Ever seen a dolphin hold a grudge? Yeah; me neither. And it’s not because I’ve never actually met a dolphin – well, not just because, anyway. It’s because dolphins are smart –like, super smart. Not just cognitive functioning smart, but emotional intelligence smart – like, being highly competent at connecting with their internal dolphin feelings, and processing them efficiently, and then coming back to their dolphin centers in a reasonable time span-smart.
According to the bevy of marine biologists and behavioral psychologists who’ve weighed in on the matter, the reason dolphins are so emotionally on point is that when they get mad, they get really mad. An angry dolphin will pound its fins, smack the water with its tail, squeal, shriek and generally freak the fuck out – for all of fourteen seconds, at which point the dolphin softens, and returns to her baseline emotional state – joyful, playful, communal and awesome.
The key to the dolphin’s emotional brilliance is that, during those fourteen seconds, the slick, grey ocean critters express their anger fully. They don’t hold back. They don’t meter it out in easy-to-swallow morsels; nor do they sugar coat, backpedal, dial down, or put on a happy face when they are, in fact, wracked with self-doubt and four-days late hormonal angst. Dolphins don’t sweep their shadowy emotions under any proverbial marine rugs, nor do they shove them into boxes labeled Unseemly emotions unfit for public expression. Dolphins allow themselves to feel whatever it is they authentically feel, and then give those feelings as much space as they need to express as intensely and as comprehensively as they need to, and then – and here’s the kicker – they let them go. That’s the beauty of full and complete expression. It empties the cache! There’s nothing left to hold onto, because it’s all been felt and moved and released.
And so it is that when it comes to rage – or, any emotion, really – I have adopted The Fourteen Second Rule for myself. Except – let’s be honest – it usually takes way longer, because human emotion is a tad (read: light years) more complex than the ocean mammal variety. Still, the same basic principles apply: I let myself be angry – like, really angry; like, as angry as I really, truly am - until I’m not. And no, this doesn’t mean screaming at the Apple Care guy who left me on hold for twenty-nine minutes, nor does it mean throwing fists or destroying my snow globe collection. There is a big difference between expressing anger, and leaking anger. What it does mean, however, is allowing the energy to move through (and out of) me - in a safe, and responsible way – until it loses its charge.
Now, unlike some other emotions that lend themselves to quiet meditative contemplation, anger is an active energy. Anger likes to run, jump, sing and scream. Anger likes to clutch a crayon in its fist and move it across a massive pad of paper in long, furious strokes as Fiona Apple sings about her latest relational affront and you holler, “I feel ya’, girl!” while coloring a blood-sucking unicorn turquoise.
Anger needs the right setting to do its thing, because anger can be kind of scary to onlookers. Screaming is a fabulous way to move the energy, but it’s the sort of thing you want to do in relative solitude – in your car, or the shower, perhaps. Heck, even shoving your face into a pillow will do in a pinch. All that matters is that you carve out some privacy, and let the energy go.
Personally, I like to dance; and to this end, I am fan of the Fourteen Second playlist – a collection of songs that I sing/scream along to while stomping and leaping through the forest, neutralizing any and all shadowy/agitated charges with some fresh mountain air, and a handful of biting lyrics. Think Public Enemy, The Smashing Pumpkins, or any number of emo Lillith Fair Riot Grrls circa 1996 – these all make for great soundtracks to accompany your next Fourteen Second solo rage-it-out dance party.
And please don’t go worrying about how ridiculous you look or sound while raging, or growling, or crawling on your hands and knees making guttural noises as you drool. These fourteen seconds (minutes? hours?) aren’t a performance. Nor does your rage need to be reasonable. Chant in gibberish while making shadow puppets with your feet if so inspired. All that matters is that you allow the energy to move through you – completely - without hurting yourself or others, or winding up in jail for disturbing the peace.
Sometimes it takes only a couple minutes, and sometimes it takes a couple days. Don’t rush the process, and whatever you do, don’t judge it. Anger gets a really bad rap in our culture, where it is automatically associated with violence, and lack of control, and is thus deemed bad or wrong or terrible. Fuck that. Rage simply is. Some of us are more familiar with it than others. And yes, it is on us to learn how to work with our rage responsibly, which is why we are wise to take a lesson from our dolphin friends, and let ourselves get really, super very angry. For fourteen seconds. Or as long as it takes to find our way back to center.