My father was mercurial. A gentle soul who wrote poetry and read me stories and called me, “Little one” sitting in his lap, reading a book with him was where I felt safe when I was a child.
Unless it was those other times. Those times when the angry man my father could be would erupt and I would be catapulted from feeling safe to feeling exposed, unsafe, insecure, unsure of what the future held.
Because, while his nature was to be a gentle soul, my father was also an angry man. Within him ran an ocean of anger that could sweep across his being as quickly as a river flooding its banks when the damn breaks. One minute we’d be playing a game of scrabble, the next a battle of words would have erupted, its origins lost in the flood of angry words bursting through whatever ill-thought-out notion or comment had set him off.
In his unpredictability, I learned. To fear. Anger. Saying the wrong thing. Causing a disturbance. I learned to distrust. The present. Happiness. Contentment. I learned. To smile through pain. Pretend through fear. Stand still in every storm. I learned my lessons well.
It has taken me years to identify the impact of my learning. Years to dig out the roots of my distrust to find inner peace so that I could be present in the world around me with my heart full of Love and joy and peace.
And sometimes. I still get triggered. Into fear. Into retreat. Into silence or feeling helpless in the face of anger.
Yesterday afternoon I stood in front of a crowd of mostly angry, fearful people and I wanted to cry. I wanted to run. To hide. To pretend everything was all okay. I had been invited to attend the AGM for the community association where the Foundation I work for owns a building which houses formerly homeless individuals. The agenda said we’d discuss the community’s concerns in the final 15 minutes of the meeting.
I was unprepared for the change in the agenda when I arrived at the meeting in time for the discussion. I had been coaching at Choices all weekend. I told my team I had to attend this meeting and would be gone at most, an hour. I didn’t get back until the session was over. The, ‘at most an hour’ turned into 3. The discussion began with my being asked to give a presentation I wasn’t prepared to give. It didn’t matter. Within minutes of beginning one man jumped up to inform me that he’d heard enough and began to yell the truth as he knew it.
I am grateful for the moderator who did his best to keep the discussion respectful and calm. People really did do their best to contain their angry outbursts, but, in emotionally charged situations, people seek to be heard however they can. And sometimes, anger is the path of least resistance.
That’s the challenge of deep-seated learning. We all have it, and we all react in our own unique and adapted ways.
For me, the deep seated learning around anger that I still contain and that can still sometimes be triggered, interferes with my being present in those moments when being present is vital. It interrupts my sense of well-being, My knowing of my own competency. My confidence.
My deep-seated learning around anger leaves me feeling helpless.
Yesterday, in that moment, I felt helpless. I didn’t have their answers. I didn’t have their solutions. I had come to listen and learn and to seek common ground so that together we could find a way to create peace and harmony in their community. I had come not to be heard, but to understand and in the flood of their angry words flying at me, I found myself building a wall of self-defence. I found myself retreating behind silence.
Good fences build good neighbours.
A wall of self-defence builds resistance.
Building a wall wasn’t working for me. It wasn’t creating more of what I wanted in my life, and in that moment. I had to open up to what is possible when I let go of past learning to step into the moment fully conscious of the power I hold to be present and create change.
Yesterday, I stood in front of a crowd of angry people and breathed deeply into my knowing. I breathed deeply into my heart and invited each breath to open me up to expansion. And, in spite of the fact I wanted to cry, and almost did, I kept breathing. And listening. And acknowledging their pain and fear, their anger and desperation. I kept doing as I have been taught to do in coaching at Choices, to love the people when they walk in the room.
I stood in front of an angry crowd yesterday and was reminded of the fragility and grace of our human condition. I was reminded of our capacity to love and to harm one another. I was reminded of our greatness and our darkness. I was reminded, we are all connected. And when I can love the angry man and the screaming woman, I can love all of me.
I stood in front of an angry crowd yesterday and took down my wall. It wasn’t all graceful. It wasn’t all ease. But I did my best. And my best is good enough.