While many things were impressed upon me during my years training to be an actress (what feels like a lifetime ago), one of the lessons that stands out the most is that we contain the whole of the human experience and emotion.
As an actor, understanding that capacity is what allows us to dig into roles that are so different from our normal selves, embodying characters that would superficially appear to be unlike us.
We are not all light, we are not all dark. We are not all good, we are not all evil. We are not all selfless, we are not all self-absorbed and greedy.
These forces play out inside of us, changing the exact shade of grey for the day.
Two weeks ago, my friend Elizabeth and I took a trip down to North Carolina for a conference. A good conference can set your brain on fire, so of course we ended up talking into the night about our businesses and our lives. Eventually, we landed on a discussion of feeling and expressing our emotions. There are certain standards of behavior for men and women written into our society, and one start contrast is allowed expression of anger.
My particular societal education impressed upon me that it was not okay to allow true anger as part of my emotional repertoire. Milder forms could be acceptable, especially for the times when a lover cheated on me or I was part of some injustice. But true anger should be suppressed and hidden.
Yet, I’ve seen what bottling up and compressing anger has done, and the effects it’s had in my own life. I have been passive aggressive when angered, I stop speaking about my feelings, I close off to others. For some people, that suppression can lead to substance abuse or violence or can turn inward into eating disorders.
What I’ve learned from my acting training is that sometimes it’s healthiest to allow anger to truly move through your body, in a controlled situation. If I allow myself to fully feel and be in my emotion, it will subside and leave me, rather than linger with me, waiting for the right trigger to set me off.
When I returned home on Wednesday night, I had one of these moments. I’ll spare you the details, but let’s say that a 9-hour traffic-heavy drive plus hunger plus discovering someone had majorly failed to deliver on a promise plus a disorderly home left me exhausted and angry. I was pissed, and I knew I needed space to just feel what I was feeling. So I cleared the space of people and pets and let myself curse, scream, pound pillows — pretty much just throw a tantrum like a 2-year-old.
I allowed it all to move through and leave me. I let the anger be embodied and expressed so it would not be repressed. And once it was gone, it was gone. I could return to my rational self to make decisions and act from a place of peace and love around all that had happened.
Sometimes, I consider moments like that a personal manifestation of the goddess Kali.
The blue-skinned goddess Kali is often seen as fearsome, wearing a necklace of skulls (or severed heads), dripping in blood, carrying a sword. She has no permanent qualities, existing before the universe and after its end, so concepts like good, evil, right, and wrong don’t apply to her. She is creator and destroyer.
Anger itself is neither good nor evil. It is simply an emotion. We can use it to catalyze us to greater good when we channel it correctly, or it can manifest as violent acts if we fail to. Our feelings guide us and if we allow them to be our teachers rather than be controlled by them, there is so much we can learn.
So I choose to allow my emotions to be embodied fully in safe places, so I might discover the wisdom they have for me about the world that surrounds me.