My father was an only child. His parents emigrated from Eastern Europe. His father came from Lithuania. His mother came from Russia. They met and married in what was then known as Palestine. My father never met his grandparents. His family was small and self-contained.
When my father was 15, his mother fell ill with cancer. She died 2 years later. Their family became even smaller.
Many years later, when I was about 10 years old my grandfather, (my dad’s dad), died. My parents didn’t want my sister and me to attend the funeral, even though we were very close to my grandfather. They didn’t think it was appropriate. I wondered if my dad would cry for his dad. I asked him: ‘Are you sad about Saba’s death?’ He said: ‘I’m not sad, I’m angry. I’m angry that he’s gone’.
This conversation repeated when other relatives died, or during stressful situations. My dad was such a strong guy, and I was always trying to understand if he ever felt sad inside. I kind of wanted to see him cry, to reveal a softer weaker side. But he never did.
When I got a little older, I noticed that anger was my Dad’s way of operating in the world. He shouted, he argued, he blamed. Part of it was just the surly, tough character that many Israelis have (myself included). Israelis like to argue and fight. It comes from a long legacy of struggle.
What I came to understand was that my Dad replaced the emotions of sadness and fear with anger. He didn’t want to feel sad, weak, or vulnerable. So he held on to anger as strength, as a way to feel in control of the situation.
There can be many reasons why people hold on to anger and identify themselves with it. We say ‘I am angry’, as if that is the sum total of who we are. Yoga philosophy teaches us that we are much more than our thoughts and emotions, that there is something much deeper, and something higher behind those fluctuations of the mind.
Close your eyes and think of the last time you were angry. Maybe it was recent, or maybe it was so long ago, that you don’t even remember why you were angry. Try to feel what you felt in that moment of anger, physically and emotionally. Immerse yourself in that feeling for a moment.
Then, let it go.
Anger can be a very destructive emotion. We tend to think of anger like a weapon aimed at someone outside ourselves, to make them suffer, to hurt them. But actually, the angry person suffers the most. Being angry doesn’t feel good. It eats away at your insides.
The great spiritual master Neem Karoli Baba advised his student Ram Dass on dealing with anger: “love everyone and tell the truth”. Ram Dass responded: “but the truth is that I don’t love everyone”. Later he came to understand that what his teacher meant was this: “when you give up being who you think you are, this is who you will become. When you finish being your ego, you will be Soul. And the Soul is Love.” There will be no space for anything else but pure love.
Yoga gives tools to transform anger, to understand our own true nature: asana, conscious breathing, meditation, chanting, ethical practices, and more. We’re very lucky to have these time tested methods. Not everyone does.
At the end of his life, my Dad softened up a lot. When he was very ill and lying in a hospital bed, he would go in and out of different states of consciousness. Sometimes he would be transported back to himself as a boy and ask for his mother, or his father. When I reminded him that they’d died, he cried. He was no longer angry.
His anger had transformed into tears. Those tears were an expression of love.