Some Thoughts About Anger

I like people who are alive. People who are alive are hard to control. They have ideas, aspirations, and feelings, including anger.

John Cowan in Small Decencies


Lots of anger after November 8, 2016. Lots of fear too—often hidden in anger.

A few thoughts about anger:

Rollo May in Power and Innocence:   

The central element which constitutes the human being: It is the capacity to sense injustice and take a stand against it in the form of I-will-be-destroyed-rather-than-submit. It is a rudimentary anger, a capacity to muster all one’s power and assert it against what one experiences as unfair. …this elemental capacity to fight against injustice remains the distinguishing characteristic of human beings. It is, in short, the capacity to rebel.

Can we relate to anger at injustice? What do we do with the anger we feel when we see unfairness? What would be a good way to deal with election anger?

From an unknown source:

A peaceable young man asks a rabbi:

Are we not to forswear anger and live peacefully with all men? The rabbi answers, my son, God made anger for a purpose. If he had not intended for us to use it He would not have put it in our souls. Only be careful how you spend your anger. There are many things we should not be angry about. We should save our anger for those things which demand it.

What do we get angry at that we shouldn’t? How do we pick our battles?


Anybody can become angry – that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way – that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.

Do we think carefully about how we will spend our anger? Do we discuss our reactions with someone else before we express them?

I wrote in The Spiritual Warrior in the Time of Trump:

 Warriors are often angry people. Their anger is forceful disapproval of lies told, trust betrayed, innocence violated, reality denied, power abused, and incompetence rewarded. They don’t turn indifferent or deny their anger and become sadistic and abusive. True warriors engage their anger and use its energy to empower themselves and free others.

How do we engage and use our anger? When have we harmed the spirit of others in our own lives?

Rollo May in Power and Innocence:

In the utopian aim of removing all power and aggression from human behavior, we run the risk of removing self-assertion, self-affirmation, and even the power to be. If it were successful, it would breed a race of docile, passive eunuchs and would lay the groundwork for an explosion in violence that would dwarf all those that have occurred so far.

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The Spiritual Warrior in the Time of Trump

In the face of this we pray. In the face of this we love. In the face of this we forgive. Because the vast majority of water protectors know this is the greatest battle of all: to keep our hearts intact. Lyla June Johnston, young Native leader to Timothy Egan (NY Times, Dec. 2, 2016) at the North Dakota prairie camp where the Standing Rock Sioux are making a stand to keep an oil pipeline away from water that is a source of life for them.

Something has changed with the recent elections. The dangers to America and to the planet became more real to many, the threats to people more imminent.

Trump’s election calls people who fell asleep to awaken—a call to engagement and action.

America has many problems besides Trump and Pence: jobs, debt, wars, racism, sexism, terrorism, healthcare, homophobia, xenophobia, demagoguery, immigration, islamophobia, income inequality, a crumbling infrastructure and climate change along with many other threats to the natural world. But our biggest problems may be fear, anxiety, ignorance and the damage to the human spirit assaulted from all directions by egos without restraint. And, not on the horizon but needed most of all, we need value driven leadership.

We need to nurture, support and aspire to become spiritual warriors who do not identify with the tribe, state, demographic group and even nation. Spiritual warriors identify with life itself. Regardless of our differences, all people share a common humanity. Our spiritual warrior knows that much of human history is madness and she lives determined to contribute to a saner world.  The spiritual warrior understands that we live in an interconnected planetary community, and we depend on one another. Relationships matter and diversity is required for a sustainable community. She wants everyone to have dignity and to live a good life.

Our warrior has thought long and hard about her purpose in life—her reason for being. She knows her values and holds herself accountable for living true to them. Committed to learning to live in healthy and sustainable ways, she shares what she learns with others. All efforts to help life matter—small or large. All of us have many opportunities each day to lighten another person’s load in life. We don’t have to be a celebrity—we just have to care and want to help others.

The spiritual warrior gets courage from her vision, values and purpose. She weds power with values and strength with goodness. She knows that provoking the status-quo is dangerous and she may get hurt. She goes forward anyway. Spiritual warriors fight for all of life and the life of the planet earth. They fight against anti-life and anti-human forces. They fight for our humanity. Each of us can be a spiritual warrior in our own way and do what we can to fight ignorance in ourselves, grow in consciousness and stand against those things that threaten our planet and our spirits.

Warriors can be angry people. Good people with gentle natures have much to be angry about. Their anger energizes forceful disapproval of lies told, trust betrayed, innocence violated, reality denied, power abused, and incompetence rewarded. They don’t turn indifferent or deny their anger and become sadistic and abusive. True warriors engage their anger and use its energy to empower themselves and free others.

We feel uncomfortable with anger and often fear warriors–even the one inside of us. An important part of our psyche—the warrior within us cannot be wished away. If we try to banish the warrior from our psychic system, we drive our aggression underground into the unconscious where anger will find expression in destructive ways. We need to learn how to feel and express our anger and how to react to the anger of others.

The walking dead surround us: the sycophants, indifferent, legions who comply and conform, those who claim entitlement and helplessness, countless who live small and petty lives and not a few villains. We can be better.

Younger generations need to take responsibility for the creation of the world they want for their children. Minorities need to get engaged, fight efforts to deny them their vote and cast their ballots no matter the inconveniences. Blue Collar men and women need to resist manipulation, get informed and act not only in their own self-interest but for national and global interests that support humanity. We need spiritual warriors in all groups, united by their shared humanity, who will stand up, speak up and take actions that remind us of our own best possibilities.

We live in difficult times that test our goodness.

God and politicians won’t save us. We are responsible.

Can we keep our hearts intact?

See: Thoughts About Trump and The Call in the Time of Trump.

The Warrior Ed McGaa

Congratulations to the Standing Rock Sioux:  On Sunday (12/4/16), the US Army Corps of Engineers said it would not grant a necessary permit to allow the Dakota Access Pipeline to cross the Missouri River — putting the controversial project on hold indefinitely while officials explore alternative routes.

This drama reminded me of an interview I did with Ed McGaa in 1996.

Ed McGaa, an Oglala Sioux, was born and raised on the Pine Ridge Indian reservation in South Dakota. The son of strong parents, he grew up gifted and secure:

That is probably why I can take flack and it doesn’t bother me. I have a strong background in my mother and my father.

Ed’s (Eagle Man) development was nurtured by mentors such as Ben Black Elk, son of Black Elk, and an involved extended family:

He (Ben Black Elk) set the seeds because he always talked about his father’s book when I was little. My mother had a couple of sisters who played a strong role in my life. All my brothers saw combat in World War II so when I was a little boy I had these heroes, real live heroes, who would write letters back to me.

I have always been blessed with mentors. The spirit world put mentors in my life. I attended St. John’s University and a couple of Benedictine priests took me under their wing. Later Fools Crow and Bill Eagle Feather were honorable men to look up to.Ben Rifle was a congressmen who talked me into leaving the Marines to attend law school. Now I am older and my mentors are dead, but they are still here with me. I feel their presence.

As a Marine pilot Ed flew over one-hundred combat missions in Viet Nam. He earned a law degree from the University of South Dakota and is the author of many books including:  Mother Earth Spirituality, Native Wisdom: Perceptions of the Natural Way, and Eagle Vision: Return of the Hoop.

Upon returning from Viet Nam he was a leader in restoring Native American spiritual practices to his reservation. He shifted from being a physical warrior to a mystic warrior:

A mystic warrior is concerned about the preservation of the natural way. We had our way taken from us and we were forbidden to do it. Now it is coming back. But in my time, when I was young, there were very few young men who stood up for the Indian way. Most of them were in the bars, and they were captured by the white man’s drugs and the white man’s alcohol. They were brainwashed in the white man’s way by the boarding schools. They showed little attention towards the return of the natural way. The mystic warrior doesn’t fight physically but speaks up against the crowd for a way of life and for our spirituality. The mystic warrior leads a life the Great Spirit would want you to live.

Ed McGaa turned down careers in the military and in the law to follow his purpose. A mystical warrior lives a life of integrity:

It was easier to be ethical and honorable in the old Sioux life style because materialism did not permeate it and the values allowed you to be honorable and ethical.

In the Sioux tradition there is a high degree of honor. Our ancestors were so truthful that they never broke a treaty. They have a track record of family, environmentalism, and patriotism to the tribe. They were true to all the great ethical descriptions.

Some say I romanticize them. I do not romanticize them. I saw these people who were pure, full blood Indians who would stay at my parents place and they were all these things, and they had humor on top of it. They were always open as to how they could improve their spirituality. They were always open to what others were doing. They were able to adapt. The Sioux were great adapters.

Warriors were observed by the people and the leadership emerged. Leaders were those who demonstrated bravery, good judgment, and provided for the people. They were those who made good decisions. A real leader had few possessions; they gave their possessions to the people. Leaders had to demonstrate loyalty, ethical ability, and honor.

We recognize what is honorable, and we recognize what is unhonorable. It is just put inside of us. We recognize what is honorable and what is ethical. You have to put truthfulness away for the spirit world as you put food away for the winter. Humans get in trouble by bending truths. Being truthful is seeing the natural ways of life.

In helping to bring Indian spirituality back to his reservation, Ed McGaa stepped away from the crowd:

Sometimes you are at the cutting edge and you are out in front and the people are not ready for it. Later on in 20 or 30 years they will come and be part of it but you will have been forgotten. So I don’t recommend leading for anybody if you are thin-skinned.

Now, many years later, I am on the cutting edge again in sharing our spirituality with non-Indians. Others want to keep it secret.   Being on the cutting edge is not an easy road. I feel cursed by it in a way. You have to be extremely thick-skinned. I think in my next life I am going to be a simple farmer. Or I am going to be a poet or a musician. And not ever take this cutting edge role.

Why does he help non-Indians learn about Native American spirituality? “I don’t feel bad educating the white man. It is one world we live in.”

The Call in the Time of Trump

The “normal” state of mind of most human beings contains a strong element of what we might call dysfunction or even madness. The collective manifestations of the insanity that lies at the heart of the human condition constitute the greater part of human history. It is to a large extent a history of madness. Eckhart Tolle in A New Earth.


In 1994, I said yes to an intense calling: I set out to be my own learning laboratory. I wanted to learn how to live from a new world view: a view of the world as an alive, engaged, interwoven and interdependent living system where the human spirit mattered. I joined a movement to change how we lead, follow and work in organizations.

I completed a Ph.D. in Leadership and Organizational Change; began to write essays; and consulted with leaders and organizations. I hoped to be a catalyst to help them learn and grow as people and leaders.

The movement I joined with such excitement in 1994 did not change the organizational world as I had hoped. Occasionally leaders with insight and great hearts would elevate an organization to high levels of engagement, involvement and business results but when the leader left, the group would fall backwards. Often the decline went not back to the original starting point but a fall backwards of many generations of leadership. I retired after 13 years, my heart and soul worn out from the resistance to meaningful change. People wanted to feel better at work: most didn’t want to do the hard work to feel alive.

I now fear the same type of regression for America.

America elected a new president—an unconscious ego-driven man replaces a conscious and spiritual man. Desperate for change, even as they complained of too much rapid change, the Trump voters selected a president knowing he’s unfit for the job. In doing so, they put everyone at risk.

Many of us fear that America, having sat balanced precariously on the precipice of decline for some time now, chose in this election to return to previous states—personally and collectively–that may have seemed to work at an earlier time in our history—a more immature and unconscious time. And this choice will, many of us fear, take America into a deep and dark decline, which will threaten our well-being and our democracy.

On the edge of old age, part of me would like to drop out and live out my life in peace. But I cannot. I’ve been on my intentional personal journey in life since 1974 when I spent a month in a tough alcohol treatment center and had my first awakening.

Running away has not been my nature; going forward into the scary and often painful unknown has been my path. So I will do what I can and continue my efforts to bring some sanity to our mad world through my small contributions. Feeling alive comes from striving to achieve noble objectives. Living true to myself matters more than peace or success.

Many feel upset about the election and moved instantly into an attack mode at anything Trump or Republican related. I think most Republican approaches deserve strong criticism as so many cause human suffering. But I think we would be wise to pause and reflect on this election, how we feel about it and what we can do in positive and thoughtful response. Otherwise we will miss the opportunity for our own growth that resides in the pain we feel.

Trump is not the root problem: he is a symbol and a symptom. The human spirit suffers. Our human madness in how we live is the root problem. The suffering intensifies when demagogues convince people they will feel better by harming others. They will not. We should focus our efforts on fighting for the human spirit everywhere in whatever way aligns with our purpose and values.

If you feel great loss over this fundamental shift in America, take time to ponder what life calls you to do. Our primary purpose in life concerns the kind of person we become. Eckhart Tolle wrote in A New Earth that every human being shares a common purpose: To Awaken. Awakening brings a shift in consciousness from which we see life through new eyes. We also have our own unique personal purpose for how we use our unique talents in the world. Perhaps in our personal reflections, we can bring forth greater consciousness in ourselves.

The Roman philosopher Tacitus observed: “the desire for safety stands against every great and noble enterprise.” Tolle wrote: “If uncertainty is unacceptable to you, it turns into fear. If it [uncertainty] is perfectly acceptable, it turns into increased aliveness, alertness, and creativity.” We can feel alive by putting uncertainty aside and pursuing noble goals of our choosing.

If, under great pressure to conform to the madness of the world, we stay true to our deepest values and purpose for our lives and take purposeful actions, we will feel alive and together we will model a new and evolved consciousness to others.