly button to the top of my throat seems to lead my movement, as if to say “Come on, what are you waiting for? I’ve been ready for hours.” It is tepid, not boiling, and asking for more attention, more fire, more focus. My movements are a little faster than usual, my grip on my toothbrush a little tighter. I stop and breathe deeply, allowing myself to witness my face in the mirror and make a silent promise: “This feeling will not define your life. It might not even define your day.” I deadpan back, a vague defiance.
Again, on my lunch break, I tune in to where this turmoil is rooted, giving it the attention for which it clamors. My monkey brain immediately starts listing through the words spoken, the feelings dismissed, the seemingly obvious faults of The Other. Someone or something to blame. The ache of this anger is almost sensual, in that the longing for its release seems to ripple over my skin, anticipating action towards closure. Goddamnit, there it is! The rage forgets about The Other and turns on my Self, on us, working in tandem towards the laughable goal of Peace, although right now that seems a long way off. It tries to convince me of what’s wrong with me, that I’ve done this on purpose, and that I even enjoy it. I deserve it! Bitch.
Oh, I see now. At whom, now, is my anger directed?
“When our anger is placed under the lamp of mindfulness, it immediately begins to lose some of its destructive nature. We can say to ourselves, ‘Breathing in, I know that anger is in me. Breathing out, I know that I am my anger.’ If we follow our breathing closely while we identify and mindfully observe our anger, it can no longer monopolize our consciousness. Awareness can be called upon to be a companion for our anger. Our awareness of our anger does not suppress it or drive it out. It just looks after it. This is a very important principle. Mindfulness is not a judge. It is more like an older sister looking after and comforting her younger sister in an affectionate and caring way…”
[Ok, got it, but WHAT IF MY ANGER FEELS CONSTANT?!?]
“…When we are angry, our anger is our very self. To suppress or chase it away is to suppress or chase away our self. When we are joyful, we are the joy. When we are angry, we are the anger. When anger is born in us, we can be aware that anger is an energy in us, and we can accept that energy in order to transform it into another kind of energy. When we have a compost bin filled with organic material which is decomposing and smelly, we know that we can transform the waste into beautiful flowers. At first, we may see the compost and the flowers as opposite, but when we look deeply, we see that the flowers already exist in the compost, and the compost already exists in the flowers. It only takes a couple of weeks for a flower to decompose. When a good organic gardener looks into her compost, she can see that, and she does not feel sad or disgusted. Instead, she values the rotting material and does not discriminate against it. It only takes a few months for compost to give birth to flowers. We need the insight of non-dual vision of the organic gardener with regard to our anger. We need not be afraid of it or reject it. [...] Gradually we can transform anger into peace, love and understanding.”
~Thich Nhat Hanh on Anger, from “Peace is Every Step”
This ache in my belly, I know it teaches me patience – with myself, with them, with you. This fire in my throat, I know it teaches me restraint – how sweet and cool compassion feels, knowing that I did not retaliate out of spite. My fluttering chest, full of caged doubts and grudges, teaches me non-attachment – I can let each hurtful word go, let each mistake be a lesson, allow myself freedom from suffering.
I will go on breathing while my Anger seethes, coughs, kicks or screams – whatever it must do for me to hear it, see it, understand it. Much like a teenage girl, infuriated in the Overwhelm of life. And while it IS me, Anger is not all of me, and I have the capability to choose not to mimic its forceful patterns (not that it’s always easy to make that choice). It is safe here, watched over, inside of me. Tomorrow will always be a new day, and one of these mornings I will wake up feeling lighter. “Go on without me,” my Anger might suggest, “I’m not feeling myself today…” And it will hand me a single bloom, petals arranged in fractal grace atop a strong, thorny stem.