There is a death that occurred when I became a mother. It didn’t happen right away. In fact, like a successful Broadway show, I had a tremendous run, lasting about four good years. During my pregnancy, childbirth, and the early years, I was shielded from this recognition. I realize that it wasn’t physical death that I felt breathing into me, but rather the death of most all the other parts of me outside of being “mother.” It was my client who recently reminded me that I had once referred to the fours as, “The fucking fours.” Clearly my Broadway show was ending its run. I now realize that the wake-up call came around that time and I began to feel the ill effects of selflessness and endless devotion at the cost of my Self. I liken it to being given a Zen Koan which asks, “Who are you left with as she grows into herself?” This question revealed itself in many forms: illness, sleeplessness, depression, and as importantly, becoming a person my best friend and I promised we would never become: a mother who speaks only of her child. I was becomming dead mom walking.
I gave up many parts of myself in service to mothering (as many women do) in order for my child to thrive. Or so I thought. Being a parent takes considerable time, energy, and focus. A mother selflessly gives of her time and energy. Yet, even though a person engaged in mothering may work selflessly all day and night, she does not receive the same respect that is bestowed upon those who work outside the home. Even though I continued my psychotherapy practice throughout my daughter’s first few years, I never mentioned to anyone in my community that I was a therapist. And for those who know me, understand how truly impassioned I am by my work. The imbalance was staggering and came at quite a cost. Even worse, I was now becoming angry dead mom walking.
Around that time, I had a dream that I was at a meditation retreat and was greeted by a teacher, who reached out her arm to me and said, “So, you’re in the rage group. Now I have to be a lion tamer as well.” She sighed in the way someone who has just received an unpleasant assignment sighs. Coincidence? How did she know I was so angry? And how could I transform this death walk into a meditation walk?
I grew up in a home that was filled with people who were angry and people who were afraid of anger. I have heard the saying, “There are those who give nervous breakdowns and those who get them.” As if those are the only two options. But there is some wisdom in that adage. Expressing anger and fearing anger are just two sides of the same old coin. I can confidently admit that I have held both sides with equal fervor. Which side are you holding?
I spent decades trying to get rid of the root of my anger. And then I got married and had a child. I now see it’s just not going to happen. Perhaps anger is not something to be eradicated, but another gate to enlightenment, as are all things. Anger employed for the purpose of enlightenment? Why not? I used birthing pains as a path of profound letting go which led to ecstatic effect. Why not anger? I personally know of no human being who is free of anger so we may as well make friends with it and learn what it has to teach us. Anger is a natural resource, like some of our food scraps. We don’t necessarily want it in the living room but it makes great compost.
We will get angry at our children and our partners. We will get angry at our parents and siblings. And if you’re lucky enough to be truly intimate with a friend, eventually you will be angry with that person as well. You can count on that. And as in love with our kids as we are, sometimes we just want to drop them off somewhere safe and get on a flight to Bali. Knowing that, we need not add suffering to the pain of anger by berating ourselves for our angry feelings. We can make choices about what we’d like to do with that anger during the calm times. So here are a few thoughts I came up with. I call it a recipe for using anger as a gateway – a way to wake up.
Recipe for using anger as a gateway:
- Know you’re angry. This step sounds easy but it’s not. Sometimes we project anger onto others and blame them for what we are feeling. Everything we feel is ours.
- Don’t add anything to that ingredient. Shame and guilt make the recipe bitter.
- Feel what anger feels like in your body. Let it dance freely without acting it out and see what it does.
- After doing those three steps choose your course of action.
Cook and serve.
Some ideas for how to use the leftovers:
When we experience anger, even if we enter the gate and the anger dissolves, there can still be residue of anger in our bodies. These leftovers need strong physical release. Some ways to prepare this leftover energy are:
- Drum. The kids can join in. That way you will not only get the angry energy out of your body you will also teach the kids to do the same.
- Scream into a pillow, shower, or while sitting in the car, alone. Alternately, you can beat the stuffing out of the pillow.
- Walk fast. Throw the little ones in the baby carrier or stroller and the big ones on bikes or let them stay home. Walk quickly. Feel your body.
- Dance to songs that have a strong staccato beat. Get yourself to a 5rhythms Dance class where you can visit each of your emotional states in all of its intimacy.
It is this recipe mixed with a lot of loving kindness that I hope to pass on to my daughter.