My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird -
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.
Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,
which is mostly standing still and learning to be
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all ingredients are here,
which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.
~ Mary Oliver ~
In some spiritual and psychological circles we often hear unambiguous proscriptions against the emotion of anger. However, in many indigenous traditions, anger is not experienced with the same suspicion one finds in Western psycho-spiritual circles. While ancient teachings regarding anger do not condone aggression, they do not unequivocally assume that feeling the emotion of anger will lead to hostility or violence. In fact, they tend to revere anger as an innate human emotion which may be utilized on behalf of the earth community without inflicting harm. Ancient teachings often include practices for "uploading" the raw emotion of anger to higher chakras or physiological energy centers on behalf of preserving boundaries or protecting the innocent-both of which are characteristics of the non-aggressive warrior.
Anger is one of the Five Stages of Grief articulated by the death and dying researcher, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. As I noted in Sacred Demise, in the context of those stages, anger shows up in reaction to a loss. First we feel shock and denial, then move into anger which may include frustration, anxiety, irritation, embarrassment, and shame. Subsequently, we move into depression and grief, followed by bargaining, then acceptance and re-investment in our lives. As Kubler-Ross emphasizes, none of the stages are neatly detached from the others. We tend to move through them fluidly, with each stage somewhat blurring into the next stage or containing remnants of the last one.
In the process of preparing emotionally to navigate the coming chaos, it is crucial to examine each stage of grief, to note where we have been in the process, to look at where we are in the moment, and to honor each emotion along the way. Many people today are stuck in anger because they have not allowed themselves to move through it into mindful grieving. In fact, I believe that the United States, and many nations throughout the world are currently mired in anger. In 2009, author and spiritual teacher Caroline Myss, stated in her article "An Epidemic of Global Anger": "We are a community of nations on fire with anger. And we are getting angrier by the day. Whether we look at the increase in uprisings occurring around the world or at the escalating tension brewing in America, what is becoming more apparent is that we are witnessing a rapidly increasing rate of global anger, so much so that it qualifies as an epidemic."
Many Americans are enraged at their government. Some who have been researching the demise of the current paradigm and understand the self-destructive aspects of corporate capitalism, the limits of economic growth, and the unsustainability of a civilization dependent on fossil fuels feel angry because their leaders refuse to acknowledge what is so. As their minds have been awakened, so have their emotions, and anger has been part of the process. But as they have come to understand that industrial civilization itself is collapsing, they are likely to have stopped wanting to repair and improve it and have begun to entertain a larger picture of how they could join with allies in constructing a new paradigm and a new culture.
It is likely that for these individuals, anger metamorphosed into deep grief or despair as a feeling of powerlessness to "fix" civilization set in. Implicit in the emotion of anger is the sense that something can or must be done to alter the that has evoked anger. As one comes to understand the inevitability of the unraveling of industrial civilization and the futility of attempting to prevent it, one may in fact experience a sense of relief that collapse is beyond control and proceeds in its own way, in its own time. One grasps that our mandate as a species is to move with the demise, not against it, and find within the unraveling a greater purpose than the one civilization has offered, proceeding with the work we came here to do. At that point, even though we may carry some residue of denial or anger, and even though our willingness to see what is so puts us directly in the path of deep grief, the embrace of our purpose and our role in the collapse process, is in itself a re-investment in our lives and the well being of the earth community.
However, the individuals I have just been describing do not comprise the vast majority of those in the United States or the world who are fixated in anger because they are also fixated in denial. One cannot move through the Five Stages of Grief if one does not move beyond denial. Refusing to see what is so guarantees that the journey through the stages will not occur. So whether one is an enraged Muslim suicide bomber or a vitriolic white, middle class Tea Party enthusiast, one's emotional state and behavior belie an inordinately diminished perspective of reality, resulting in a desperate need for vituperative scapegoating. In other words, fixation in anger.
The Mary Oliver poem above about loving the world which in part means reveling in the sensual delight of nature which means becoming "accustomed to savoring that which is momentous, concealed within bare bones simplicity." It also means a profound gratitude which the poem describes as "mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here." The world has given us stupendous gifts which Oliver says causes her to "stand still and learn to be astonished."
But does our gratitude for the world mean that we should never be angry about the injustice or self and eco-destruction its inhabitants have perpetrated upon each other and the earth community? Certainly not, but being deeply connected with our purpose in the world provides perspective that buoys us and allows us to keep moving forward when the magnetic pull to become fixated in anger may feel irresistible.
When we are intimately familiar with our purpose, we understand that the world is not paradise, it is not a vacation resort, and it is not a place to which we have come to live in perpetual bliss. Rather, the world is comprised of both the magnificent wonderment and extraordinary beauty depicted by Mary Oliver as well as the horrors engineered by a species about to become successful in its incalculable attempts to commit suicide.
Author and spiritual teacher, Marshall Vian Summers, writes in his book Greater Community Spirituality: