why i embrace rage

I was thinking about PJ Havey last night, and the night before that, too. I think about her a lot. I have a great memory of some time in the mid-90s when my big sister was in high school, and I was in middle school. It was spring. We were rollerblading around the state park (yeah, rollerblading) and she was teaching me the lyrics to “Sheela na gig.” We were rocking the fuck out and making more than a few people uncomfortable, including our dad, who objected to his 12-year-old daughter singing about “dirty pillows.” Go figure.

I included PJ on my Women Who Inspire Tumblr today because I love her, and I love her music. But most of all, I love her rage.

I’m not what you would call an angry person, but I do believe in embracing anger. Women in particular seem to think they should never be angry. How many times have I heard some woman saying, “I don’t mind,” when they clearly do mind? In the interest of being polite and being liked, women shut up and pretend everything is OK when it’s not.From an early age, PJ’s music impressed upon me the importance and power of anger.

This may sound crazy coming from a yoga teacher. We’re supposed to be all about peace, right? But while peace is our goal, anger is a part of human nature. It’s a part of what happens out there in the world — life is complicated, you know? Sometimes you get hurt. Sometimes you get angry. But when you deny the anger and pretend you don’t mind, nothing helpful comes of that. You just stuff it and feel shitty about it because on one hand you’re angry at whatever is going on, and on the other hand, you’re upset with yourself for being angry.

That. Is. Ridiculous.

I’ve been told that some people find me scary. I have been mystified as to why until I realized how many people, especially women, deny their anger. I don’t do that. I’m very honest with people, and I guess sometimes that’s scary. That’s fine, though. I’m not a mean person. I never try to do actual harm to anyone. In fact, I hate to see anyone get hurt physically, emotionally, financially or otherwise. My anger isn’t a tool for harm or destruction. It’s just a fact of life and one that I prefer to be honest about.

The thing about anger is that once you recognize it, you’re free to act. I can’t do better than Thich Nhat Hanh to describe how to manage anger, so you should watch this video. If you don’t have time to listen to everything  he has to say, here’s my one-sentence summary:

Acknowledge and accept the anger, sitting with it lovingly until it dissipates or the appropriate action becomes clear. (This really isn’t sufficient to summarize what he said, so I strongly encourage you to press play on this one.)

When PJ Harvey is on stage, she performs. She’s not necessarily angry. Just look at how calm and collected she is. She knows what she’s doing. Do you think that means she wasn’t angry at some point? No. There is probably real anger and real events behind her music. But what we see when she’s on stage is the result of intelligently (mindfully) processing that anger. I’m not saying PJ is perfect or that any of us can always do the right thing with our anger. But I do believe that isf we embrace it mindfully, we can become better for it. We can make it into art, political action, or maybe just a much-needed conversation.

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