Wild Awakenings Beckon

The basic assumption of Healing Rage is that unresolved rage from childhood trauma is still locked in our bodies and minds. This blocked energy manifests as disguises of rage in our adult lives--ways we cope with life while denying an intimate experience with living. These disguises become such an ingrained part of our existence that we forget that the origins are rage. While our disguises of rage attempt to protect us from the pain of our past, they more often re-create the past and perpetuate the very suffering we seek to avoid. Unresolved rage has been passed on from one generation to the next, contributing to rage inheritances that collectively plague the world, and each of us--whether we know it or not--is charged with transforming this legacy.

--Ruth King

Ruth King Photo

Most of the people with whom I work (including myself) have been or are seriously enraged. As King highlights above, when this rage goes underground, great self-destruction, violence, and even death may occur. Her book, Healing Rage, is one of the best resources I have found to help make sense of this rage and transform it into an inner peace that has the wherewithal to spread outward and, so, contribute to the healing of our world.

King asserts that trauma between the ages of 0 and 12 usually engenders this rage and offers a broad definition of trauma:

an experience of severe emotional shock that causes substantial and lasting damage to our psychological well-being. Trauma is experienced as being intensely overwhelmed by a perceived threat or actual harm. Trauma can be a single incident of devastating loss, violation or injury, or a chronic atmosphere of fear and neglect.

When I reflect on the adult suffering I witness, early trauma is almost always part of the mix. The notion that looking backward amounts to "dwelling on the past" misses the reality that we cannot resolve our rage and generate an "intimate experience with living" until we acknowledge the trauma trapped within us. Only then can we process and let go of the rage and shame, rage's twin emotion according to King. Said differently, when we bury emotions alive, they do not die. We do.*

I appreciate King's attention to how rage manifests in diverse disguises. She identifies six: dominance, defiance, devotion, distraction, dependence, and depression. For example, King writes about defiance,

We know we wear the Defiance disguise of rage when we have a life pattern of anger and battle. Sometimes we battle outwardly with another person, place, or thing. Other times we battle within our mind or against our body. Anger is our way of keeping others, including ourselves, from noting the shame we are feeling.

I picked defiance because it is deeply familiar to me and is common in the academic environments in which I have worked. Although many of us are fighting for social justice, we are still fighting. Although I am imagining the scathing criticisms from several of my colleagues as I write this post, I know King's words to be true:

Defiance has become a way of hiding our shame of needing to be loved. It diverts us from the rage we feel toward our own helplessness and the longing to be honored and respected. Yet we are unable to discern that not everyone is the enemy. We are the last one to know that some wars have ended, and that there are new ways to survive that allow us to remove our armor, rest in our own skin, and heal.

King not only points out the ways that these disguises harm us; she also reveals the wisdom of each disguise, thereby emphasizing the great value embedded within it. About defiance, for instance, she asserts,

When Defiance is not ruled by a pressing anxiety for justice, its bright, warrior spirits can show up with more heart...Truth-telling, courage, freedom of expression, and choice flowing from a compassionate heart--these are the necessities of our spirit. Our keen sense of justice can give us a life of independence and self-respect, and be a gift that unites the world.

Needless to say, I recommend this book to all of us trying to better understand the suffering of others and ourselves. In addition to providing clear explanations, such as the excerpts highlighted above, King offers varied, concrete exercises for healing our rage. I particularly like her chapter on "looking in before acting out." In it, she provides instructions for distinguishing our observations from our interpretations, our pain from our suffering, and projections from feared and denied parts of ourselves. All of these tasks help us to reclaim our rejected experience and, in so doing, to heal. In King's words, "It is our response to what life offers that causes us suffering--not what life offers."

* I'm borrowing this idea of burying emotions alive from Tara Brach's talk "Accessing Innate Wisdom."

The Trouble with Disembodied Minds

In his TED Talk, "Do Schools Kill Creativity?" Sir Ken Robinson argues,

As children grow up we start to educate them progressively from the waist up. And then we focus on their heads, and slightly to one side. If you were to visit [public] education as an alien and say, 'What's it for?'...if you look at the output--Who really succeeds by this? Who does everything they should? Who gets all the brownie points? Who are the winners?--I think you'd have to conclude the whole purpose of public education throughout the world is to produce university professors, isn't it? They're the people who come out at the top...


We shouldn't hold them up as the high water mark of all human achievement. They're just a form of life, another form of life. But...there's something curious about professors. In my experience, not all of them, but typically, they live in their heads. They live up there and slightly to one side. They're disembodied in a kind of literal way. They look upon their body as a kind of transport for their heads, don't they? It's a way of getting their head to meetings.


If you want real evidence of out-of-body experiences, by the way, get yourself along to a residential meeting of senior academics and pop into the discotheque on the final night. And there you will see it, grown men and women writhing uncontrollably, off the beat, waiting for it to end so they can go home and write a paper about it.


Robinson's depiction of academics is not only hilarious but also deeply resonant for this recovering university professor. I spent years cultivating the capacities of my brain's left side at school, initially because that was a way to meet others' expectations of me, or at least not disappoint them. But as I grew older and began to perceive more clearly the hierarchies and inequities of our social order, academic knowledge became a way to respond to the disapproving words, "You are too sensitive," "Lighten up! That's just the way things are," and, "Stop being so critical!" With a PhD under my belt, I finally could respond to my internal radar that all was not okay with one of the most revered skills in our Enlightenment-based society: a logical, reasoned, evidence-based argument.

Unfortunately, arriving at the place where I qualified for an academic slot came with a pretty heavy price tag--namely, a kind of spiritual deprivation that quashed my creativity and diminished the attention I paid to my emotional development. At the peak of my academic career, I remember my own therapist instructing me to pretend I was a first grader and speak about my emotions from that perspective. "I don't need a dissertation from you about your feelings," she said. "I want you to be able to recognize and say, 'I feel sad. I feel happy. I feel scared.'" Needless to say, I was not very adept at identifying, processing, and letting go of emotions and so they often drove the show, seemingly not needing my Enlightened permission after all.

Any of you academics out there ever received a super nasty anonymous peer review? In my mind, that seems like one of the best examples of what happens when university professors do not attend lovingly to our emotional lives. The neglected emotions still appear on the scene but often in ways that wreak havoc and produce plenty of undue harm. I think Brene Brown hits the nail on the head with her discussion of emotions, shame, and academics:

...emotional accessibility is a shame trigger for researchers and academics. Very early in our training, we are taught that a cool distance and inaccessibility contribute to prestige, and that if you're too relatable, your credentials come into question. While being called pedantic is an insult in most settings, in the ivory tower we're taught to wear the pedantic label like a suit of armor.

Using my body to get my head to meetings, I also frequently missed the wonder of the present moment. In her weekly talks, Tara Brach regularly argues that awakening to the life within us starts in the body. When we touch into, say, the clenching of our stomachs that accompanies fear or the sense of contentment associated with a smile, we can more readily step out of the stories we've created about our lives and jump into life itself. In other words, we realize all these thoughts, feelings, and emotions are the waves of our lives, and we are the ocean, vast enough to let those waves wash over and through us before they dissipate. If we allow them to dissipate.*

Given that I work with individuals who often have complicated relationships with our bodies, such as those struggling with aging and/or chronic illness and/or those in the process of surgically and/or hormonally altering their bodies to make them more congruent with an internal sense of self, I imagine that this invitation to return to our bodies might seem unpleasant, if not downright threatening. I would argue, however, that our lived experience becomes a lot richer when we use all the senses available to us, not just our intellect. And to use those senses, we cannot dissociate from our bodies to the point that we no longer feel the coolness of the chair beneath us, smell the blooming lilacs as we pass them, hear the sound of frogs at night, taste a cool glass of water...

I continue to think one of the most powerful examples of how limited our world becomes when we prioritize a singular way of thinking and communicating as well as how expansive that same world can become upon deciding to relate to ourselves and the surrounding world in a multitude of ways appears in Amanda Baggs' video, "In My Language." So I will conclude with it:


* I borrowed this metaphor from Tara Brach's talk on Skeleton Woman.