I Love my Shame and Anger - by Rik Midgley
In my journey to recognise and honour my emotions, my listening and valuing of my shame and anger was perhaps what led to the greatest shift. Previously, I perceived my shame and anger as expressions of overwhelm, of strong sensations with no apparent coherence, and met them with a compulsion to avoid or suppress. I would be left feeling lost and confused, exhausted and defeated, disconnected and stuck in some irrational thinking that was intent on finding blame, whether in myself or another. They did not appear to be supporting me to create the life that I was longing for!
I made a decision to have a different relationship with my body. I wanted to befriend it, to make space for all its emotional expressions, to listen to them with curiosity and a trust that the intension of the message they carry is to serve the body, and to enrich life. I believe that my body is hard wired to enrich life. If one of my senses brings a message that appears to suggest otherwise, then I questioned, perhaps this is due to my interpretation of it, rather than in what I am perceiving. I wanted to understand this emotional language, to tune into awareness of it, so as to reveal the meaning of this tangible discourse.
It was a leap of faith to step towards this, requiring relaxing into feeling, trusting the benevolent intension of my body, and simply be present to myself. It began with playfully observing my emotional response to my own thinking. I noticed how my own mental judgements landed as physical tangible expressions in my body. As I stayed in awareness to these feelings and sensations, I noticed that they were themselves in a flux, every moment moving and changing. In my curiosity, watching the play of sensations on my body, I realised that I could impact their evolution. At times when I continued my judgemental thinking, these feelings grew in intensity. This led to a sense of discomfort, and I noticed a tendency to avoid feeling it. As a way out, I would get lost in my thinking, and it could be a few minutes later before I’d realise that I had lost track of the process!
I learnt this lesson many times, and am still learning it. However, my capacity to focus my attention grows as I practice, as familiarity and a sense of safety develop. I slow down, pause, simply be with what is alive, allowing my attention to rest internally, silently listening. It is in these moments that the beauty of my inner world is revealed to me and I nurture my relationship with my feeling body. I have grown to appreciate shame and anger as my most life enriching emotions. I recognise their dance as the interplay between my longing for acceptance in my community and the tribulations of my ego. Moment by moment, he motions of this dance elicit how I define my sense of self.
I love my shame. My shame is like a candle in my heart which serves to continually remind me of how deeply I value my connection with others. Touched by the turbulence of my every thought, word and action, it flickers and glows in indication of my longing for acceptance from those that I share my life with. My shame is my sacred companion, holding alive the awareness that my safety in this world is in the shared hands of those around me. It is a beacon to remind me that our separation is an illusion, that by loving others, I am indeed loving myself.
If instead of staying in connection with my body and listening to the voice of shame, I give attention to my thinking, then I risk the hearing of a different message. This is our tendency in our modern culture. We are habituated to gravitate to the thinking mind, drawn by an addictive attraction. Once caught in thought, we risk ‘free wheeling’ rotational thinking that is disconnected with the feelings that underlie our every thought. With this anaesthetised perspective, our focus is left to follow the logic of our analysis. We arrive at a judgement of who is right and who is wrong, with no emotional connection or relationship with our calculations. The consequent attribution of blame can thus be made ‘robotically’, without responsibility and accountability, and devoid of emotional connection. This is violence.
If I blame myself, and tell myself in my thoughts that I was wrong, a sense of disgust and self-hate may arise, characterised by contraction and tension in the body core. This may build up if my blaming thoughts continue (such as ‘I shouldn’t have...’) and lead to intense, perhaps overwhelming feelings that are culturally labelled as shame but are now disconnected from the original stimulating energy. These new feelings arise from the energy of the judgement of self blame, and the sensitive and beautiful longing arising from original intuitive response are forgotten.
Alternatively I may blame another person as a way of discharging my uncomfortable or painful sensations. I polarise my thinking, believing that I am right and the other wrong, and an array of emotions may be stimulated, such as indignation, contempt and hatred. Again, these may build up if my blaming thoughts continue (such as ‘they shouldn’t have...’), potentially leading to overwhelming feelings of animosity and a sense of alienation of the other. This experience of disconnection I have heard labelled as rage. The sense of emotional feedback between mind and body is lost, and both feelings and thoughts spiral out of control in their own habitual patterns. A temper tantrum, a scream of hatred, and ultimately a begging for support and to be received with unconditional love in a language that may be so hard for the other to hear.
I love my anger. My anger is the reciprocal face of my shame. It lives as the same candle of awareness in my heart, although now my focus is upon the light that is cast inward. My anger illuminates what I perceive to be of value to me, that which I judge as serving me. Its longing to protect. Alive every moment, it lives in continual alertness, sensing for impact of any perceived thought, word or action. Its energy is of love, to serve life, to protect.
As with my shame, my cultured behaviour is to move attention to the thinking mind, driven by an aversion to the discomfort of the quality of the feeling. This is promoted by our cultured incapacity to be with emotions, imagining that they they are unsafe or overwhelming, which is perhaps a self fulfilling prophesy. As with my projected shame, my thinking is judgemental of the other (such as ‘you shouldn’t have...’), and there is a tendency to be stuck in the mind, with the capacity to feel and be attuned to the body being reduced in a complex cycle which leads to dissociation and violence.
My anger and shame act as guardians of my boundary. My anger and shame work in collaboration to protect and serve what is perceived as ‘I’ or ‘mine’. In doing so, they consolidate the illusion that there is a boundary between ‘I’ as an individual conscious entity, and the infinite evolving flow of life. Thus, what I hold as me or mine appears distinct and separate from what is external to me, or in some way other.
From the perspective of being a distinct living entity, the price of being alive is that I have needs; for example the physical structure which holds life and consciousness requires material and energy to sustain it. The interplay of shame and anger attempt to define the extent of this structural boundary, to protect what is within it to build safety.
My anger steps forward to protect what I think or imagine I need to enrich my life. With every fraction of a breath, my shame is there too, over-viewing, caring, loving. While watching everything that my anger reaches for, my shame evaluates how this could impact my relationship with others. My body feels with its visceral intuition, reaching into its instinctive longing for safety, and senses the dynamic subtly of the balance of what is needed.
There are times when I have imagined a kind of physical barrier around me, like some sort of malleable rubber blanket which stretches and gives as my emotions of anger and shame rise and dim. With a strong expression of anger emanating from judgemental thinking, I sense a vigorous and pointed stretch of this membrane towards the source of the judgement. With this, there is a vulnerable tension as the material becomes fragile under strain, more distant from my centre, and is open to be seen from new perspectives. As my shame arises, this surface recedes with the recognition of how I value connection to others. The tension softens, as I explore the balance of how these differing needs live in me.
My love for chocolate cake can be used as an example. Its my birthday, there’s the cake and a handful of friends. My anger arises, wanting to protect this sacred object from hungry eyes. My shame comes forward to remind me of the precious part these people contribute to my life. I celebrate my shame by handing out the cake, and in finding my balance, I hold a piece back for me. This is not from the energy of anger but rather in the realising of our togetherness, the gratitude for our sharing, and the celebration of our inter-relationship.
Within my shame there is an embedded knowing that there is no separation. We are inter-related connected beings enmeshed in the web of life. This ‘I’ is an illusion, we are a ‘We’. I am reminded of the intensity of this inter-relationship with the world with my every breath. The excrement of plants is the fuel for my living. In perceiving myself in some wider sense, I am inseparable from plants, as if they form a part of my lungs, be it that they sit external to it. Together we form one living entity.
My invitation in sharing this is to step towards shame and anger with curiosity and trust, remembering that these emotions are perpetually alive sources of feedback, grounded in intuition and life’s experience. It is an invitation to step towards the body with compassion, welcoming whatever is perceived moment by moment, and finding that space to simply be aware of its physical expression. It is an invitation to pause, with an allowing presence. To cultivate trust that the body is attuned to find a way. No diagnosis, no clever thinking, no seeking for underlying needs, as these involve going back into the thinking mind. This is simply allowing the body to find its words and express in its own language. It is a physical process, of giving space for the feelings settle, and allowing the body to land into clarity of what is of real value. The body’s voice is an energetic yearning from which words may emerge.
What I am describing here is a journey, from being trapped in the reactive habitual character of the thinking mind, towards being in awareness and choice. The choice that comes from nurturing the capacity to listen to both body and mind, hearing the wisdom and experience of both, to promote the making of conscious decisions. As we stretch to listen to the body, we cultivate a tendency to turn inwards, to hone this capacity for awareness. Our brains are plastic in that our neurons are constantly being regenerated. Just as water carves its path down the side of a mountain, in every moment of awareness, neural networks are built which promote the capacity awareness. With time, a new flows of neural network emerge and new patterns evolve. Where we are is a consequence of the past, this is not our choice. Our empowerment is our capacity to choose what we walk towards. We can choose what we want to become. This choice is our responsibility, and it is a decision to be made right now. Every journey begins with a step.
It is not the experience that is important, this is simply an expression of life flowing through us. What is of value is how the experience is received. Our liberation is in the quality of our listening.
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