You’re walking down a quiet street minding your own business when someone jumps out in front of you, points a gun at you, and demands all your valuables. You give up your ring, your phone and your wallet, and the robber takes off. Your first emotion is one of raw fear at the sight of a gun pointed at you. Once that begins to subside, there’s a sense of relief that it was only objects that you lost. But finally there's a feeling of deep anger at the audacity of this person to do that to you. You know you are completely justified in this anger.
You read about the recent economic crisis, about people losing their jobs and houses and maybe a whole way of life. You read about the poverty of children and people living on the streets. You then read about all the top-level people at the banks who seem to have caused much of the crisis and discover the huge bonuses they paid themselves. The anger wells up inside you at the nerve of such people to profit from the misery of others. This is surely a justifiable anger.
You’ve been in a relationship for some time with someone who you believe is a true love partner for you. A deep trust has developed between you and you feel safe inside the relationship. Then one day out of the blue you discover your partner is having an affair. You never saw it coming as you lived inside that safety. How dare this person you trusted treat you this way! You feel hurt, sad, and above all, angry, an anger you have no problem justifying.
The Normal View of Anger
Dealing with anger is a common element of most psychological therapies. An important part of the therapy is to get to the cause of the anger. In most cases suppressing the anger is the wrong approach. There should be some way to express it, hopefully in a way that is not too hurtful to someone else. But often it is recommended to confront someone you feel anger toward and through expressing yourself to that person, it is expected you will begin the healing process.
We also find anger as part of the Western religions. In their religious texts, anger is a common theme as we see men dealing with issues of power and sin and guilt. At times even God gets angry, and if God can be angry, then surely it’s appropriate for us to get angry at times, especially if that anger is directed at those who blaspheme God or attack the faithful of the church. The religious texts tell us these expressions of anger are entirely justified.
What about Jesus saying turn the other cheek? Surely this must be situational. If someone stabs you with a knife, do you say ‘Please stab me again’? Of course not. If someone molests a child, do you offer another child? Of course not. Even suggesting such things makes you angry! We have to protect ourselves and our loved ones, don’t we?
In these situations you use your anger to strike back however you can, often using anger to mobilize your energy. Anger seems to become a positive force allowing us to break out of a mode of fear and lethargy and do something that can appear to be heroic. Clearly heroism is justified.
Anger and the Course
In the Course we learn that everything happens in the mind and what we believe is outside the mind is an illusion we are projecting. We learn there is a part of our mind we call the ego. The ego has one and only one purpose – to maintain the idea of separation, our belief in separation from God and in separation from others. The ego will do whatever it can to fulfill its mission, and through our choices we are willing partners with the ego.
There is another part of our mind called the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the part that remembers our connection to God. It is the communications link from our illusionary mind in this world back to the True Mind of God. Through contact with the Holy Spirit we can choose away from the ego, a choice toward love and peace.
The Course says this about anger,
Anger cannot occur unless you believe that you have been attacked, that your attack is justified in return, and that you are in no way responsible for it. (T-6.in.1)
Just as we’ve seen in our examples, you first believe you have been attacked, which then allows you to feel justified in attacking in return knowing you are absolved of any responsibility because you did not initiate the first attack. But what’s really happening here? Since everything occurs first within the mind, the ego has projected the illusion of the first attack. When you attack back, you then perpetuate the action of the ego, which leads to more attacks seeming to come your way. There is no way out of this endless cycle, except through understanding what is really going on. The change has to occur in the mind.
All anger is nothing more than an attempt to make someone feel guilty… (T-15.VII.10)
The whole idea of feeling better through expressing your anger falls apart when you realize your ego is simply taking the guilt you feel and projecting it onto another through anger. You want that other person to feel guilty for what appears to have happened to you, but in reality no matter how much you want to believe otherwise, you created it all in the first place. The anger you express and the guilt you project increases your sense of separation, which naturally feeds into the ego’s plan.
Your safety in this world will never come through anger.
[The ego is] dedicated to but one insane belief; that the more anger you invest outside yourself, the safer you become. It is this chain that binds the Son of God to guilt, and it is this chain the Holy Spirit would remove from his holy mind. (T-15.VII.4)
Only through connecting with the Holy Spirit within, only through forgiveness, can this chain be broken. Through the practice of forgiveness, you can take this anger and with the help of the Holy Spirit, forgive all those associated with these events. Pass all the feelings of anger and fear and guilt to the Holy Spirit where they will simply disappear. Finally forgive yourself as well.
Through continual forgiveness, momentary feelings of anger can be instantly forgiven, and you will begin to see how anger is a useless and debilitating emotion, an emotion that will simply fade away as you continue to forgive.
Seeing Others Differently
There is an original guilt we feel for having believed we separated from God. All the other layers of guilt we experience are an outgrowth of this original guilt. We use anger to try to hide from this guilt by projecting it onto others who share this world with us. The Course asks us to see these others differently, not as the guilty, but as our brothers.
This brother neither leads nor follows us, but walks beside us on the selfsame road… We make no gains he does not make with us, and we fall back if he does not advance. Take not his hand in anger but in love, for in his progress do you count your own. (T-31.II.6)
Lesson 93 in the Workbook offers us a simple answer to the temptation of anger,
Should you be tempted to become angry with someone, tell him silently, ‘Light and joy and peace abide in you. Your sinlessness is guaranteed by God.’ (W-93.11)
You are sinless and guiltless and all the others around you are sinless and guiltless. This is our Natural State within the Loving Mind of God. All those on the road with us share this State and through seeing anger for what it is and applying forgiveness, we can learn to recognize what is our birthright as Children of God.
God's peace can never come where anger is, for anger must deny that peace exists. Who sees anger as justified in any way or any circumstance proclaims that peace is meaningless, and must believe that it cannot exist… Therefore, forgiveness is the necessary condition for finding the peace of God. More than this, given forgiveness there must be peace. (M-20.3)