As I continued on my path of inner unfolding, I was confronted with some challenges, one of which I will call "the beast." What is this "beast"? Let me begin by recalling that the Tarot card called "Strength," which corresponds to the eleventh letter of the Hebrew alphabet, "caph or kaph," shows a strong woman holding closed the jaws of a lion. As I became more aware of my inner movements, I realized that there was indeed a beast within me that needed to be restrained and tamed. Sometimes when this beast takes over, I feel that I lose control, my actions become somewhat irrational and instinctual and can lead to aggressive or defensive behavior towards others, even towards those I love.
For example, a companion makes a comment that, because of lack of information, I construe to be critical of me. Maybe it was just her tone of voice or the look on her face that I interpret as judgmental. Instead of asking for more information, I fill in what I assume she meant. The beast takes over. I may strike back with a remark or a look without even thinking. But if I take the other path and use my inner strength to control the beast, it can become the "king of beasts," and be transformed into expansive thoughts and noble feelings uniting me with other human beings. Instead of interpreting her tone as a threat, I can see it as an expression of her pain or a call for help. Then I respond with empathy and look for ways I can help, even if it is just with a smile or a kind word. This realization has given me some power. Now, each day I work to learn to control the lion and not allow the beast to control me.
Let me tell you a little bit about this process.
In the beginning, the hardest thing was to realize that the beast worked on an unconscious level in me. I simply wasn't aware that it was stealthily sneaking up on me, and before I knew it, it overpowered me! Out came the feeling-thought that caused me to be angry and defensive or aggressive. When I was in this state, I could not stop the flow of energy. I was already flooded with anger and the accompanying physical reactions and supporting thoughts. My work has been to discover how to detect the approach of the beast of thoughts and feelings, so as to control it before it is too late. When I realize in time that it has arrived and I am reacting, it is still possible to escape its claws.
I have asked myself, "Has losing my temper produced positive results?" What my uncontrolled anger has produced in others has been a defense that usually triumphed in a battle with my irrational behavior. I remember a very frustrating experience with a dealer over a car I had, which broke down frequently and nobody could fix. It all came to a head one day. I got very angry with the car dealer. I lost control, or I could say the beast gained control. I used all the tactics I had in my anger repertoire. I cried, I accused, I swore, and I threatened. I even carried out one threat and wrote a nasty note to the dealer's national customer service. The result? The car was still not fixed and customer service wrote that the dealer said I was hysterical and irrational. My efforts had been a complete failure.
Many years later, an angry parent at my school lashed out at me. The play yard gate did not stay closed securely. Though I attempted to address his complaint and fix the gate, he left angry and upset. I remained silent, I didn't react, my arms were "holding closed the jaws of the lion." However, his anger not abated, he wrote to the licensing agency and I was contacted for my point of view. I wrote back my view of the situation and his angry reaction. The incident was excused-without anger or defense on my part. It seemed that years of work had paid off. When the beast of my temper was baited, I was able to control it. Instead of reacting to the parent's suggestions that seemed aggressive to me with a counter attack of my own, I had remained calm and was able to address his complaint.
Can it really be that simple? I am not so sure. Inner life and working with thoughts and feelings happens at many levels simultaneously. Although I did manage to control my reaction on that occasion, I was unaware of what was brewing beneath my consciousness. Eight months later, someone close to me complained about the gate not closing properly and advised me to fix it right away. I blew up, got angry, and all my reactions poured out. And when I defended myself, it was me, the angry one, who was at fault. I hadn't worked the situation out. Not only had I not fixed the gate adequately so there would be no more problems with it, I had repressed my reaction to the angry parent's accusation. The anger was still there, not worked out or processed, waiting for the right moment to make itself known. This has led me to realize that the beast, if not fully recognized and addressed, continues to lurk in the depths of my consciousness. I need to be honest with myself, alert to its presence and realistic in healing problems at their root.
Also, with more distance from the situation and some hindsight, I see that I could have been more proactive with the parent's suggestion. I could have validated his concern for the safety of his child and all the children. I could have thanked him for helping me with his wider viewpoint. But instead, I used my energies to control the beast lurking within me, aware that it might take control at any moment.
What I have grown to appreciate is that the beast is a great teacher. Working to know it, to accept its reality, to take it and use it has allowed me to learn a lot about myself in my efforts to tame my angry responses. I am learning to identify what triggers my anger. Deep down there is fear: I feel threatened. But this is the instinct of self-preservation kicking in. Looking at the situations that I have reacted to in anger, I have to acknowledge that none of them has truly been life-threatening. But when I perceive something only at the instinctual level, I often misperceive it. I am in the process of learning to wait for a short time, a matter of seconds, to give time for my rational mind to take over. With objective observation, I can perceive the situation in a less threatening way and find more useful and cooperative responses to situations and relationships.
The strength and self-knowledge that I have gained by taming the beast of my anger is also used to discipline other inner reactions. The beast can take different forms, such as worry and anxiety. These reactions also cloud my understanding and rationality and weaken my responses. When I don't give free rein to my emotions, I have space to look at situations from a greater perspective. Worry and anxiety may have some justification, but they are sometimes based on the fear of an uncertain future. With some control I can observe my worry habit and look at the root of my anxiety. I can look at the situation more objectively. There is so much work I can do-it is a lifetime of building inner awareness.
For example, I found I had the habit of starting the day worrying. When I decided to look at this habit, I found there was really nothing to worry about. The day would unfold, perhaps not as I expected, but why worry about what I could do nothing about? I wasn't able to change this habit from one day to the next, and it took some time and attention. I was kind of fond of that beast, but I was committed to living differently, so I kept at it little by little, day by day. I now know that there are much better ways to direct my thoughts and energy, and I will not let the beast stop me from living with that level of consciousness and empowerment.
What has the lion controlled by the strong woman shown me? When the lion is controlled, there is space for its large heart to make itself known. Instead of anger, there is willingness to listen to the car dealer and see his point of view. I can appreciate the concern a parent has for the safety of his child, instead of seeing it as a threat. I can accept my inability to respond to his concerns at a particular time. The heart does not feel threatened. It knows that it is not diminished by a frustrating situation or a different point of view. The energy that was used to worry can be directed to care for others or to think in gratitude of what the day may bring, even the challenges. Each one of these thoughts and feelings bring me closer to others.
My path has not only helped me become aware of both the potential destructiveness and expansiveness of my emotional response, it has also given me a method to gain strength and control. I can now choose to nurture the emotions I feel more deeply express who I truly am, what I long to be in this journey of my life. The meditation exercise that I struggled with in the beginning has become an effective tool for becoming aware of my emotional state and practicing a more expansive response. It has also helped me to know myself better and be able to detect the presence of the beast about to take control. As I walk the path and remain faithful to the method it provides, I develop the confidence that I will someday have the calm and self-possessed presence of the strong woman holding closed the jaws of the lion.
Do you want to walk with me? What beasts do you find in the forest of your inner world? How can you look behind that tree, find them, and take control? Let me know, and we can continue to dialogue about this journey we share.
Other articles in the series "The Peace of a Meaningful Life" by Diana Autumn are