This whole coronavirus thing is filling me with what English professor Phil Christman argues is masculinity’s biggest flaw: an “abstract rage to protect.”
By ‘protect’ I don’t mean the actual useful things a man (or anyone else) may do for other people… All functioning adults are ‘protective’ of others in this sense, to the best of their ability. Rather, I mean precisely the activities that stem from a fear that simple usefulness is not enough: that one must train and prepare for eventualities one has no reason to anticipate, must keep one’s dwelling and grooming spartan in case of emergencies, must undertake defensive projects that have no connection to the actual day-to-day flourishing of the people one loves.
When I read that I think of doomsday preppers storing water and cans of beans. I think of my dad — who grew up hunting in Virginia — tucking away guns around the house just in case. But I also see it in myself yelling at the TV and shitposting on social media the past few months.
There’s just so much to be angry about. Trump is a selfish, bumbling media savant who manages to stay in the spotlight while doing almost nothing. The Democratic Party is yet again failing to offer a real alternative to Trump’s racist, right-wing populism. Corporate-funded media ignores the pain and suffering of poor and working people. Rich people are getting bailed out while tens of millions lose their jobs.
I know there’s very little I can do about any of that. Sure, I can donate to organizations helping people less fortunate than me. I can refuse to use Amazon, especially when its workers go on strike. I can join a car protest to support the #CancelRent movement.
But one person can’t make the world fairer and less vicious. That would take a massive, multiracial movement demanding what Martin Luther King Jr. called a “radical redistribution of political and economic power.” Will that happen anytime soon? I hope so, but probably not.
Yet, reading that Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest person, has made $35 million every day the past three months, still pisses me off. “Are you kidding me?” the angry part of me yells in my mind. I fill with abstract rage — which has nowhere to go but my shoulders and neck.
My shoulders and neck… That’s the first step towards taking the edge off. If I can recognize that I’m clenching up, that I’ve been triggered, that I’m angry, there’s a chance I’ll find some levelheadedness and maybe even a little peace.
Recognize is the first step in a mindfulness practice called RAIN, which has been popularized by Tara Brach, one of my favorite meditation teachers.
“RAIN,” Brach writes, “directly de-conditions the habitual ways in which you resist your moment-to-moment experience. It doesn’t matter whether you resist ‘what is’ by lashing out in anger, by having a cigarette, or by getting immersed in obsessive thinking. Your attempt to control the life within and around you actually cuts you off from your own heart and from this living world. RAIN begins to undo these unconscious patterns as soon as we take the first step.”
President Trump is “what is.” A Democratic Party bought by corporations is “what is.” Capitalism is “what is.” Me being angry is “what is.”
But if I can take the first step — recognize the anger — then I’ve got a fighting chance to move on the next step, allow.
Allow means to accept “what is” as the way it is in this moment. As hard as it is to accept that a reality TV star is in power, it’s the truth. As hard as it is to accept that we don’t have the power to demand more coronavirus testing, let alone #MedicareForAll, it’s the truth. As shitty as feeling angry is, it’s how I feel right now, it’s the truth.
Allowing isn’t rolling over and giving up. It’s pressing pause on thoughts about how things should be. Yes, I shouldn’t be angry because, of course, capitalism sucks, but I am.
Pausing for a few seconds gives me more space internally to investigate, which is the “I” in RAIN.
Investigate means to find out what’s needed in this moment to calm the overwhelming emotion. Start with the body — what sensations accompany the emotion? My anger shows up as tightness in my shoulders and neck. It feels like I’m a battering ram or an NFL running back barreling towards the defensive line.
Then you ask yourself something like: what is this overwhelmed part of me believing right now? My angry part believes that if I yell loud enough, people will listen. If I convince just enough people on Facebook that capitalism sucks, then we’ll have that mass movement.
Brach notes, “While mental exploration may enhance our understanding, opening to our embodied experience is the gateway to healing and freedom. Instead of thinking about what’s going on, keep bringing your attention to your body, directly contacting the felt sense and sensations of your most vulnerable place.”
That is, keep an eye your body. The investigate step often begins to soften the tension. Avoid psychoanalyzing yourself — save that for your therapist or at least a close friend.
The last step in RAIN is nurture. I ask: what does my angry part of me need right now? I imagine it as an angry little kid. Everyone knows that rationalizing with children doesn’t work. My angry part just wants someone to listen, so I imagine sitting beside the little kid and listening. I sometimes imagine being joined by MLK, someone who turned their anger into political action.
As Buddhist teacher Pema Chödrön writes, “Whether it’s anger or craving or jealousy or fear or depression — whatever it might be — the notion is not to try to get rid of it, but to make friends with it.”
The idea with practices like RAIN and mindfulness meditation is to care for yourself when other resources aren’t available. They aren’t meant to replace therapy, close friends, or mentors. They just help take the edge off when no one who really gets you is around.
And taking the edge off of my anger keeps me focused on helping those around me and doing my part to build that mass movement we need, rather than posting on Facebook every time the world lets me down.
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