Friday, February 27, 2009

More Thoughts on Anger

In my previous post, I asserted the importance of acknowledging anger as vital to our health and central to self-knowledge (emotional literacy). But it is complicated. How do I honor my anger but still create more compassion in myself and in the world? Until recently, these felt like mutually exclusive mindsets. I'm only now beginning to reconcile my internal split--between the positives and negatives of my Midwestern upbringing. I'm relearning a spirituality without succumbing to a little-girl piety. My piousness may have looked good to my neighbors but it also repressed and distorted my true spirit.

With time, I gain more perspective on the pendulum swings of my inner journey. If I was the overly sweet girl who lacked basic self-knowledge and assertiveness, I grew into a tough woman who lost track of the tenderness in myself (for more on this, see my recent review of the movie “Wall-e). I see this same split or swing in others. The challenge is to both allow anger while not becoming overwhelmed or obsessed by it. An Olympian task! Still, to live fulfilling lives where we nurture ourselves and others, we must learn to walk this razor-edge.© Lewis-Barr 2008
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Monday, February 23, 2009

Anger--The Great Taboo

While I’ve never lived in another country, I have lived for long periods in the Midwest and California. As I moved from one region to another, I felt a seismic shift between two cultures that seemed radically different in their approach to emotions. Were my encounters atypical? Perhaps. Still, as I contemplate my 20-year study of the “inner life,” I’m fascinated by the differences I found—especially regarding anger.

At 26, I left the Midwest (and the Catholic Church) and moved to California. I began a 10-year odyssey, exploring theatre arts, psychology, and “consciousness studies” in Berkeley, San Francisco, and other mind-bending communities. I was surrounded by groups who explored their emotions without dodging the great taboo—anger. With talented professionals and earnest friends, I intrepidly began to explore my own inner minefield--sore spots, wounds, (complexes for the Freudian/Jungians out there) and springs of anger.

When I returned to the Midwest I, felt immediately disoriented. My family and friends seemed to have a radically different set of norms. While I had painstakingly learned to identify my feelings and gently admit them to others—now even the slightest acknowledgement of anger seemed to threaten my companions. All my hard-won inner knowledge and commitment to honest communication was suddenly destroying a fragile emotional ecosystem I no longer understood (or appreciated).

I’ve been back in the Midwest for 12 years now, longer than the time I spent in exotic California. I continue to explore my own inner landscape and the taboo of anger. In my workshops, it seems to be the emotion that most haunts my participants, especially the women. When I discovered the field of emotional intelligence, I was grateful for its validation of my own beliefs—that anger was a necessary emotion that should be examined, not repressed.

Have you experienced cultural differences regarding comfort with different emotions?
© Lewis-Barr 2008
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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Finally saw "Wall-e." Wow!

I finally saw the movie “Wall-e.” (Spoiler alert—discussion of movie themes follow.) It is a fabulous meditation on learning to love and balance our work (our "directive") with love. Why was I so affected by the struggles of two robots? Both characters felt deeply true to me—both expressed a deep archetypal dimension of modern life.

The bumbling, trembling Wall-e reminds me that heroes can be (and often are) afraid. His example calls me to act courageously (writing a revealing blog post) despite my own terror. Wall-e’s selflessness and generosity also inspired me. No matter the circumstance, this tender hero would introduce himself and learn the name of each character he meets. Could I also spread more love into the world through simple kindness and attention to others?

Eve is a tough-minded probe: she shoots first and asks questions later. I’m struck by the familiar archetype and irony of it--the sleek, efficient, working woman in charge of finding/restoring life is a sterile machine without any warmth herself. How familiar to me! I see myself and many other modern women--cut off from our natural tenderness. We serve our directives and nothing else—our machine-like precision focused on an ideal of house, family, and job. Like Eve, I have a powerful dedication to my vocation that can sometimes overwhelm other parts of my life. How fortunate that Wall-e pursues her. As I watched Eve soften and discover love, I felt myself soften.

Wall-e and Eve are both wonderful and flawed—just like all real people. Eve will probably always be a workaholic but Wall-e loves her despite (or maybe because of) this trait. One of the most moving moments of the movie is when Wall-e insists that Eve continue her work, despite his great need for her help. He is acting from principle, seeking the greatest good for the world, but he is also loving Eve in a remarkable way. He is supporting her to follow her own powerful instincts—to be her true self. That’s love.

In Wall-e, both characters refuse conformity and fight for their own unique paths in their work and in love. I’m reminded to do the same.

What movie has inspired you?

© Lewis-Barr 2008
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