Anger as an Arrow
As an herbalist and breathwork practitioner, and as someone who believes healing is always political, I work with a strong desire to connect our personal healing work with collective healing work.
These things are not separate.
- Jennifer Patterson
It has been a heavy and hard summer for so many. It has been a heavy and hard few years for many as well. As the ongoing violence in several areas of the world continues, for many of us, our rage, and our grief, have been building. Maybe all we have known is anger and we are tired of having it bloom at unexpected moments- at the right or wrong people. Maybe we have never been able to fully access our own anger and we are still searching, waiting to express it. All too often we don’t understand how to navigate our rage. We don’t know how to witness another’s. Our inability to witness and express our own anger can be directly related to how we witness and hear and respond to another’s anger.
Privilege and oppression shape the way others receive our anger. Most BIPOC (black, indigenous, & people of color), queer and trans people, cisgender women, those of the poor and working class, people who are disabled, and those who have experienced childhood or adulthood abuse (and all the intersections) have varying experiences in the world- but share knowing what it means to live with violence. Quite often, we experience a world that wants to disconnect us from our anger.
In spiritual or healing spaces, there exists spiritual bypassing of difficult emotions in service to an idea of “love & light” - which does a dangerous disservice to us all. This allows for egregious violence and harm to exist within these “wellness” and healing worlds.
I believe that anger most certainly has it’s place in our world. It is an incredible motivator. Anger can enliven and connect us. It can help us find each other and link us in our fight for justice, care, wellness, and safety for all people. Anger can be a catalyst for not another second more. I feel a deep appreciation in witnessing someone else’s anger, the care and trust they take in sharing it with me. They are letting me know that something is not ok for them.
As a white, queer, currently working class person, and survivor of multiple forms of violence, navigating my struggles with mental health, I experience both privilege and oppression, like a lot of us. My experiences look similar to some peoples and very different to others. I both carry identities that experience oppression and carry privilege that I can use as a tool.
As a young person, finding other survivors of violence helped cool some of my rage. Helped me feel less alone and more understood. I’ve experienced that over and over in finding other people doing community organizing work, liberation and justice work.
Often times the people or the conditions oppressing us also try to manage our emotional experiences. We get told we aren’t allowed to feel angry or sad and our identities also shape this. Either we refuse, then perhaps feel consumed by our un-witnessed anger that grows, or we stuff the emotion down and lose a connection to it, remaining alive in our bodies, reeking havoc.
Anger can also consume, not allowing us to experience the other emotions under anger. Anger’s arrow points to a place in us and our communities where there is harm, wrong doing, injustice, violence, where things are not ok. It points to where we feel sad, hurt, afraid or vulnerable.
Our individual liberation is part and parcel of how free the people around us are and feel, is always connected to larger social justice movement and liberation work. Our healing and wellness is too. We can go through the motions of healing, but many of us leave workshops, classes, groups and other safe spaces, and back into a harmful world. So this work is harm reduction work. It acknowledges that the harm is ongoing, through a space where we can feel some of what we need.
It’s so important to find spaces to be together to turn towards the anger, and find where it lives in our bodies. We have to be with our anger in a non-judgmental way to experience what it is trying to communicate to us. Witnessing and expressing our anger - instead of swallowing it or pushing it down - means we are committed to not letting the anger harm us. And we have to find a way to express it in a way that doesn’t harm other people.
Looking at anger means we get to make room for what lives underneath anger too. Finding the spaces and the people we can trust to do this work with us means we get a chance at using anger as a tool for helping ourselves and other people get free.
Feeling and expressing anger is often a radical practice of love. Like full-to-the-brim love. The kind that is bursting and burning. Anger is revolution, believing in something better and different, which I don’t think we can get enough of these days.
Jennifer Patterson is a grief worker who uses plants, breath, words to explore survivorhood, body(ies) and healing. A queer and trans affirming, trauma-informed herbalist and breathwork facilitator, Jennifer offers sliding scale care as a practitioner through her own practice Corpus Ritual and is a member of The Breathe Network and Breathwork for Recovery. She facilitates writing and breathwork workshops at healing centers, LGBTQ centers, a needle exchange and harm reduction clinic, veterans hospitals, online with the Transformative Language Arts Network, sexual violence resource centers, at colleges and universities, and in the past, the collective What Would an HIV Doula Do? and a Hasidic and Orthodox Jewish healing center. She is the editor of Queering Sexual Violence: Radical Voices from Within the Anti- Violence Movement (2016), speaks across the country, and has had writing published in places like OCHO: A Journal of Queer Arts, Nat. Brut, The Establishment, HandJob, and The Feminist Wire with new publications forthcoming. She is also the creative nonfiction editor of Hematopoiesis Press. A graduate of Goddard College’s MA program, Jennifer is finishing a book project focused on translating embodied traumatic experience through somatic practices and critical and creative nonfiction. You can find more at ofthebody.net.