I’ve been doing one of those intense, year-long spiritual programs, where meditating on a daily lesson will, I hope, bring me bit-by-bit closer to the divine. It’s been hard, really hard, but also amazing. I have 47 days to go.
Today’s lesson is “My heart is beating in the peace of God.” Sounds wonderful, right? Only problem is, my heart isn’t the least bit peaceful. Actually, it’s smokin’ angry. My husband and I had an exchange this morning. Let’s say it involved money. Let’s say one of us has been spending more than the other, and that it isn’t me.
Once he told a friend that “she keeps the household checkbook chained to her wrist.” Totally unfair. It made me sound like one of those wives who controls her husband’s every move. So I started being careful not to watch where all the money goes, to try to relax, to be generous, to trust that we’ll have enough every month. We do have enough.
But this is one of those months where our joint checkbook is suddenly, inexplicably empty—and we’ve had a string of them recently.
Fortunately, I have a plan.
I retreat to my study, where Jeff isn’t likely to bother me. I position myself in an open spot where I can move freely. And then I begin to rage.
I stand with my feet apart, swinging my arms, a little bent over, screaming obscenities interlaced with why why why? All of this is in silence, of course. But I breathe out hard through my mouth with each insult and cuss word.
It takes about 45 seconds before I’m spent, though it seems much longer. Tired, I flop into a chair. Am I finished? Can I get up, go downstairs, and act normal? Do I feel lighter? No? I rage again, until I do.
I stumbled on the therapeutic value of these two-minute tantrums a few years ago, when I was caring for my elderly mother. My mom was so wonderful—funny, loving, and demanding of me in an annoying, endearing way. For most of her life she could run circles around me. But in her last years, helping her do the simplest of tasks ate up incredible amounts of time.
On my trips home she always greeted me with an imposing to-do list. One day I rushed her through breakfast and bundled her up for an eye appointment. We had six other errands to run that day. Settled in the car finally, I saw that we were only five minutes later than planned. We’d make it to the doctor’s office mostly on time. But Mom gave me a plaintive look. “I forgot my purse,” she said.
It was in her apartment, five flights up. “Do you really need it?” I asked.
She just looked at me.
I pulled the car back into her parking space and went to get the purse.
As it happened, the previous week I’d seen a friend suffering through a tantrum with her two-year-old, who was throwing herself on the floor and wailing. I was having a bad day too, and I longed to be able to let my feelings out with such abandon. As I walked back through the parking lot to my mom’s apartment building, I realized I was alone. And I silently began to rage, swinging my arms and stamping my feet.
Finished, I couldn’t believe how much better I felt. I retrieved my mother’s purse and gave it to her with a pleasant, “Okay, now we’re ready.”
Having an occasional private tantrum has since become part of my spiritual practice. I’ve even gotten to the point where I can step out of sight somewhere and take care of business in 15 seconds. No religious text or guru’s guidebook I’ve read mentions the value of letting yourself give in to anger in some safe, solitary spot. But how am I supposed to find inner peace without an occasional cleansing rage? It’s like one of my favorite Facebook posts says: “I believe in peace and love, but I also cuss.”
Going back downstairs after my venting session, it occurred to me that the empty checkbook was not just Jeff’s fault. Not at all. I make my share of frivolous purchases. Looking at Jeff in his ratty old shorts, I have to admit that he’s pretty frugal. As he’s fond of pointing out, we’re housed, we’re well fed, we have no dire worries—and we’re more comfortable and far safer than most people in the world. For the first time since waking this morning, I could really consider letting my heart begin to beat in the peace of God. I sat down at our kitchen table and, with only an occasional grimace, began paying the monthly bills.