Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Alchemy of Anger

My husband and I were driving to Middle Oregon, a green place sometimes reminiscent of Middle Earth if you’ve ever been there. We traveled to see his sister and had set out in the evening, stopping the first night in Eureka. Work had been very stressful and I was not at my best preparing for this trip. Realizing I had failed to pack some essential item, a hair dryer or something, we were in the Walgreens to remedy the situation.

At the checkout counter with my purchase, I pulled out my checkbook. The kid at the counter looked at my check and said, “We don’t take out of town checks.” He blinked at me, waiting.

Ordinarily, this is the kind of thing that does not disturb one feather for me. Ordinarily, I say.

“This is Wells Fargo!” I sputtered and spat, pointing to the well-known bank logo on my check. I was incredulous. The hour was late. There was nowhere else to go. This was the last in a series of indignities of the week and plucked the high-screech of my last nerve.

I stomped my foot. Yes, I actually stomped my foot. I can’t believe I did that. It was a Shirley Temple move if I ever did one.

My opponent was unmoved.

“This is AMERICA!!”

My husband observed this from a safe distance and burst out laughing. His little power-pack puffin was getting nowhere with the bored youngster behind the counter and he’d never seen quite such a fit of pique. Happy that it was aimed at the slack-jawed simian behind the counter, he whipped out his plastic credit card and saved us all from a night in jail and hospital.

I was still spitting like a dowsed cat on the way back to the motel room, sending my energy into the night.

This is still one of my husband’s favorite stories about me, uncharacteristically unloading directly on the object of my disaffection in public like a ferocious wren.

“And she stomped her little foot!” he will cry in delight, retelling the story while I sneer and blush.

My usual response to my own inner incendiary devices is to channel that explosive energy towards something useful. I don’t know when I learned to do this but it has been a useful coping mechanism for me and kept me out of some very dark places. The habit came into sharp focus for me when I was a new computer programmer working for a major insurance company in the Midwest.

My mentor Jim had coached me on how the systems worked and I had done a lot of my own work to absorb the ins and outs of our software. We were going to have our first big release that included my participation not as an observer but as the go-to person. It was like my solo debut and I had a wide-eyed case of pre-performance jitters. To make matters more exciting, Jim was going to be out of town. The training wheels were off. Jim gave me a pep talk.

“What if something goes wrong?” I whispered, afraid to say it aloud as if “it” might hear me.

Jim grinned at me, “Get mad. Just get mad.”

In that instant, I realized he was right and so very right about me. I would turn fear, uncertainty and anger into the weapon to solve the problem at hand, transforming that energy that could otherwise be dissipated into the ether into a laser beam to shoot down any bug that may flutter in the software. And in that instant, I was so glad that Jim knew me that well, knew that’s how I worked, how my engine ran. My debut was flawless and the next week Jim was proud of me. What I gained, however, was so much more than self-confidence in my abilities as a programmer. I gained control over the use of my energy to make it work for me through self-awareness.

Obviously, I haven’t perfected the technique!

That transformation of elements in just the right amount to make them work for you instead of against you is a kind of personal alchemy. All of the elements are still there: Fear of failure, anger at the issue, ennui at this being your task perhaps when you least want or need it, fight or flight. The alchemical elements of air (thoughts and conflicts), earth (tangible considerations), fire (temper, drive, inspiration) and water (emotions including fear, sorrow and love) are blended in just such a way that with your unique spirit, you can turn them from wasted energy and self-directed weapons into the power to move forward. That alchemy, the remixing of elements into new forms, in Tarot is the essence of Temperance.

Art Postcard Tarot
(c) Copyright 2010 Marcia McCord

“You’ve really got it together!” Not always.

“You always know what to do!” Not always.

“You’re annoyingly cheerful!” OK, maybe that.

Recently, I sought to help a friend who had posted their woes at having been betrayed by someone they trusted. My heart went out to them. It was obvious that this person was suffering in their disappointment. I suggested the technique of turning that anger and sorrow into energy that served them positively.

They deleted my message.

I realized suddenly that I probably had made matters worse instead of better. It became clear to me that the posting was not a cry for this kind of help. Whether it was meant to be a “misery loves company” rally to like-wounded friends to indulge in sorrow or just blowing off steam, purposefully giving that energy to the universe just to get it out of their soul, what it wasn’t was a 911 call for a practical aid. Because after all, my alchemy is not their alchemy and my answers are not their answers. We both know that and we are still friends.

So I’ve rechanneled the energy I would have spent on them into this post, thinking if it doesn’t help everyone, it might help someone. And if it helps someone, then that has surely turned lead into gold.

Best wishes.

1 comment:

  1. Marcia: Temperance is one of my birth cards and it's always been something I've struggled with! (And now just re: my temper). Nice post - and of course I love the alchemy references!