Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Making Peace with Anger

I remember growing up how my family seemed to be on fire with anger. Heated fights with sharp words sometimes seemed the only way we could communicate with one another.

When I got older, at times I faced an anger so deep that fire seemed to course through my veins. I would shake, tears would stream from my eyes. I would fling words like knives from my mouth. Afterwards I felt like a monster, for surely I had betrayed the trust of those around me. How could anyone love me again?

Through emotional education with Satvatove Institute and my own exploration over the years, I have been on a long, painful and beautiful path of healing. I have learned so much about the dynamics of anger, being in integrity, and being assertive. I would say that I had made a tentative peace with anger.

Then, about a month and a half ago, I was tested. For the upcoming drama here in Mayapur, I was asked to play the part or Lord Narasimha. Lord Narasimha is God in His most ferocious, terrible form as the personification of anger to protect His devotee.

I agreed to play the part.

This particular production was unique, for we would be portraying Lord Narasimha with four people, to represent the aspect that God is everywhere. In practice, I would roar and kill and destroy, my rage filling the entire auditorium.All four of us girls seemed to go deeper and deeper into the experience of divine anger.

But as practices wore on, I would sometimes leave late at night feeling so exhausted and empty. For a week or so I lost my voice so profoundly that my words came out in squeaks. I was supposed to be a lion but I felt like a kitten!

The day of the performance, the director kept insisting on using dramatic bloody guts that I would rip out of the abdomen of the demon I was killing. At her insistence, inside of my chest I felt a brick wall come up.


I wouldn’t do it.

I said I didn’t want to because I had never practiced the whole killing scene before. There were so many other things that were last minute. I didn’t want to ruin my entire costume.

Etc. Etc.

Deep down, I knew the reason why I didn’t want to rip out the demon’s guts.

I was scared.

I was scared of my own anger, of expressing anger to that utter point of rage. In practice, I had always mimed ripping out the demons heart and placing his intestines around my neck. But to actually have blood on my hands, for blood to fly everywhere…

I cowered inside.

That was taking anger too far.

When I was having my lion face make-up done, I remembered the story of how Jadurani dasi had been painting this same killing scene with Lord Narasimha and the demon, Hiranyakashipu. The original painting had had a few drops of blood here and there. Srila Prabhupad had frowned and then ordered her to paint blood and gore everywhere. So she did. Only then was Prabhupad satisfied.

If this is what Srila Prabhupad would want, I thought, then my resistance to this violence is only out of my own personal fears.

Just before the crowds started to arrive, we went on stage and practiced ripping open the armor. I went through the practice with tight lips and a frowning face. Clammy hands.

There was no backing out now. After the practice, I nodded curtly, silently, that I would do it.

The drama began. Scene after dramatic scene, I could feel the tension building. The demon Hiranyakashipu kept trying to kill his son, Prahlad, but the Lord kept coming to protect the little boy. Prahlad's demon father was at wit's end.

The finale scene came. A giant, Styrofoam pillar was moved onstage. We four Lord Narasimhas lined up behind the pillar, and I stepped inside the pillar itself. I could feel the entire auditorium watching us on the other side of the styrofoam walls. The air seemed to crackle with electricity.

I turned to the other Narasimhas and whispered, “Let us pray. Let us pray to Lord Narasimha that we may represent Him as a service to the devotees,” All of our faces became grave and we folded our palms.

I turned back around, folded my palms, and closed my eyes. I felt feverish. I murmured over and over again, “Jai Nrisimha, Sri Nrisimha, Jai Jai Nrisimhadeva,” I could hear my voice echo off of the pillar walls. 

Something curious happened. Chills went up and down my whole body.Then suddenly, a deep calm settled over my entire body. I stopped murmuring out loud. I opened my eyes.

Hiranyakashipu shouted, “If He is everywhere, even in this pillar, then I shall kill Him!” and struck the styrofoam walls.

I reached one hand through the crack. Then the other hand. With one move, I tore the pillar to both sides of the stage, leapt out of the pillar and roared from a place deep within. The roar of all four of us filled the auditorium. Cheers joined our roars.

As Lord Narasimha, I killed the demons one by one, like crushing insects. My heart pounded. I went through the motions of how we had done it in practice two dozen times, but suddenly this didn’t feel like practice anymore.

This was real.

We fought and danced through the fight scene. At last the moment came when I placed the demon into a backbend over my knee. I drew my claws and the demon screamed when he looked up at me.

My eyes were fire. My mind spun with the emotions, but mostly with the words: How dare you?

How dare you? 

I plunged my hands into the demon’s armor, wrestled with the saran wrap that covered the blood soaked garlands. I lifted the garlands out and suddenly blood exploded everywhere. The audience roared. I kept ripping the garland and then slammed the pieces to the side of the stage.

I drank the demon’s blood. In one final move I mimed placing his intestines around my neck. In deep disgust, I looked down at the demon’s broken body and flung him away. I roared twice more until my entire body shook.

When the play continued, I saw that blood had gotten all over the entire stage.

I only ceased my anger when the boy, Prahlad, came to offer his prayers. My face slowly softened, my claws slowly relaxed. At last I gestured to the boy to come close and I petted him with tender affection.

The fire had left my body and my heart.

When I got backstage, I saw that I had gotten blood not only all over my costume, but the other three Narasimhas as well. What I had feared the most had happened. A part of me wondered if others would shy away from me after witnessing such ferocity.

But there was no fall-out. In fact, all the other actors and the audience was delighted that blood had gotten all over everything. I was shocked. I kept insisting on somehow or other washing out the stains.

I walked home, quietly reeling from what had just happened. I went to sleep that night exhausted to the bone, as if I had just fought a war.

The next morning I woke up deeply reflective. I began my spiritual practice of chanting God’s holy name, and images from the night before began to flash before my mind’s eye. The demon, the four Narasimhas, the roars, the blood flying everywhere. Everywhere.

As I continued to chant and the images wheeled through me faster and faster, my body was swept with chills.

At last. At last I had not only faced my anger, God had given me the opportunity to purify that anger. God had allowed me to channel His anger as a service.

Gratitude rolled through my body in waves.

Days went by and men, women, and children in the Mayapur community approached me. They expressed their gratitude that I had portrayed such a ferocious form of Lord Narasimha. I could only bow and quietly offer their appreciation to Lord Narasimha.

Thank you, Lord Narasimha. Thank you. Thank you. May Your divine anger purify my heart.

ugram viram maha-vishnum 
jvalantam sarvato mukham 
nrisimham bhishanam bhadram 
mrityur mrityum namamy aham 

"May my head be protected by the moon colored one, who is the greatest among humans. My obeisance unto the ferocious and powerful, the great Vishnu, the fiery one, whose faces are on all sides; the fearful one, Nrsimha, who causes the death of even death personified."

To write is to dare the soul. So write.