I once wrote a short poem:
“my heart is a trampoline.
you can jump up and down on it
and I will bounce right back.”
Perhaps that’s not always true.
In fact, it’s just a thing I say to carry on. The real truth is that my heart also contains a little landfill,
where the buried anger has not quite broken down all the way. The polymer residue of events and conversations that challenge my tolerance and patience, that cover up the kindness, are like the plastic in the real landfil;
here to stay, it seems.
And somehow I think it’s my job to clean things up. You know, to be healthy and happy. Just for the sake of relief and enjoyment. Maybe this is the job of every person, not just mothers tending home and babies. We’re used to cleaning up messes. Especially the kinds of messes that return every day, like dirty socks to wash and crusty pots to scour, and cat pee— (give that one up! Only fire works. And maybe rainwater, but I’m still testing that experiment. Perhaps acid rain is the main ingredient in Nature’s Miracle.)
Like plastic and animal urine, or war and violence, pain and anger are going to be with me, likely until near the time of my death, when the only thing I can do is give up the exercise of living. Wouldn’t it have been better for me to give those things up long before that moment? Maybe it could happen. That I could achieve a state of enlightenment so brilliant that all of my suffering was disintegrated by luminescent love and gratitude.
I secretly wish for that, but let’s be real for a second: has anyone like that ever existed? Even Jesus was throwing around tables in the synagogue. If only I had a table to throw. That would be such a relief.
I used to be a ruminating smoker. Here are two of the most unhealthy means of processing anger: to ruminate brings severe depression, as thoughts circle until there is no way out of the labyrinth, bringing an acute sense of hopelessness, desperation and dependency. To smoke brings loss of life.
Somewhere along the way I was able to put down the cigarettes. I remember how I did it. First I started taking a pill that masked the nicotine receptors in my brain, and second, I took up sewing. Hopeless, empty hands needed a new set of motions.
Over time, I began to feel significant relief from the hopelessness. What I learned and what I can say with confidence is that anger is biodegradable, even when it regenerates afresh. But first, it needs to go through processing. It belongs in the compost bin, not the landfil. Once processed in this way, the packaging is much more convenient to life. The processing and composting of my pain involves five specific themes:
The first is a focus on something totally unrelated to the current pain. Distraction works on toddlers, and apparently also on me.
The second involves a physical activity that accompanies the focus.
The third is a challenging and tedious mental activity that is enmeshed in the focused task. It’s going to need to be something that takes time—stress chemicals will remain and operate under the surface of everything I do, and leak into conversations and relationships. An activity that allows for some healthy solitude can be incredibly healing.
The fourth is a clearly defined purpose (example: I’m starting with this pile of scraps to make x.) Working on creative, artistic activities provides a way to temporarily transform the stain, the black spot in my heart. It also helps to fill the hollow emptiness of loss. The results of my efforts are kind of like compost: useful for growth. Fertile elements from darkness. Incubators for seeds of future projects.
The fifth involves attention to spirit. Prayer. Meditation. Surrender. If this attention is also accompanied by time in nature, the result is more lasting and uplifting. I love to be refreshed in nature.
If you want to skip all five steps and get immediate relief in a short amount of time, hard running also has a similar affect.
If only I were at the point in my skill of composting pain to be able to let all things pass straight through. To let the anger and the pain burn with their toxic chemicals, to be set free of the negative downward pull on my psyche without the physical, material component.
Perhaps that state of being involves the recognition of something I fail to see in the blurry smear of being upset. Have I, like a stubborn mule, been led to some refreshing peaceful clean water to drink, but refuse to touch my lips to the surface? How have I missed the message? To simply accept a gift of peace; a thing perhaps undeserved but given, the renewable resource like water for the fire. The message floats up to me now: release. Do not attempt escape.