A Ritual for Metabolizing Anger: The Wednesday 1-2-3

Happy May Day Reader,

I’ve been reflecting this week on the role of anger, both personally and collectively.

I would never describe myself as a person who is quick-to-anger, and yet when I attune to my inner life I can feel it moving, almost constantly, in one way or another.

At times, it’s directed at myself and feels like a bouncy ball (perhaps with spikes) ricocheting around in an enclosed room; other times, it feels like an ever-expanding orb of energy, just trying to find an external direction; and then there's those moments when it knows its direction and it's already on its way by the time I realize it.

Anger shows up in a multitude of ways.

It's what led me to smash my piggy bank in elementary school, in my first act of anti-capitalistic fervor. (Thank you Mom for gluing it back together.) And it’s what led me to learn how to say “NO” in work settings.

And on a collective level, anger is a key ingredient in change-making.

Yuri Kochiyama’s civil rights organizing was inspired by the anger she felt at the inequitable conditions she experienced in her Harlem housing project; the Black Lives Matter movement uses collective anger to directly challenge the centuries-old practice of police brutality against Black people; the anti-war movement of the 1960s (and earlier) all the way to today has been driven by anger at the mass destruction of human life.

(And it’s important to name that collective anger used for change-making is typically reacted to with collective and defensive anger as well: in these cases specifically, “White backlash,” the rise of authoritarian and fascist political ideologies, and police using rubber bullets and teargas against students at nonviolent campus protests.)

A question for each of us personally, and all of us collectively, is this: how are we metabolizing our anger?

In her book Black Liturgies, Cole Arthur Riley shares the following story about a ritual that does just this – that allows anger to flow and then “send[s] the teeth where they’re meant to go.”

There we stand—staggered and shivering in the darkness next to the barn.

The children among us giggle nervously, tucking themselves into the warmth of their father. Someone glances at their watch and counts us down. Three—and we squint at each other, eyes darting from face to face. Two—and we’re inhaling with a singular mouth, letting our bellies descend beneath us. One—and we’re screaming. One long and aching and terrible scream. Some of us run out of breath sooner than the others.

We gasp for air and let out a second howl—fists clenched, veins bulging. And another. And another. Some of us barely know each other, but in the absurdity of this act, we’re known. Even the children aren’t giggling anymore; they are young, but they are old enough to know that they have something to scream for. And together in the dark, we allow our anger to take up the space it is often denied the other days of the year. It’s a reclamation practice.

Without fail, it seems as if each year there are one or two newcomers to whom we have to explain the rituals. The 11:00 p.m. scream yields the most resistance. And as much as we prepare them, they are always surprised to find that when we say scream, it is precisely what we mean. Full sound, lungs gasping, in-the-body kind of scream. It is a vulnerable thing to be known in this way.

So, the newcomer will begin restrained, eyes flitting around waiting to see how willing everyone else is to be known. And then by the second scream, there is a shift. The insecurity in them begins to quiet, and they realize that no one cares about how squeaky or raspy or scared or angry they sound. This ritual—this collective demonstration of anger—is safe. And in its own way, liberating.
The group dynamic always shifts after 11:00 p.m. We walk back to the house and people begin to move just a little bit closer to one another. By the time we return to the light, no one is shivering anymore.
You were not meant to live life constricted. The oppressors of this world have told you to play nice, be civil. They tell you to control yourself. But by this, they only mean they want you easy to be controlled. Don’t be mistaken, your anger doesn’t have to look like that of those who seek to destroy you.
There is an anger that affirms dignity instead of degrading it.
For humanity, for those you love, and for yourself—you can rage. You can shout in the dark for things you don’t even have the words for. Your anger is sacred, a protector of goodness in a menacing world. Do not cage it up, letting it chew through you from the inside out. Send the teeth where they’re meant to go.

❓ Questions

  1. What is your relationship with your anger? If you were to describe it with imagery, how would you? Try centering yourself and then starting with this: “My anger feels like…”
  2. What is your response to others’ anger, including collective anger? What does your body do when face to face with it? What comes up for you?

🛠️ Resources

⏪ If you missed last week's email:

I shared an approach to building an inner work practice when you "don't have the discipline."

Hope all is well-enough with you,


IG: @andrewglang

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The Wednesday 1-2-3

Inner work frameworks, practices, and questions – all in a five-minute read. Delivered to your inbox every Wednesday morning before you even wake up. Written and curated by Andrew Lang.

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