In 2014, the public execution of Michael Brown left me pissed. The grotesque display of in-affection towards his humanized Blackness left me ineffably pissed. I start here and not in 2012, in reference to Trayvon Martin, because in 2014 my anger hit a boiling point. Folks that know me well know 1) I’m a theologian and 2) I low key have an anger problem. Perceptually, those two categories don’t co-exist, because people who deal in the subject of theology, whether you’re a pastor, scholar or yogi are supposed to always be on the side of peace. However, my make up hasn’t always been that way. To understand how contemplation has helped me, I’ll share my personal journey.
I provide this background, not for anyone to think that I am a tough guy, but to show that I have chosen various ways to express my anger in the past.
In middle school I often walked alone because of my faith choices. But I was also known to “get in that ass.” I was suspended a few times. I was also cut some breaks by administration because I had good grades. I always felt untouchable, because I thought if I had good grades no one could really say much about what I was doing otherwise. It wasn’t until my father threatened to take away high school football that I stopped fighting in school.
In high school I was pretty quiet, although I was tempted often, but I really didn’t have to fight again until college. I went to Morehouse, and I went with the idea that we were all men aspiring to do great things. But what I didn’t realize was that we were varying forms of alpha men trying to find our place in the hierarchy of manhood and scholarship.
I played football at Morehouse and wasn’t used to being challenged in the way that I was on the team. In high school I was respected for my faith and my play. In college, I felt my faith wasn’t respected and as a freshman I had to reasonably earn respect for my play (I know Morehouse football hasn’t always had the best reputation, so what, you still have to start somewhere). Mind you after a few close encounters with teammates and classmates I began partaking in the “club deuce” fight club we had on our floor at nights when we were bored and looking for an outlet. But after an argument over the 2004 Bush election, I lost it. I attacked a dude, chased him down the hall and continued on. I had a meeting with the head RA of the dorm and thankfully, the ramifications of the incident went no further. I pretty much chilled out after that, and really didn’t have too much static afterwards either (The occasional on the field fight doesn’t really count. It’s football!).
Flash forward to 2014. The emotions that I felt, the thoughts that I had, didn’t reflect the normative posture of a theologically grounded man. I didn’t want prayer, I didn’t want to be peaceful, I didn’t want to see America continue as if nothing had ever happened. I wanted revenge. Every fiber of my incredibly educated and physically strong (~ 200lbs) being was enraged and was willing to find ways to employ it in the name of Blackness. My wife was scared, my family was concerned. Folks were hitting me up asking “Phil, you good man?” But I wasn’t. I was running the elements of my anger over and over in my mind and my body had been taken over by it. My anger was effecting my relationship with my wife and was creating a potentially dangerous internal state that wouldn’t be healthy for me if I maintained it. I wanted so badly to do something.
Here’s where contemplation comes in. My PhD work is in spiritual formation. My emphasis is on the intersection of neuroscience and spirituality. My classwork and personal research have provided me the opportunity to learn about and engage spiritual practices that have helped me deal with my anger, retool it and re-focus the energy associated with it. Among other ideas, I hope to help contribute to the fight against oppression by sharing my insights and working with Black folks to help them center their anger and harness it as well, so that folks may collectively push for freedom. The practices have helped in (6) distinct ways that I believe are paramount to dealing with the trauma and subsequent rage that ensue when Black folks witness senseless fatal oppression in the form of police brutality.
- Contemplation has helped me to center myself. Being grounded brings a certain level of calm and clear mindedness that is integral for any kind of strategic planning (personally or collectively) and for being present and impactful in the world. My anger, has often not allowed me to think clearly, or maybe just too clearly on one aspect. Being grounded gives me a certain level of clarity that allows me to see the bigger picture.
- It has helped me to recognize/acknowledge and affirm the feelings I’m having. This is important. As a man, being with our feelings is something that we have to wrestle with, accept and allow for us to authentically lead or live from a place that is influenced by our authentic self and not negative emotion.
- More importantly, it has helped me embrace and have compassion towards the emotions I’m feeling.
- It has helped me to see and understand what my body needs from me in response to the emotions I’m feeling
- It has helped me re-focus the emotions I’m feeling in a constructive way that is aimed at what I perceive is my part in the larger fight against oppressive structures in the global society.
- It helped me to breath. Breathing, simple breathing connects me to my life source, it connects me to my calm.