A friend of mine came to me the other day and said “I don’t want to be angry today.” Now, anyone who knew me prior to, oh, maybe four years ago, they know that I used to be really, really good at being angry. I could get angry at all sorts of things. My wife. My kids. Perceived slights. The misdeeds of others. The misdeeds, especially, of myself. Oh, I was an expert at being angry with myself.
Full disclosure time: I struggled with being a good, attentive father with my first son. Anyone who knew be back then will be nodding. I was so out of touch with his mother, and with myself, and it was easy to lock myself away. I even went so far as to move away, to an entirely different state.
When I came back, two years later, I was a very different person. My walls had been shattered, my emotional center reborn, and my entire perspective of life changed. None of which I entirely knew, but I was, fundamentally, a different person on the inside. All I needed to do was learn how to effect that change on the outside.
Well, here’s the thing. I’ve gotten a lot less angry. But what I didn’t get was a lot less guilty. And so that didn’t really unburden me at all, it just shifted things. Being less angry was good for me. Being guilt-ridden wasn’t.
Guilt brings a different kind of burden than anger. Anger gets you going. It has a charge to it. It makes you jump out of your seat, shaking your fist, spittle flying. There’s a victory condition. But guilt has none of that. Guilt is depressing. It’s crushing. It’s a layer of dirt that coats everything that you can never quite get clean. It carries depression, self loathing, and desolation.
Now, I’m not going to suggest that it was easy to stop being angry. But I will suggest that, in general, it’s easier to stop doing something than it is to start doing something. It’s an effort to stop, but you hold your breath, and grab on to the railing, and… don’t take that step.
But to release the guilt, I had to start. Start forgiving myself. That’s not as easy as starting to play a new computer game. Or starting a new diet. Or starting a new career. . Because before you can forgive yourself, you have to believe that you’re worthy of forgiveness.
It’s a long journey, self-forgiveness. It’s full of fits and starts, and a lot of giving up. It’s taken many years, and more than a few pep talks from friends and confidants to get there. But I can say that once it happens, it’s an amazing feeling of relief and peace.
So how does this all tie together?
Before you can stop being angry — really stop being angry — you need to forgive yourself for the anger. It’s ok to be angry. It’s ok to be upset. It’s ok to be upset. But you have to let it go.
I struggled to let go of my guilt. I struggled to let go of my anger. I struggled to let go of my fear.
They were all the same thing.
Now, I still get frustrated. Traffic. The kids. Homework. Work work.
My trick is to be a duck. Not the part about looking all serene on top and paddling like mad to stay afloat below. No. Be a duck as in “like water off a duck’s back.”
Take your anger, your guilt, and your fear. Experience them. Validate them. And then release them. Let them flow away.
Learn to let things go. Be a duck.
One thing I’ve started doing in my ongoing quest to be a duck is I go to this site three or four times a day. I sit and listen to the waves, and think about the things that bother me, and try to let them roll off my back like water. I ease them into the ocean and watch them drift away.
I forgive myself my own trespasses, as I have trespassed against myself.
Not a single one of the peers who I respect and love and seek to emulate is a more-than-human person who never fails. Every single one of them has made mistakes. They have all offended people, they’ve all screwed up, they’ve all been angry at other people and themselves. I know that they have all found ways to forgive themselves. And so I seek to emulate them in this as I do in other things.
Be a duck.