You that Mitchel’s prayer have heard,
“Send war in our time, O Lord!”
Know that when all words are said
And a man is fighting mad,
Something drops from eyes long blind,
He completes his partial mind,
For an instant stands at ease,
Laughs aloud, his heart at peace.
Even the wisest man grows tense
With some sort of violence
Before he can accomplish fate,
Know his work or choose his mate.
– from “Under Ben Bulben”, William Butler Yeats
To those who know me personally, it will come as little surprise that the sport of boxing has been an influence on me over the last few years. I took lessons about three years ago (six months’ worth, about 40 completed in that time) that affected me rather strongly. To be clear, I have not sparred, although I have been punched in other circumstances. While I had previously studied a number of martial arts (jiu jitsu, tae kwon do, kung fu), boxing affected me physically, mentally, and spiritually in ways I had never felt before. Boxing has no philosophy, mysticism, or “forms” that come with it. It is very pragmatic. In addition, like many heathens, I am an amateur historian; boxing appeals to that part of me as well. I can read about a match from last week or the “Thrilla in Manila” with equal interest. I also think that the raw physicality of boxing unleashed a side of me that many other things (martial arts, hiking, service in the Army infantry, shooting, swordsmanship) did not. I now use it not only for a great workout, but also as part of my spiritual practice. I primarily practice through heavy bag work, but also with things like shadow boxing. As part of that three year effort, there are three things I would like to talk about here: a metaphor/realization, a book, and a documentary.
Realization – Rolling with the Punches
“We have an expression in prize fighting: ‘Everyone has a plan until they’ve been hit.’ Well my friend, you’ve just been hit. The getting up is up to you.” (from the movie “The Ghost and the Darkness,” in reality, the quote is attributed to Joe Louis)
A lot of life is about getting knocked down and having to get back up. Some use equestrian examples, eg, “getting back on the horse.” I prefer boxing metaphors. I have experienced a number of situations since I began my Work where just standing back up was terribly hard, but also proved to be the important lesson. Standing up can be literally a physical challenge, or it can be the recognition that something traumatic happened, and sometimes it takes a LOT of fire and courage to get back up to face things again.
Having said all of this, I now want to move to the book and documentary and talk about the prices we pay if we use Rage, Anger, and Hate but do not understand them. These emotions are a spiritual and mental form of fire. Fire can be used for light (as a candle) or to burn down a house (arson) or can even do both by mistake. It is something to understand fully before using it, so that it is used responsibly.
Book – Ghosts of Manila
This book deals with the price of hate, anger, greed, insults, and boxing as it pertains to Ali and Frazier. One man lost his body and the other his peace of mind. The price of a blood feud, ignorance, laziness, greed, and other things are all included. The author clearly has his own demons as well, but that is what makes it interesting.
Film/Documentary – “Knuckle”
“Knuckle” is a documentary about feuds in the Irish Traveler community. The feuds are illustrated via video; escalating insults exacerbate the situations until a sort of duel challenge is issued. The feuds are then “settled” by bare knuckle fist fights. The truth is that nothing is ever settled, and the main subject of the film, James Quinn McDonagh talks at the end of the price he has paid for being a champion. Although the concepts are quite old, the film itself is modern. One could argue that resolving disputes in such a fashion is much better than guns or knives but, in the end, it does not seem to solve anything and you get to watch two grandfathers trying to beat each other up.
Remember, ultimately, that Rage is Fire and is therefore a force that can burn out of control. The whole point of the Path of Fire is to understand this truth intimately and find a way to harness it to a positive end.
This is a toast I did earlier this year in preparation for some important work. Part of it was drawn from here: http://www.northernpaganism.org/rokkatru/jotunbok/bindings.html. The rest is mine.
The Hag of the Iron Wood had three children,
And the daughter was death,
The son was destruction,
And the third encircled the world.
Beard of a gentle woman.
Spittle of a bird.
Footfall of a cat.
Breath of a fish.
Nerves of a bear.
For Fenris must be chained
Or Chaos will be King.
Tyr, I ask for the strength to make the necessary sacrifice. Inspire in me the strength to do what I must that I might forge a chain for myself and others. Let me bind Wisdom and Rage with Honor and in the forging of my own chain know my own strength and my own wisdom
This is an updated version of some comments I made here: https://facingthefireswithin.wordpress.com/2012/05/14/a-christian-site-on-anger-8/
After writing that, I discussed the Christian/Submission to Deity method with a pagan priest and he pointed out that it was entirely possible for people to hand off their anger to an appropriate pagan deity. His point was that my method was a more “warrior-oriented” one and that others might very well be able to use the submission/offering technique even if they did not follow an Abrahamic path. Based on that discussion and further review, I am updating my work in progress regarding dealing with Anger/Rage. Please note that these notes, and effectively my entire blog, are experiential and based entirely on my own path and research. Your mileage may vary.
I have broken these out as: Above, Below, Water/Ice and Fire. It is also worth noting that my use of elements is more Fire vs. Water/Ice rather than the classic four elements of antiquity. This is a reflection of my more Heathen orientation. My view of these styles is as follows:
Above – This is a non-practice specific version of offering/submitting the instances of your rage and anger to a higher power. The details will vary by your practice and the deity involved.
Below – This is, in effect, Denial. It is forcing your feelings into your “basement” and denying they exist. If you can envision Anger/Rage as the Beast Within, that beast will ultimately dig out of your basement and cause harm. This is the default method for most people—until it stops working. Once it fails, it can fail catastrophically. (I have had comments that this could apply to any of the methods but I feel that Below/Denial carries additional risk based on my own experience.)
Water/Ice – This is my description for the methods common to practices like Buddhism, Stoicism, and Taoism, where one uses reflection and/or meditation to reduce or redirect anger. (I do understand that there are differences between the belief systems. This is a deliberate generalization.) Some example sayings:
Buddhism – (From the Four Immeasurables) “May all sentient beings be in equanimity, free of bias, attachment and anger.”
Stoicism – (From Epictetus) “If you do not wish to be prone to anger, do not feed the habit; give it nothing which may tend to its increase.”
Taoism – (Excerpted from verse 23 of the Tao te Ching)
Express yourself completely,
then keep quiet.
Be like the forces of nature:
when it blows, there is only wind;
when it rains, there is only rain;
when the clouds pass, the sun shines through.
Fire – This method, the one I am trying to refine and find a way to teach, involves accepting that angry part of yourself and embracing it. You must learn to face the Rage Beast inside and walk straight into that Fire. You must find a way to let it burn you a bit and then apply your own leash or chain while accepting that this is a valid and important part of you. My visualization for this is Gleipnir, the chain which bound the Fenris wolf. If you envision your Beast as your inner Fenris, then you must find—or forge—your own version of Gleipnir to bind it safely. Doing this correctly will help you accept your Rage and become one with it for a time without letting it possess you completely. Once I did this, I found that I could pass through most anger with laughter. It’s similar to the Water method in that it becomes a continuous process through maintenance and meditation, but the approach is from the opposite direction.
It is my hope and intention to refine these explanations over time as I continue research and work with those who ask for my help.