Why Do I Feel Angry?

My grandparents were angry, my parents were angry, my ex-husband was angry, and I myself sometimes feel unreasonably and even uncontrollably angry. So I get angry people. You could say I’ve made a lifelong study of it. Here’s what I’ve learned.

Anger Has 3 Primary Expressions

why do you feel angry

Kids feel angry, too

To understand anger, it’s helpful to understand how differently people can express it. Anger can be expressed in any of these ways:

  1. Violent, externalized anger
    This is what most people envision when they think about anger. This kind of anger may be characterized by yelling and screaming, maybe even hitting or verbal abuse. This kind of anger is the scariest and most upsetting, but what is really happening is that the angry person is unable to deal with whatever is troubling them, so they try to “get rid of” the bad feelings by directing them onto others.
  2. Passive-aggressive behavior
    Passive-aggressive behavior is an expression of anger, except no yelling or arguing is involved. Instead, the passive-aggressive person gives the appearance of agreeing with what you say or what your stated goals are, but then they passively undermine you by consistently doing the opposite of what you want or thought you both had agreed upon.
    Passive-aggressive behavior is the perfect mask for “stealth anger.” It is so effective that passive-aggressive people often believe—even insist—that they are not angry. They do not see their behavior for what it is and are typically unaware that they are doing it.
  3. Depression
    Depression is the opposite of #1, in that this form of anger is directed inward. Instead of directing their anger onto other people, the depressed person directs it onto themselves instead. By taking it all onto themselves, the depressed person may resent that they have effectively martyred themselves in this way (instead of communicating their anger to their loved ones in a healthy way), which may make them even more depressed over time.

Anger is Masking Deeper, Scarier Feelings

If you or someone you love frequently expresses anger in any of the ways listed above, please know that the anger itself isn’t the real problem. Anger is a symptom, which is why simply releasing the anger occasionally (by exploding, going into a dark depression, being more passive-aggressive) doesn’t work in the long run. In order for the anger to be managed, the underlying feelings have to be understood.

Anger is a defense mechanism, really. It’s an attempt to keep you emotionally and maybe even physically safe. This often doesn’t work very well, but if you approach it from that understanding, it begins to make sense. Your inner child is trying to protect you from feelings that, from his or her perspective, are even scarier than feeling angry.

So, what kinds of feelings might be behind the anger? Here are a few of them:

  • Anxiety
    Some people are naturally anxious. It may be biology, it may be upbringing (perfectionist parents, for example), or it may be some of both. We live in an increasingly complex world, and a mundane task for one person may feel completely overwhelming to another. If someone feels like they “have to” do something that makes them anxious, anger is likely to make an appearance somewhere along the way.
  • Frustration
    A frustrated person is likely to feel angry:  angry that they aren’t heard, angry that they “have to” do something that makes them uncomfortable, angry that they are faced with a scary challenge that they aren’t sure they can handle.
  • Lack of Control
    No one likes to feel like they are out of control, but of course, everyone is. Nevertheless, it’s a terribly scary feeling. Think of a child, raging against the forces trying to control or constrain his or her spirit. We all understand this, because we know somewhere inside that we are free, so what’s with all of this “behave” nonsense? The two-year-old child having a tantrum is really no different than a grown-up expressing their own frustration at being out of control.
  • Guilt
    Everyone does things they aren’t proud of, but one of the ways in which we protect ourselves is to avoid feelings of guilt for what we have done, because they make us feel bad about ourselves. Avoiding guilt doesn’t work, of course, so a guilty person will either start trying to give away their guilt to someone else in the form of anger, or they will stuff it inside and let it fester away as depression.
  • Fear
    Everyone is afraid of something, but sometimes certain fears can rule our lives. For example, the fear of failing or the fear of appearing “stupid” can make people behave in angry ways. What are you most afraid of? Be honest with yourself, and ask your inner child. He or she knows the answers.

Anger Isn’t “Bad”

Part of what makes anger so difficult to understand is the huge amount of judgment that surrounds it. People who “get angry” are judged to be “bad people.” Now, it is true that angry people sometimes do bad things. Anger puts blinders on good judgment. But many people assume that someone who is really angry has no right to be, which is the same thing as saying, “You shouldn’t feel that.” This is like telling someone whose parent just died that they shouldn’t feel sad.

All feelings are messengers, and anger is no exception. What is your anger trying to tell you? What are the underlying issues behind your anger? Discover and begin to deal with those, and you will have begun your healing.

The goal in life is not “never be angry.” This is unrealistic. You are going to be angry. Some days, you might even be really angry. It’s just a feeling. What’s important is how you deal with and express this feeling.

Learning New Ways to Cope

If anger has been the first emotional door that you open, then it’s going to take time to learn to open other doors. There are a number of strategies you can adopt to help you along the way. Knowing what lies behind your anger will help you find the right strategies for you. For example, I gradually came to understand that I’m not an angry person—I’m an anxious person. Stressful situations make me very touchy because I’m having a hard time coping. Once I understood this, I could take steps to lighten my own load. Below are some ideas for helping you manage your anger.

Reduce anxiety

When you can, avoid the things that make you feel really anxious. If you can’t avoid some of them, then at least try to minimize how many of them you have to deal with at one time. Ask for and accept help. Lighten your load! Give a voice to your anxiety. Treat yourself to some “me time.” Give yourself a gift every day. It doesn’t have to be a big thing. It could be a walk, a cup of coffee, a few minutes with a video game. Just whatever makes you feel happy and relaxed.

If too many things are making you anxious, talk to your doctor. Homeopathic solutions may help, or you may need a prescription for an anti-anxiety medication. There is no failure in getting help.

Say and act what you feel

This is a two-part solution. Part one is to understand how you really feel—not how you’re supposed to feel, not how you should feel, or not how you’d like to feel. How you really feel. You may not be accustomed to knowing. It’s time to find out. If no one had any expectations of you, if you had no obligations whatsoever, how would you feel about a given situation?

The second part is to speak what you feel, and wherever possible, act what you feel. In life, there may be some constraints on what you can do. You might like to take a trip around the world, but your family might need you to keep drawing a paycheck and take junior to soccer practice. Life is compromise, after all. But if you say “no” too often when you feel “yes,” or you say “yes” too often when you feel “no,” then you are making yourself miserable and breeding resentment, which makes you angry.

Make healthy changes, slowly

Make a list of the things that cause you stress, that you don’t enjoy, or that you may resent in some way. Look at the list and pick one easy thing you can change or get rid of altogether. Maybe someone else would like to pick up the gauntlet. Or maybe the world won’t end if you stop doing it. Let it go, and remove it from your to-do list.

After a few weeks, come back to this list and see if there’s something else you can change or offload. Try to work with the easy things first. Over time, you may discover that you have made incremental positive changes that make you feel happier and less stressed. By doing this slowly, you also give yourself a chance to adapt to change, which can be stress-inducing in itself. Life isn’t a contest. You don’t have to change everything overnight, and you shouldn’t try.

Take responsibility for your feelings

No one else is “making you angry.” That’s a cop out. Other people may inadvertently do things that just happen to trigger your anger, and all of the feelings underlying it, but no one else is making you angry. You are choosing to react angrily to the input or actions of others, and you’ve been doing it for so long that it’s a habit, which means it doesn’t feel like a conscious choice to you. Nevertheless, you are the one who is choosing to respond with anger. Own it.

Switching gears from anger may seem impossible at first, but it can be done. Once you realize that you are being triggered by something that makes you feel a) anxious, b) frustrated, c) controlled, d) guilty, e) fearful, f) all of the above, then you can name that trigger and you can name your historic response to it. And then you can change it.

Let’s say you your spouse asks you to do something, and you feel angry as a result. What is the real reason you are angry? Do you feel controlled? Does it feel stressful because it’s “one more thing” you have to do? Are you afraid that you won’t be able to do it well? When you can identify what’s really going on, you can give a voice to that and respond in another way.

Don’t live in the past

No doubt people in your past have betrayed you, wronged you, or even egregiously hurt you. But when you think about those events, you are effectively reliving them, which means you are reliving the pain. This only harms you, not the person who wronged you.

Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.
~The Buddha

When these memories and feelings come up, gently release them. Resolve to live today, in the present moment. The memories of past pain cannot harm you anymore if you do not want them to.

Forgive yourself and others

You know this already. I barely need to say it. But so often, we hear this, and we secretly think, That’s too hard, or even, That’s impossible. It is neither of these, but if you believe it is, then it will be so for you. There is huge power in simply stating to yourself that you have decided to forgive yourself and others. Just saying, “I am deciding to forgive” is huge. It may not really feel complete in a day, a month, or even a year, but it will put you much farther down the road than you think.

So much of anger is resentment. You may resent others for controlling you or putting constraints on you or even doing actual harm to you. You may also resent yourself—what else is guilt?—for something you have done or something you are. Resentment becomes hatred and hatred bubbles out in anger at some point. Let go of all resentments and guilt. If you do this, you will magically transform your relationships with others, and with yourself. You can do this. I believe in you.

Find and accept help

You do not have to heal on your own. In fact, having a catalyst will help you heal much faster. This person could be a therapist, a counselor, or a close friend. Whoever it is, it should be someone with whom you feel completely safe, and with whom you can be completely honest. A good catalyst will tell you the truth, gently, and listen with understanding and compassion.

Life is a journey, and so is healing. There is no perfect way to do either, except for the way you are doing it. Whatever path you feel you may be stumbling along is the perfect path for you. And that’s okay!

Spirituality for Kids: The Origins of Santa Claus

The children love Santa Claus, so I thought it would be fun to discuss his origins with the children. There are many good articles on the Internet, and I have relied heavily on those to create a cobbled-together, simplified, and more child-friendly take that I can read to my kids. All credit is due to the following sources for this information:

All of these posts make for fun reading for older kids and adults.

Odin

Odin riding Sleipnir by Arthur Rackham

Odin riding Sleipnir by Arthur Rackham

Once upon a time in northern Europe, the great God Odin, or Wodan, reigned over all the Norse Gods. It is from him that we have the name Wednesday, or Wodan’s day. Odin was the god of wisdom, magic, runes, poetry, and war. His name means, “The Inspired One.”

Odin could travel between the worlds like a shaman does. His two black ravens, Huginn (Thought) and Muninn (Memory) brought him news of what was happening in the world. Odin flew overhead on his white horse Sleipnir, who had 8 legs. Odin was said to be a tall, old man with a white beard and wearing a cloak. He was beloved among his friends and followers.

Odin only had one eye because he had offered one of them in exchange for wisdom at the well of Mimir. This was given to him, and he was able to see the outer world with his good eye, and he could see the inner worlds with his black, removed eye. This ability to see both worlds made him a powerful and enlightened being.

Odin represents light and darkness, white and black, which are both part of the Oneness of all things.

In some traditions of Odin’s Yule-time ride, children would place their boots near the chimney, filled with treats for the horse Sleipnir. Odin would reward them for their kindness with food, candy, or gifts. This tradition still continues in Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands. In other germanic countries the practice has been replaced with hanging stockings.

The Celts and the Holly King

The Ghost of Christmas Present

The Ghost of Christmas Present from Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol” looks like the Holly King.

From the ancient Druids, we get a pair of kings who fight for supremacy at Yule.

The Oak King (or king of the waxing year) kills his brother, the Holly King (the king of the waning year) at the time of the Winter Solstice, or Yule. The Oak King then reigns until the Summer Solstice when the two battle again, this time with the Holly King winning the battle. Holly and mistletoe are traditional at Yule because they commemorate the battle. The holly was hung in honor of the Holly King, and the mistletoe (which grows high in the branches of oak trees) was hung in honor of the Oak King.

Although the Oak King and the Holly King are mortal enemies at Midsummer and Yule, they are two sides of a whole, and neither could exist without the other.

After the Holly King’s victory at the Summer Solstice, he begins preparations to save and maintain his people through the cold winter. In order to accomplish his mission, he travels the land to hunt, fish, and harvest. He transports these life-saving gifts in a wagon or sled pulled by eight deer (these animals were sacred to the Celtic Gods, and there were a total of 8 solar sabbats per year). He shares them with all of his people, and in exchange, the people provide care and comfort to his team of deer.

The Holly King has been depicted with a Holly wreath as a crown. He traditionally wore green garments with red accents, just like a holly tree.

The Holly King lived up north, where he could survive in the cold during the reign of his brother in the spring and summer. The Oak King, who needed the warmth to survive, lived in the warm forests of the south, and he falls asleep while his brother of the cold reigns over the world during the fall and winter months.

Other Legends

The Norse god Thor rode the sky in a chariot drawn by two goats.

A folk depiction of Father Christmas riding a goat. The Norse god Thor also rode the sky in a chariot drawn by two goats.

The ancient Romans celebrated Saturnalia, which featured big feasts with a lot of merrymaking, dancing, and the exchange of gifts. This festival was meant to celebrate the return of the sun on the shortest days of the year and to counteract the depression due to lack of sunlight.

In the Norse myths, Balder is a Sun God and the son of Frigg, a Goddess for whom Friday is named (Frigga’s Day). Frigg was a loving mother who went to earth and asked all of the animals and elements not to hurt Balder. Rocks and metal agreed that they wouldn’t form arrows and kill him, and others promised her as well. But Loki, a trickster, discovered that Frigg had not asked the lowly mistletoe not to hurt her son. So Loki made an arrow made of mistletoe and tricked the blind God of Winter to shoot it into the air. The arrow hit Balder, badly hurting him, and therefore the Sun. The Yule (Winter Solstice) was a vigil to see if the wounded Sun would live another summer.

In the 1840s, an elf from Nordic folklore named Tomte or Nisse started delivering the Christmas presents in Denmark. The Tomte was portrayed as a short, bearded man dressed in gray clothes and a red hat. He rode through the sky in a chariot draw by goats.

In many of the early legends, presents are given to children or young families to represent abundance and fertility. After all, this is the time of the rebirth of the Sun. Presents were exchanged to honor that rebirth and to give wishes or hopes for abundance and good crops in the coming year.

Saint Nicholas

A 19th-century Russian icon of St Nicholas, in the St. Nicholas Center collection

A 19th-century Russian icon of St Nicholas, in the St. Nicholas Center collection

In the 3rd and 4th centuries, a Christian bishop named Nicholas was said to have lived in Myra, Turkey. He had a reputation for goodness, benevolence, and for performing miracles for the people. Many stories are told of his generosity and caring, especially for children. In those days, the primary color for the robes of priests and other church officials was white, although the colors changed over the years, and he was often portrayed in red robes later.

It isn’t certain that Saint Nicholas was a real person. As a result, the Catholic church demoted him and removed his feast day (December 6) from their calendar.

Sinterklaas and Santa Claus

Santa gets his name from the Dutch legend of Sinterklaas or Sinter Klaas. Dutch settlers in the United States brought this legend with them, and he was popularized by writers such as Washington Irving.

This Norman Rockwell painting shows the modern Santa, but he still bears the holly in his hair.

This Norman Rockwell painting shows the modern Santa, but he still bears the holly in his hat.

Sinterklaas is an old man with white hair and a long, full beard. He wears a long red cape over a traditional bishop’s alb, or long white tunic.

The name “Santa Claus” was first used in the American press in 1773. By then, he had lost his bishop’s clothing and looked like a large-bellied man with a pipe in a green winter coat. In the poem Old Santeclaus in 1821, he was described as an old man on a reindeer sleigh who brought presents to children. In the poem A Visit From St. Nicholas, the author Clement Clarke Moore included details such as the names of the reindeer; Santa Claus’s laughs, winks, and nods; and the method by which Saint Nicholas (whom he refers to as an elf), returns up the chimney.

One of the first modern images of Santa came in 1863 by American cartoonist Thomas Nast for Harper’s Weekly. In 1869 a color collection of Nast’s pictures were published in which Santa appears in a red suit. A poem by George Webster called Santa Claus and His Works places Santa’s home near the North Pole in the ice and snow. Over time, images of Santa in red became more popular.

Discussion

Your children will always lead the way with their own questions, but you can also use these to get the ball rolling:

  • How are these stories similar? How are they different?
  • Why do you think the image of Santa changed over the years?
  • Which of these stories did you like the best? Why?
  • What is the Spirit of Santa Claus? What does it mean to you?

Stuck in Judgment Ruts

Sarah Palin at the Chambliss rally, Dec. 1, 2008  Hillary Clinton at her confirmation hearing for Secretary  of State, (Department of State photo)

Sarah Palin at the Chambliss rally, Dec. 1, 2008
Hillary Clinton at her confirmation hearing for Secretary
of State, (Department of State photo)

The mantras of our times:  Barack Obama is a liar and a threat to our nation. George W. Bush was a liar and a threat to our nation. Sarah Palin is an ignorant Barbie doll who can’t put two words together. The police in Ferguson, Missouri are all racists. Black residents in Ferguson, Missouri are hyper-sensitive and see racism whenever white people are around.  And so it goes. We’ve lived together on this planet for millennia, and we’re still stuck in judgment ruts.

We love to focus on our differences, but what do all of the people in the preceding paragraph have in common? Simply this:  they are all acting out of their own sense of what is right. None of them wake up in the morning and think about how evil or wrong they can be that day. It doesn’t happen. They have their own perspective, certainly. They have their own prejudices, their own experiences to inform them. They make their own choices, and not all of them are good ones. But they are doing the best they can. Just like everybody else.

All people are “good,” even if they don’t act that way. Some folks are mentally ill, too, and may be a danger to themselves and others, but that doesn’t negate their inherent worth. Even nominally sane people are capable of deluding themselves and doing some very harmful things while being in denial of that fact. But everyone deludes themselves at some point. Why are we so hard on some people, but not others? Why do we single out certain people to vilify, while having compassion for others?

We are all raised with certain beliefs, emotions, and truisms that are not necessarily true, but we follow them blindly because they have left “judgment ruts” in our mind. For example, there are many kind, compassionate people who would gladly help a friend in need, support their local food bank, or perform any number of charitable acts. This same person, however, may reflexively avert their eyes from a homeless person on the street because they have a judgment rut that says, “All homeless people are either lazy or addicts.” And the corollary to this rut is, “Addicts and lazy people do not deserve my help.”

Of course, the truth is a gray area. Any given homeless person may be a veteran suffering PTSD, a sick person who lost their home because of a medical crisis, a victim of child abuse, mentally ill, or someone who just lost their housing for whatever reason. And yes, they may have addictions, but a person is more than their addiction. Does an addiction really make them unworthy of help? Does this judgment really vindicate our decision not to help them? What would a compassionate person do? What would love do?

Perfectly kind and reasonable people also make judgments on the basis of race as though it really is a black and white issue. You are a racist, or you’re not. Or, you see racism everywhere because you’re a paranoid victim; or racism, however subtle, still exists. Whichever view you prefer depends on the judgment ruts that you formed growing up.

In modern American society, we are as divided as ever. If you are a conservative, your judgment ruts may predispose you to defend Sarah Palin from unwarranted and often vicious personal attacks by the left. If you are a liberal, your judgment ruts may say that Sarah deserves what she gets. On the other hand, conservatives felt that they could attack Hillary Clinton with equal impunity, while the left defended her just as fiercely. And both sides accuse the other of misogyny. And the winner of this battle of judgments? Not a soul.

Jerry Rubin said, “Ideology is a brain disease,” and that is true, regardless of the ideology in question. You could say that ideology is determined by our judgment ruts—and we just know that they are right. The truly interesting thing about them, however, is that because of their nature, few of us have ever actually examined our reasons for our judgments. Because if we did, we would find that we don’t really know what our reasons are. This is the peril of inherited thought.

When we grow up in a given culture, we accept it as normal. We assume that this is the way the world works—the only way. But other people grow up in different cultures, with different ideas and world views. And they know just as certainly that this is how the world works. That is, until they find out otherwise.

This is why some people fear education. The Taliban love to burn down schools for precisely this reason. Becoming educated and being exposed to new ways of thinking can fill in some of those judgment ruts. It can help you to think about things from multiple perspectives. Of course, it’s not a panacea. Educated people still hold judgments. But the possibility for understanding increases. It can, if nothing else, make your judgments more flexible.

Are we doomed to judge, then? Must we always pick up a stone, knowing full well that on a different day, we might be the ones who are hit by it?

We can choose to pave over our judgment ruts, but we must recognize them, which isn’t always easy. Most judgments are unconscious. They come so naturally to us that we don’t even realize that we’re doing it. We see a person or a situation, and bang! Our thoughts are instantly moving along that same old rut, making it deeper with each passing. So, how do we begin?

The key is our emotional state. When we make judgments, we feel fear, anger, contempt, or jealousy. There is always a feeling beneath a judgment, and it’s never joy. Recognize that. Are you angry with Sarah Palin for not behaving the way you think a woman should? Are you angry with Hillary Clinton for the same reason? Do they represent something that frightens you or makes you uneasy? What are you projecting onto them? What is it about the person that reminds you of you? What is that you are not able to love about them? Whatever your feelings are, they’re not about the person. They are about you. The answers to these questions will tell you what your fears and feelings are, as well as what you need to learn to love in yourself. When you address these issues in yourself, your judgment ruts will disappear.

Every person and situation that comes into our lives is a mirror. If we love something, then it reflects back what we love in ourselves. If we dislike or hate something, then it reflects back what we dislike or hate in ourselves. This is a gift. The people we judge or don’t like are showing us what we need to heal in ourselves.

There is no right or wrong in our ideological divides. No one side has it all figured out. What we have to offer each other, however, is healing and a third road, just there—on the far side of our judgment ruts.

Spirituality for Kids: Christmas and Yule

christmas vs yuleFor my first spiritual classroom with the kids, I decided to start with something they were already extremely familiar with:  Christmas. While I had talked briefly about the various meanings of the holiday in the past, I decided we would look at 3 different perspectives:

  • The Bible nativity according to St. Luke
  • An alternative Christian nativity story
  • The First Yule, the pagan story of the birth of the Sun King

The Biblical Perspective

My bible is the Holy Bible: From the Ancient Eastern Text: George M. Lamsa’s Translation From the Aramaic of the Peshitta Revised Edition by Lamsa, George M. [1985], which is a fairly academic translation that I like. Nevertheless, the text is still a bit hard for a 6- and an 8-year-old kid to follow, so I googled to find a more kid-friendly version of the nativity as told in the book of St. Luke.

I read The Christmas Story, as told at this link.

The Other Bible

The other Bible I own is The Other Bible, edited by Willis Barnstone. It includes a number of other texts that are contemporary with the Bible but not actually included in it, because they were considered blasphemous, or what have you. In it is a A Latin Infancy Gospel:  The Birth of Jesus, from the Christian Apocrypha. This is a medieval document, and the exact source(s) is unknown. All of the text in this book is pretty difficult, so here is a more kid-friendly summary of this short text:

A girl came a with a birthing chair, and she stopped when she saw Joseph and Mary.

“Child, where are you going with that chair?” asked Joseph.

She said, “My mistress sent me here because she was summoned to help with an unusual birth, and that a girl would give birth for the first time. So she sent me ahead with the chair.”

Joseph saw that the midwife was coming, and he greeted her and said that he sought a Hebrew midwife. The midwife asked, “Who is the young woman who is going to give birth in this cave?”

Joseph answered, “Mary, who was promised to me, who was raised in the Lord’s Temple.”

The midwife said, “She is not your wife?”

Joseph replied, “She was promised to me, but was made pregnant by the Holy Spirit.”

The midwife said, “Is this true?”

Joseph said, “Come and see.”

They went to the cave, and Joseph invited her in, but the midwife was afraid of the great light that shone in the cave. The light stayed all day and through the night.

Joseph said, “Mary, I have brought Zachel, a midwife. She is afraid to enter the cave.” Mary smiled, and Joseph ordered the midwife to attend her.

After many hours, the midwife cried, “Lord, great God, have mercy, because I have never seen or heard or dreamt of such a thing, that a baby could be born without blood or pain. This girl conceived as a virgin, gave birth as a virgin, and remained a virgin after birth.”

The midwife later related the events to Symeon, Joseph’s son:

“When I saw her, Mary held her head, listening to Heaven, and was very still. I asked her if she felt any pain, but she said nothing. As it came to be time for the birth, everything was silent. The winds stopped, and there was no motion in the trees. You couldn’t hear the sound of water, and the streams did not flow. The earth itself stopped turning, and time stopped. Everything was silent, waiting.

“When the baby was born, the light came forth, and Mary worshiped the child, who shone bright and beautiful like the sun. He appeared as peace, soothing the whole world. I heard the voices of invisible beings, who said, ‘Amen.’ The light of the child obscured the light of the sun, and the cave was filled with bright light and a sweet smell. 

“I was amazed, but after a while, the light shrank, and the baby looked just like any other child. I touched him and lifted him, and he had no weight. He also did not have any mark or blemish on him. He did not cry as newborn children often do. While I held him, he laughed at me and looked at me intently. Suddenly a great light came forth from his eyes like a great flash of lightning.”

The First Yule (A Wiccan Tale)

Christmas exists because of the pagan festival Yule, which marks the winter solstice and the birth of the Sun King. Any balanced study of Christmas should be sure to include this perspective.

The First Yule, a story for children, is at this link. 

Discussion

These stories raised a number of questions, including whether angels could actually talk to people. I explained that they could, although it might not look like they were standing next you and physically talking. I taught the children a simple meditation to learn to talk with angels and light beings, which I will share in a later blog.

Other good questions to ask include:

  • What are the similarities among these stories?
  • What are the differences?
  • Can there be multiple ways of telling a story? If so, can there be one that is more “correct” than another? Does it matter?
  • Which story did you like the best, and why?

Alternative Spiritual Instruction for Kids

spiritual studies for childrenMy daughter came home from school recently and began to ask questions about the Bible. A schoolmate had a children’s version on the bus, and had been telling her about her conservative Christian beliefs, so this made Wren curious. Her friend had said that the book was so powerful that it foretold the future, and it told how humanity and the earth was created. So we had a very animated dinner discussion about what the Bible was, what some people believed about the Bible, what we believed about the Bible, and about sacred texts in general.

We have always talked openly about spiritual matters with our children, and they understand that we believe that everything in existence is part of the one Divinity, the god/goddess/Creator, or whatever you’d like to call it. We talk about past lives easily, so none of this is new. But I knew that eventually my children would signal that they were ready for more intensive exploration of the spiritual realm, and now that time has come.

The most important thing, I tell my children, is that you know that your understanding of God can and should come from within you, and not be told to you by someone else, including me. Toward that end, we have begun our own version of “Sunday School” on the weekends, which is going to lead us down some interesting paths.

I believe it’s important for the children to understand what’s in the Bible, the Quran, the Bhagavad-Gita, the Tao Te-Ching, and the many thousands of stories that comprise human consciousness and history, whether they are Native American, African, or from the European shamanic traditions now known as Wicca.

As we go, I’ll blog about the material we’re covering, and how you can talk about it with your kids in an open, unconditional way. I expect this to evolve in wonderful ways, and I’m really excited to open these discussions with my children and to help them expand their worldview and understand the culture they live in.

The most important thing is that my children are excited to learn these things! So let the fun begin!

A Closed Door to the Past

close door to past

There was nothing left to glean from all this revisiting. No more knowledge, no more insight, no more wisdom to be mined.

Brighthill is proud to bring you a guest blogger, Rashi Starlight.

When I was writing up my notes for a pentacle class a few weeks ago, I was pondering how it would be to get out of balance with each element. It wasn’t until several weeks later that I realized that I was living my life way out of balance with Spirit. I was too much in Spirit, and so obsessed with working out issues that it prevented me from connecting with Deity. More importantly, I was so out of touch with myself that I became mentally isolated from my entire life and found it impossible to find joy in the now.

I became so intent with working out feelings from the past that I started forcing myself for go farther and farther back and basically reliving every wound, every slight (real or imagined) that I ever felt. I constantly thought about past relationships, past tricks, childhood slights, how much I dislike my parents, blah blah blah blah… After I spent days forcing myself to “face” and “deal with” every emotional ache and pain that I had experienced in high school, I finally understood that I was just torturing myself for no real reason. And that I was being outright stupid.

And hence, the title of this post and the picture of a CLOSED DOOR. I was in meditation, in the throes of yet another episode of angst from some forgotten bully who was mean to me 30 years ago, when suddenly I said, “This is nonsense!” So, I forced myself up, took off my clothes, and lay in the tub under the shower praying to see what the point of this all was. And it came to me…there was none. We live in an Oprah, New Age world where every pain, every sorrow needs to be beaten into the ground with hours of talk and years of therapy. I did all this and paid my dues, and it came to me that I was done. None of it mattered.

I could spend endless hours reliving everything in my past (which wasn’t that bad, in the big scheme of things) or I could just say, “ENOUGH!” I had enough of process, of reliving trauma, of trying to make things worse or better than they may have been. There was nothing left to glean from all this revisiting. No more knowledge, no more insight, no more wisdom to be mined. I do not consider myself to be wise, enlightened, a “survivor” or whatever modern terminology applies to dictate what you should be. But I know that I have seen, dealt, and grown. It can all be put into permanent storage now.

So, underneath the soothing water of the showerhead, with my Walmart candles lighting the bathroom, I decided to shut it all off. I visualized a door slamming on all this baggage. Mom, Dad, high school, probation, old shames, and unrequited love no longer mattered. Nostalgia no longer matters. The door on the past is closed. Slammed, with great force.

Having never had one, I don’t believe in “a-ha! moments,” but I can say that this was definitely a shift in perspective. I was ready to enter the world of the living and the world of now. I felt lighter, happier, and motivated to do things for the sake of doing them, just because I wanted to. I finally understand that to overcome life challenges, you have to actually overcome them—not relive them over and over, hoping that some nugget of insight will come down from the sky to instantly make you a light being. I experienced pain and lessons, and I learned about what makes me tick and what makes me go down a rabbit hole of despair. Now I just want to do my thing and live my life again.

I remember some awful pop song from the 70s where some confessional singer kept saying, “These are the good ol’ days.” All of the different phases of my life, before “enlightenment,” were happy. I lived in the now and had fun. Some disastrous results occurred, but what the hell? I had tons of “good ol’ days,” and I was sad because I should be having them again. All the things were aligned:  great dogs, my coven, the workshop that I teach, a cute apartment, boxes of art supplies, and my friends who are really my family. The only thing that was in my way was the past. My quest to know myself got lost in a ghost land of half remembered despair that I felt I needed to heal.

Now I see that the healing comes in acknowledging, learning, and closing the door once and for all. These are the good old days!

Choosing High Vibrational Music

high vibration musicAs you grow and heal, you may find that some of the music you used to listen to doesn’t appeal to you as much. The reason is that you are raising your vibration, and music with a lower vibration is making you feel irritated or uncomfortable. To support your healing, it’s important to seek out music that has a higher vibration. But what does that sound like?

A few years ago, we had the good fortune to see Andre Rieu and his orchestra at the Rose Garden. He is a fine example of a musician who works in a higher vibration because he infuses all that he does with his own joy. Watching him perform, I knew that this man was a total mush. He’s happy, he’s joyful, he likes to have fun, and he probably cries when he watches a sad movie. It’s no wonder he was drawn to Johann Strauss. Honestly, there are few forms of music more joyful than a waltz. It would take a determined grouch not to feel uplifted by hearing one. When Andre played “The Blue Danube,” people got up and danced in the aisles.

Of course, Andre plays more than just waltzes. During the course of the evening, we heard everything from classical pieces to movie themes and popular songs. At one point, he played “America the Beautiful,” and the older gentleman standing next to me wiped tears from his eyes afterward: it brought forth his love of his homeland. A rendering of “Amazing Grace,” complete with bagpipe, also brought tears to many eyes, as it often does. You don’t have to subscribe to any particular religion or spirituality to feel the depth of God’s love for all of us, and how affecting that truly is.

By the end of the evening, balloons had fallen on the audience, and everyone was dancing and playing with the balloons while the orchestra played on. In short, the audience was behaving like children. In the span of two brief hours, music had taken us back to our child selves. We danced and sang along with the abandon of three-year-olds. Now that is music of a higher vibration!

Emotion is the Key

None of this means that you are destined to listen only to classical music or Enya for the rest of your days. Not all classical music has a high vibration, just as not all rock or pop has a low one. The trick is to learn to discern for yourself. The key to a song’s vibration is emotion. Emotion is a very powerful energy. When combined with music, it has a definite effect on your mind, mood, and sense of well-being. Angry or depressive music can fuel these same emotions in you. Likewise, calm or joyful music can produce these feelings in you as well. And of course, there’s a lot of emotion in between, some of which is helpful, and some of which can be harmful.

When listening to any music, you should tune in to how it makes you feel. This doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the lyrics, however. For example, there is nothing wrong with listening to some sad songs. Sad songs say so much, as Elton said. And a few swear words are not necessarily an indicator that you should drop the CD in the trash, either. No, you have to tune into the energy of the music. This takes some practice.

You can really love an artist’s music, but if they have an overly cynical world view or a depressive personality, this energy may be in their music and will affect you negatively. On the other hand, this doesn’t mean that an artist has to live like a saint and be perfectly healed. Many artists have personal struggles and still manage to infuse love and joy in their music. Human beings are multi-faceted, and we all experience the range of emotions, positive and negative.

How Does it Make You Feel?

The next time you’re listening to your favorite music, ask yourself how you feel. Do you feel sad? Sad is not a bad feeling. Some of the most beautiful music ever written tells a sad story that can make you weep a river of tears. And this is OK—unless you’re wallowing in sad music because you’re depressed. There should be a balance in all things.

Likewise, however, some music makes you feel happy or joyful. This is my favorite kind. Artists like Neil Diamond, the Beach Boys, and John Denver are masters at expressing joy in their music. And Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” speaks for itself.

Of course, most music falls into a vast “in between” area of complex emotion. Determining how you feel when you hear it may take some time. For example, it’s possible for a song to be uplifting, critical, gritty, and hopeful, all at once. For me, U2 and Bob Dylan fall into this category.

Problematic music will make you feel angry, depressed, or hopeless. These are all indicators of a lower vibration, and you should avoid it. Just as a joyful song can make you feel like a happy three-year-old again, a lower vibrational song will only serve to make you feel worse about yourself and your life. With practice, however, you can soon determine whether an album belongs in your collection or not. Follow your own inner guidance.

I also want to encourage you to check out a lot of the new musicians out there. Many of them are doing good work at a higher vibration, as our crystal and rainbow kids grow up. You may not hear them on the radio, unfortunately. Some artists who are less well known sell through sites such as CDBaby.com. Many may only perform locally as they struggle to get started. Keep your ears—and your heart—open and ask for good music to come into your life. Music can be very healing, and when it is, it’s a blessing in our lives.

You’re Not in Control

June 17, 2009 protest on Krimkhan Street in Tehran

June 17, 2009 protest on Krimkhan Street in Tehran

Most people try to control their world to some degree. We do whatever we think will make us feel secure, safe, and happy. Driven by the allure of safety and order, we believe that we can control our environment, our jobs, the people around us, and even society or the world at large. This belief, however, is an illusion that only serves to mask inner pain, constant worry, low self-esteem, and a deep-seated unhappiness in ourselves.

Control is an illusion for all of us, because of course we have control over practically nothing. It’s worth repeating:  we are not in control. Our egos will attempt to argue the point, but it’s useless. The only things we can control are the choices we make and how we react to situations. That’s it.

We are not in control of the other drivers on the road. We are not in control of whether our boss likes us. We are not in control of who our children are; we can’t even control whether they take a nap or not. We can provide guidelines and discipline, but our kids will be who they are and make their own choices, ultimately. And we cannot “prevent” so-called bad experiences from happening to us because, in the divine order of things, we need these experiences to learn and grow. However, we do have control over how we react to these experiences and deal with them.

For example, we can decide to be so irked with that guy who cut us off on the turnpike that it ruins our day. Which only hurts…us. Or we can shrug it off and let it go. We can decide that a medical challenge means that our life is over. Or we can find the gift in the experience and choose to live each moment to its fullest, regardless of the outcome. We can choose to worry and be upset, or we can choose to be positive and make the most of what’s been given to us.

Governments around the world are realizing how little control they have, as the people—awake at last—take to the streets and demand their rights. This doesn’t prevent any government from trying to maintain control, however. Many governments throughout history have used violence in an attempt to maintain power and control. Tiananmen Square, the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre in India, Bloody Sunday in Northern Ireland.  It can happen anywhere, including the U.S.:  the National Guard killed four peaceful protesters and wounded nine others in the Kent State shootings on May 4, 1970. In the summer of 1921, coal miners attempting to unionize fought the Battle of Blair Mountain against not only company men, but also area deputies and federal troops. President Warren G. Harding authorized the use of Army bombers, and World War I era gas and explosive bombs were used against the miners. Ultimately, however, the government failed to maintain the status quo, and this tragedy, along with others from the same era, eventually led to the enactment of reasonable labor laws in the U.S. Modern governments, no doubt, will also learn—again—how little they control.

Governments cannot control people when they choose to take their power. Nor can it control the economy or the markets. The most brilliant Ivy League financial mind cannot even predict with any real certainty what the markets will do, and all attempts at controlling it are feeble manipulations of what is, in truth, a chaotic system that responds to the emotional states of human beings. You might as well herd cats instead.

And of course, we can never control another human being. You can’t “force” democracy onto someone, even if you think it will make them happier in the end. We can create a temporary illusion of control at gunpoint, but most people will say anything when a gun is pointing at their head. To win the mind, one must win the heart, and even then, each person makes their own sovereign choices at the end of the day. You may earn some influence, but you will never have control.

Why do we have the need to control things we can’t? The issue is largely one of TRUST—the lack of it. A control freak does not trust anyone. Some people are so distrustful of even their spouse and children that they feel like they have to do everything themselves—because no one else in the family “does it right.” The result? A person who has overburdened themselves to the breaking point and can’t accept help—because they don’t trust that anyone else will perform the tasks to their satisfaction.

For people in power, of course, they don’t trust their own power. In fact, they have given it away:  they rely on others to validate their power by doing what they say. In short, they have given their power to the things they wish to control, and they become controlled instead. Let’s take the late Kim Jong-Il, for example. He had no self-esteem, no real self-worth. The only way he has figured out how to feel better about himself is to exercise power over other people, so he did that. He told people what to do, and he felt better. But then he worried about his power. Was it enough? As he squeezed more tightly, he increased his attempts to control the people whose sole purpose was to validate him. But the main issue was still there:  inside, he didn’t really like himself much. He worried that other people didn’t like him, either. He didn’t trust himself to be enough. So he kept looking for external validation. He needed it, just like a drug. And he was controlled by it.

So what should you trust? Yourself, for one. And your own power. Your power has nothing to do with how many people agree with you or jump to attention when you enter the room. Your power is independent of other people and situations. Your power comes from the one Source:  the Universe, God, the Divine, whatever you want to call it.

If you are trying to control your world, then you do not trust this Source. God has our best interests at heart, and always will. God will handle things for our highest good, all the time. The only thing we have to do is actually listen to that small, quiet voice in our hearts that will lead us to our true happiness. The voice of the mind, the ego, shouts down the voice in the heart whenever it can, and most people listen to the ego instead of the heart. They take the safe job that provides security and “pays well” instead of pursuing their dream. Maybe they marry a person of the opposite sex, even though their heart points in another direction. Whatever it is that our heart tells us, that is God saying, “Trust me. Your heart’s desire, your soul’s purpose, lies on this path. Trust me to fulfill your dreams. Trust me to take care of you.”

If you listen to this voice, and if you trust this voice, you will have everything your heart desires, you will make it through any challenge, and you will find your happiness. And when you relinquish control, you will find your freedom as well.

How to Overcome Victim Mentality and Become a Powerful Creator

overcome victim mentality and become a powerful creatorDo you want to be happy? Do you want to feel at peace? Are you tired of struggling? Do you believe that the perfect set of circumstances must appear before any of this is possible? Maybe you’re waiting for a certain time. Maybe you’re waiting for enlightenment to reveal itself to you. Maybe you’re just waiting for the right partner or the right job or the right amount of money in your bank account. Or maybe you’re waiting for the people around you to change. But if you’re waiting for anything, you are living as a victim instead of a powerful creator.

Most people do not believe that they are living as victims, yet they are quick to blame other sources for their problems:  the government, the banks, political parties, “mean people,” the boss, the in-laws, the spouse, or even a physical or mental disability. When you blame your problems on anything, you are choosing the role of victim. You will never be able to change these things, so if you decide that these are the things that must be “fixed” in order to be happy or at peace in your life, then you will always be a long-suffering victim.

You do have another option, however. You can take your power. You can be the Powerful Creator that you already are. But what does this mean?

Being a Powerful Creator doesn’t mean that you can control the Universe. That still won’t work. But you can control your thoughts, choices, and reactions, and those are very powerful creative tools.

When you came into your human body, Victim Mode was the default setting. This was done by design. You came here to pretend for awhile to be everything you ARE NOT:   powerless, weak, separate, you name it. But when you begin to take your power, you are moving back into the consciousness of what you ARE:  a divine, powerful creator, made in the image of God.

To move from Victim to Creator doesn’t require a special date or event. It doesn’t require everyone else to “wake up” at the same moment. All that is needed is for you to shift your consciousness. Don’t wait for an event to live in an ascended world. That world is here NOW. It is available NOW. You can live in it NOW. But you have to take your power to get there.

When you take your power and shift your consciousness, that doesn’t mean that “bad” things will never happen to you. You are still going to face challenges in your life, possibly some very difficult ones. But when you are in your power, you will view them through a different lens and you will choose to handle them differently. Instead of blaming and becoming a victim of circumstance, take a deep breath and ask what Spirit needs of you next. Know that everything happens for a reason, even if that reason is hard to see in the moment. You may never know exactly why some things happen the way they do, but in order to live in your power you must also exercise your Trust in Spirit—or Faith, if you prefer.

Victims blame and react defensively, but Powerful Creators look within for their answers and cultivate Trust—knowing that they will always be led to make the perfect choice if they listen and stop blaming. If you are going to be a Powerful Creator, then you must start living in the moment NOW. Spirit doesn’t guide you yesterday or tomorrow. Spirit is guiding you right now, and in every moment. Stop and listen.

It is a paradox that to be a Powerful Creator you must surrender control. But when you are a Powerful Creator, you take control of yourself and surrender control of everything else. Victims try to control the world around them. They want to change people so that they behave a certain way. They want to change the way the world is. Powerful Creators know that by changing themselves, they ultimately do change the world—but not by force, and not in the way that they may think. The more Powerful Creators there are in the world, the more awakened people there are. And this is how the great shift in consciousness is occurring now.

So I have described how to be a Powerful Creator in logical terms, but living it and breaking old patterns can be difficult. How do you do this? Practice makes perfect.

Pick a day, any day, and wake up and ask, “What does God/Spirit need of me today?” Wait for the answer. Do whatever you hear, and keep asking all day long. When you complete a task, ask again, then wait. The answer could be mundane: go to your dentist appointment. The answer might not make sense: do nothing and just be (a difficult directive if you feel you have 50 things that you should be doing). But do it anyway, whatever you hear. As you practice, you will discover that you are perfectly guided at all times. And when you see that your long to-do list still gets done in a more relaxed, nurturing way, then you will learn to trust what you hear. Building this trust with your inner guidance is more important than I can possibly say in this article. It is vital. It is the key to your power.

When you live in the space of the new consciousness, you may discover that many things that used to bother you no longer affect you in quite the same way. This is because you begin to realize that everything truly is perfect right now. There is a gift in all things, even if you can’t see it yet. This is beautifully illustrated by the Taoist parable of “The Farmer’s Luck,” which is included in the children’s book Zen Shorts by Jon J. Muth
:

There was once an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years.

One day, his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit.

“Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically.

“Maybe,” the farmer replied.

The next morning, the horse returned, bringing with it two other wild horses.

“Such good luck!” the neighbors exclaimed.

“Maybe,” replied the farmer.

The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown off, and broke his leg.

Again, the neighbors came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune.

“Such bad luck,” they said.

“Maybe,” answered the farmer.

The day after that, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army to fight in a war. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by.

“Such good luck!” cried the neighbors.

“Maybe,” said the farmer.

Fearsome Freedom

are americans freeAs Americans, we do not question whether we are free or not. We assume that we are free, by virtue of where we live. And yet, we favor policies that will restrict our freedoms. Paradox? Or self-delusion?

In essence, most people believe in the freedom of all—as long as everyone agrees with their point of view. If you are a religious conservative, you are fine with freedom—unless you are gay and want to marry, or you want universal access to birth control. If you are an atheist, you are fine with freedom—as long as no one ever mentions God. If you are a liberal, you are fine with freedom—unless you want to own a gun. The list of “exceptions” is endless.

In a truly free society, every opinion, every choice, every way of living or being is welcome. There are no boundaries, no exceptions, and no box for true freedom. And this scares the heck out of people.

It’s a given that there is always someone in the world who will challenge your beliefs and your way of thinking. If everyone is truly free to express themselves in their truth, you will readily find someone who will challenge the borders of your box. And that can be truly frightening. We use our boxes to feel safe and secure. We seek out those who will agree with how the box should look to validate our own beliefs. So when someone comes across our path who is living out loud outside of our box, we react with fear.

Fear is the tool of the Ego, and we can probably attribute the source of every problem in the world to this little god. Fear keeps us trapped in our boxes, from where we can judge an “us” and a “them.” Fear encourages us to give our power to those who care about their own interests, rather than the highest good. Fear makes slaves of us all.

Fear is also the author of the great counter-argument to Freedom:  what about those who would kill us? What about murderers, thieves, and abusers? Surely they do not deserve the freedom to do as they please. This is a complex question, and the issue is largely one of context. Should you be free to kill? Most of us agree we should not; however, under certain circumstances, we are currently free to do so. If you are in the military, you are free to kill the enemy. If you are defending your life from another, you are free to kill your assailant. The state is free to kill convicted murderers or those convicted of treason.

Really, this question is about the age-old struggle of the rights of the individual vs. the rights of society. But is it really an issue? The answer is probably best answered by the Wiccan rede:  “An it do no harm, do what thou will.” In a truly free society, the individuals are free to be who they are and how they are, but they must also respect the choices and the existence of others.

In other words, people have the right to exist, whether you agree with them or not. Fear makes people believe that those in opposition should not exist; if the “enemy” no longer exists, frightened people don’t have to be challenged by their beliefs. This is the path of terrorism, genocide, and fascism. “If I can kill it or make it go away, then I won’t have to examine my own beliefs.”

Everyone feels that their beliefs are “right.” If they didn’t, they wouldn’t think them. No one wakes up and decides that they are going to make “wrong” or “bad” decisions all day. Each person operates from their own sense of “rightness,” which may be completely in opposition to someone else’s views. Does that make the other person “wrong?” No, it means that they are both right. And, they are both wrong.

Right and wrong is a matter of perspective. For the farmer, if a thief steals his produce, the farmer may feel anxious that he will not have enough of his crop to feed his own family, store food for the winter, and provide seed for the following season. From the farmer’s perspective, the thief is wrong to benefit from the farmer’s labor and threaten the farmer’s security. The thief, on the other hand, may not have land of his own and may simply be trying to survive and feed his family. From the thief’s perspective, the farmer is wealthy and can afford to share his crop with someone in dire need. In this scenario, there is no right or wrong. In any scenario, there is no right or wrong.

Freedoms are often curtailed because they are considered to be “wrong” (morally, religiously, empirically), while the restriction on these freedoms is hailed as “right.” It is another way of saying, “You are wrong to do this, so we want to stop you from doing it.” This is, quite simply, tyranny. It is also an attempt to control that which cannot be controlled:  the choices of others.

This back and forth, the ritual of “right and wrong,” is as old as duality. The thing is, duality is ending. And with its end comes the birth of True Freedom. Are you ready for that? Are you ready for what that’s going to look like? Are you ready to allow other points of view, other boxes, or even no boxes at all? Are you ready for the infinite possibilities that each of us embodies and can manifest, right here on this earth?

For those of us who thought we believed in “freedom,” the task may be hardest. We haven’t really believed in freedom—there were too many exceptions, which isn’t freedom at all. But freedom is coming. We are each a divine co-creator. We can create whatever we want, be however we want. But we also have a responsibility to the whole, to the highest good of all. This will require us to choose our thoughts carefully. The vibrational shift we are experiencing, the great change that is upon us, right now, is causing our thoughts and choices to manifest at an accelerated rate. Yes, we are free to make choices that do not serve us, or that do not serve the highest good, but we will be held accountable for what we choose, because we will experience the results ourselves.

In the past, many have defied convention to speak their truth and to live their truth. Many of these visionaries were silenced by those who feared their words and their vision. The list is long:  Christ; Joan of Arc; Galileo; Martin Luther King, Jr.; and the many nameless victims, including those accused of witchcraft, heretics, and the politically “inconvenient.” Those days are ending. If you are still trapped in fear, you will suffer, because you believe that you must. But if you can overcome your fear, you will find your freedom, and you will contribute to the freedom of others. As always, it is a choice.