Love Life – March

‘Love Life’ is Bella’s Agony Aunt column by Jamie Heckert… because the personal is political and the ‘state we’re in’ is complicated. Freedom, in Scotland and elsewhere, isn’t something that is given by governments or other authorities. It’s something that’s practiced. And not just in social movements or halls of power. It’s part of everyday life. It’s in our bodies, in our relationships with ourselves and each other. Read the previous from the Love Life series HERE. Email Jamie at: bellaslovelife@aktivix.org

Dear Jamie, I want to ‘love life’ as you put it, but I’m too angry.

I’m pissed off with the bankers for selfishly robbing all the nations of the UK from the funds needed for health care, education and other public services. I’m angry with the politicians for letting them. I’m angry about climate change and deforestation and my neighbours covering their gardens in concrete. I’m angry about racism, sexism and homophobia. I’m angry with my co-workers for not wanting to organise together to make our workplace more democratic. I’m still angry with my parents for stuff that happened feckin’ years ago. And, if I’m honest, I’m angry with myself for not being more happy and peaceful so that I can get along better with these people to create something better than all this shit I’m angry about.

How the hell can I Iove life?

Furious in Falkirk

Dear Furious, I hear you loud and clear!

That’s a powerful lot of anger. So many of us growing up learn to suppress anger. We’re supposed to be nice boys and girls, so mum and dad can relax or whatever. And then many of us who become ‘radicals’ learn to hold on to our anger, to identify with it, to use it to fuel our activism, our writing or simply our sense of righteousness. Even more confusing, in my experience anyway, both can happen at the same time. To love life, could you start with loving the anger? It’s there for a reason, you know. It reminds you of what you really care about. If you didn’t care, you wouldn’t feel angry.

Sure, there are other emotions that also let you know you care (love, joy, delight), but just because they can be more comfortable doesn’t mean they are better. It’s okay to feel angry. It’s not so great to hold on to that anger, either by denying it or using it as a distraction from the rest of life. That kind of fuel for activism leads to burn out. Fresh, selfless anger can be a great kind of feedback for someone. Stale, resentful anger, not so much. I’m reading Inga Muscio’s amazing book Rose: Love in Violent Times, and she has some insightful things to say about making space for anger in life: “Even if you are a peace-loving yoga person, you still suffer from life’s disappointments. When left unchecked, negative emotions generally roil over into passive violence toward yourself and/or others, which makes the world a shittier place, and you, just another misery maker living in denial. Defend yourself by allowing your anger to come out in healthy, considered ways.” She talks about having regular anger meditations — buying cheap plates at a charity shop and smashing them, going out into a field or park and throwing things (great to do with friends), screaming underwater in the bath or in a car with the stereo blasting so no one else has to hear (but not while driving!). Here’s another one I’ve been practicing and finding incredibly helpful. Maybe you would, too. I can relate to that feeling of old, stale anger (among other emotions) from things that happened years ago. My dad was an alcoholic and I got bullied in school for being a queer, atheist geek. And I’m hardly alone in this. In a culture of domination, few have escaped some sort of violence in childhood. This is a silent meditation that comes in three parts. After finding a relatively quiet, comfortable place to sit with spine tall, shoulders relaxed, eyes closed: First, listen inside for those long held feelings. See yourself as you were. Remember what happened. Notice the feelings that arise. And let that younger you inside feel them. Let yourself know it’s ok to feel whatever you feel. It’s understandable, considering what happened to you. Give this time to sink in. Second, let that younger you inside know that you love them just as they are. There is nothing wrong with them. It’s just that painful things have happened. Sitting quietly, let yourself feel love. Let your younger self really feel it. Third, let your younger self know that they don’t have to think of themselves as a victim anymore. You’re here to look out for them. This third part is important. In order to love life, you have to know that you have power. You can use it irresponsibly (like lashing out as an angry victim, or selfishly like those focused on wealth and domination) or you find ways to live a useful life. Give yourself permission to let go of those victim-stories, so you can be strong in yourself. Now, this might have seemed too weird to me a few years ago. I’ve only tried it because someone I trust told me how much it’s worked for them. And, well, it’s working for me, too. Try it if you feel inspired to. Each time it can release that bit more, giving more space for fresh feelings, fresh life. A lot of people who talk about learning to love life emphasise the importance of forgiveness, and I agree. The trouble is, when we are used to being hard on ourselves, we can feel bad about about not forgiving.

So I’m particularly grateful to Bernardo Lischinsky for pointing out that “The first thing you need to forgive yourself for is the incapacity to forgive. If you want to know the nature of forgiveness, you have to practice it at home first before you perform on the streets. You are incapable of forgiving some things. And you have the right not to forgive. That’s the nature of forgiveness.” By learning to be gentle with yourself, forgiving yourself, you’ll find it easier to be happy and peaceful, to work well with others. How? Well, when you can see your own limitations with kindness, you can see the limitations of others with kindness, too. None of us is perfect. Loving life isn’t about demanding that it be perfect, or waiting until after everyone has woken up to the possibilities of cooperation instead of violence. It’s about loving ourselves and each other as we are, even in our ignorance, even with our limitations. Including finding it hard to love life — that’s ok, too. Letting it be hard can allow it to become easier.

Love, Jamie

As ever, if you have a question or a topic you’d like to see discussed in Love Life, please email Jamie at bellaslovelife@aktivix.org

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  1. Scottish gardener says:

    Thankyou for this article, I’m going to try your meditation when I get the chance. You’re views on anger are very refreshing. I don’t think we’re really taught how to deal with anger as we grow up, we’re taught that it’s negative and to suppress it and I think this just means we turn it inwards. I see it kind of like energy, you can’t destroy it, it has to go somewhere. I think forgiveness is over emphasized as a virtue too, too many times allowing cruel people off the hook.

    Sorry, rambled a bit there. Thanks for inspiring me to have a chat with the young me in my head, probably time I stopped punishing him for not standing up for himself and started standing up for him. He was only wee…

    1. Jamie Heckert says:

      You’re very welcome! I agree that most of us don’t learn how to deal with anger as we’re growing up. But it’s never too late. As for forgiveness, we might disagree. I don’t think cruel people ever get off the hook. Cruelty brings pretty direct suffering to those being cruel. In any case, enjoy your meditation!

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