I couldn't believe it! I'd received a place at Sheffield University School of Architecture, one of my preferred options, which meant that I was actually going to university. Euphoria, joy, excitement, nerves, fear, overwhelm; a tidal wave of emotions ran through my body and crashed abruptly against an immense dam. My boyfriend. He was furious. How could I even contemplate leaving him? That I was ready to make a cold, rainy city in the north of England more important than our relationship, more important than him, did not compute.
Then, the rumblings of the argument began. Once more, I reiterated the promises I'd made dozens of times before. I had no intention of ending our relationship and planned to visit him in London every weekend. Of course he was important to me. I loved him and wanted to be with him forever. He was not in competition with my desire to be an architect. But he could not hear me. He wanted my passion to be all-consuming, to the extremes of emotions that he felt. Anything less wasn't good enough and I had to choose between him and my education.
I listened to him, his temperature rising, as I recalled the fights he'd had with his soon to be ex-wife on the phone, which often lasted over an hour. I'd watched his body tense with anger, a hateful, vengeance-filled energy that spiralled out of control in spite of his best intentions. And the residue of negativity that remained afterwards, as he continued to dissect with me what she had said, what he had not said, what he should have said, and on and on, until the cycle started again the next time she called.
Now, that energy was directed at me. I suddenly became one of those women he hated, a selfish and inconsiderate bitch, who would cheat on him just like his ex-wife had, with the first young hunk I met at university. I didn't know what to say. I wished silently for our romantic evening that should have been a celebration, while feeling the churning sickness in my stomach and the unfairness of his comparisons. I'd never met his ex-wife, yet I absorbed his anger and turned it inward. I hated myself for being the cause of his pain, and when he finally ended our relationship, I also absorbed the pain of rejection.
People often say that an argument with their partner “clears the air,” or “if you can't fight, it isn't real love,” or “fighting means you're passionate, and then you can have great makeup sex afterwards,” or “arguing proves you're strong minded and respect each other,” or “fighting keeps you on your toes and means your relationship is never boring.”
All of these justifications are delusions! Anger, in any situation, is a destructive energy. And while this energy can dissipate over time, the consequences that fuse into the memories of our flesh cannot be undone. Hurtful, aggressive words, once they are out of our mouths, cannot be swallowed back again, no matter how many apologies follow.
Anger is a negative and damaging emotion. It depletes our creative energy and sense of integrity. There is no ‘positive’ way to be angry, because it is an aspect of our primitive brain, the defensive and territorial ego, which above all else, loves drama! Our drama loving ego is able to generate the cycle of highs and lows indefinitely, because emotions cannot be ‘reasoned’ with logic or analysis; we feel and experience emotions viscerally.
In a world where we no longer need to hunt and kill our own food, or fear our barbaric neighbours (in most parts of the world, anyway), the anger within us is manifested via our NEED for attention. Most arguments are initiated from our primitive need TO BE RIGHT, to feel a sense of (deluded) certainty about our identity.
So then, how do we take the angry bull by the horns and tame the animal in us?
We “get out of the way.” The ego is our primitive animal self, which asserts its identity at the expense of everything else, including our wholesome intention to be kind, compassionate and in true communication.
In the realm of creativity, feelings of anger and rejection are closely allied, and one of the most nurturing ways to heal both is to take up a creative practise. When you find a creative practise that fulfils the deepest need in you, which the mystic Osho describes as “something that rises as a wave in the innermost core of your being and spreads outwards…“, you begin to engage with your creative power as a participant, not as a reactive spectator. The thoughts you have before going to a dance class are ego-directed: “I've got two left feet, I'll look stupid!” “What about my reputation?” “This outfit makes me look fat,” “Only young people go dancing,” “I'm not fit enough,” and so on. Then, if you keep your word and just go anyway, and get involved in the action of learning to dance, at some point the self-criticism will stop and the ego will fall away. This is the experience of “getting your-self out of the way.”
My creative practise is writing, which I make the most important activity in my day. I notice on the days I do not write, that I feel a foreboding sense of self-rejection. And the more days that pass, and I do not write, my resentment, irritation and frustration grows. In the moment I am writing, the physical activity of sitting and doing, my whole attention is connected to a stream of equanimity beyond the highs and lows of emotions. A creative practise is about not craving acknowledgement and praise from others. Making mistakes and producing ‘rubbish’ does not matter. Sometimes, I edit a story or essay ten times before I'm happy with it. That's part of the deal.
For fifteen years after my first relationship, I continued to ingest anger and rejection, relationship after relationship, until I learned a different way to communicate, firstly with myself. Today, people are genuinely surprised when I tell them I've not had one argument with my husband in the ten years we've been together. This is not because I do not get angry or annoyed about things; it is because I remember to get ‘my-self out of the way’ before the words and emotion leaves my body. I catch my anger, walk away, and then take the time to question what really lies beneath. Letting go of the drama allows me to let go of every argument from the past and future, so that I can own my creative power to act with love in the present moment.