One of the earliest Jewish mystical works, Sefer Yetzirah, the book of Creation, offers us insight into the essence of the month of Tevet, the current Hebrew month. According to Sefer Yetzirah, the month of Tevet is endowed with the quality of רוגז, anger. Many people would be quick to classify anger as a “negative” emotion and, in so doing, join an ancient tradition suggesting that anger is spiritual poison and to be avoided at all costs, but Sefer Yetzirah invites us to think differently.
We decry anger because we so often lose control under its influence, acting harmfully towards ourselves, others, or our environment.* To add insult to injury, anger often leads to blaming, shaming, and wronging. Moved by our anger, we point strongly at the other, acting in ways that can violate relationship, care, and consideration. Or we may suppress and run away from our anger, maintaining a facade of calm or niceness at the expense of authenticity and honesty, and likely fueling resentment or judgment within. When anger arises, whether we explode or contract, we end up suffering from a rupture in connection with ourselves or others and losing our sense of presence and alignment.
There is another way.
A verse from Tehilim ד/Psalms 4, guides us in working with רוגז, with anger. We are enjoined, רגזו ואל תחטאו, “quake and do not transgress.” רוגז literally means quaking, a shaking or trembling that can be felt in the body.
Quaking is a classic example of how animals and humans discharge pent up energy from a fight/flight response and can be an important part of incorporating what has happened to us and returning to a sense of agency and empowerment. If we bring our attention to the body in moments of fear or anger, we can feel into and through the quaking or other sensory dynamics of the emotion present, learning to allow them to dance their dance in our bodies and expanding our capacity to hold their energy without becoming reactive.
Robert Augustus Masters in his work, The Anatomy and Evolution of Anger offers us a model for how we might do this, coining the phrase ‘heart anger.’ In embodying heart anger, we connect with the full force of our anger but without losing connection to the heart. By allowing ourselves to stay in connection in this way, we can witness the distinction between anger and violence.
In a recent workshop I experienced this quite clearly. Whereas in the past I’ve found myself more ‘managing’ my anger, suppressing it, or trying to reframe it, here I was supported in allowing the feeling of anger to arise and spread out, coming up from my loins, bringing centeredness, purpose, directedness, power and strength, but with none of the violent or uncontrolled forcefulness I might have expected. It put me strongly in touch with my will in a way that would enable me to be an empowered representative of my needs. From that in-touchness I had a clear sense of choice about whether and how to act.
In this mode, learning to embody anger, I am brought to a fiery authenticity where I stand powerfully in the fullness of my experience, letting my anger ground me in faithfulness to what is important and dear to me.
From this place, my anger can be part of a deepening and meaningful intimacy in relationship. Anger, like the palette of other emotions, can be a way of expressing and being in relationship. Taking responsibility for our anger (I am angry because I… rather than I’m angry because you…), where our anger is putting us in touch with what matters to us, with what’s important to us, allows anger to support connection.
It is not by chance that anger is a common biblical expression of God’s relationship to the people Israel. It is a model of covenant, of relationship which cares, and of compassionate wrath. Indeed when God gets angry at Israel it is a response to a violation of the covenant and the faithfulness which we are called to, to stay in relationship. On the receiving end, when we encounter anger in this way and listen for the need giving rise to it, we can hear it as the exclamation point driving home how important what’s being shared with us is to the other. Rather than responding in counter attack, we can respond with empathy and use the anger to connect with the other’s vulnerability, to forge a greater intimacy through its fire.
When we learn to engage anger this way we create a tikkun/healing of violence, also commemorated in the month of Tevet, towards shalom, wholeness, the peace which emerges when everything and everyone is given their place.
Danny Cohen is a lover of life and passionately pursues the wisdom and modalities of practice that help him and others live it fully and vibrantly. He delights in sharing Torah and guiding people in transformative spiritual practices and counseling work to help them live a life of connection and heartfulness.