If you went to see Thor: Love and Thunder last month, you probably spent less time focused on Thor’s discussion of meditation with genius scientist and lost love, Jane Foster. As the two discuss their past, they confided that they each had tried meditation to heal from their losses. Rather hilariously, Thor proclaimed that it didn’t work for him because it “just made him angrier.” It was a relatable quip that most people in the audience may have heard, laughed about, and moved on from to the rest of the movie.
When I heard it, though, the biggest “well actually” line of dialogue began streaming through my mind. Obviously, I had to restrain myself from announcing this in the theater, but that only made me think about it more later. Because Thor’s misconceptions about meditation and anger are likely shared by many of us mere mortals, I offer this imagined dialog with Thor. Not sure it’s truly a Socratic method but what we experienced in law school probably wasn’t either, so close enough.
Camera pans out to reveal a strange light in the sky. The light grows into a bright white circle. From it, emerges a woman never before seen in the movie and who does not rightfully belong in it. Thor stands back from the light and reaches for his weapons in alarm. When he sees it is just a woman who clearly has no martial arts training beyond the occasional Peloton shadow boxing class, he stands confused but at ease.
Thor: Who are you and what are you doing here?
Claire: Hey, Thor, I am a human from earth. You and Jane are doing a great job showing vulnerability to address some unresolved issues. I don’t want to derail that but you said something about meditation that isn’t quite right.
Thor: How did you get here? Did Gorr the God Butcher send you?
Claire: I have no idea but no, Gorr is clearly the bad guy here. If only he had learned how to hold his grief, we wouldn’t be in this mess. That’s why I am here to talk about meditation and anger.
Thor: You don’t appear to be one of Gorr’s monsters, but I’d really like to get back to talking to Jane.
Claire: We all want you to get back to talking with Jane, so I’ll get to the point. That thing you said about meditation just “making you angrier” it’s not really true.
Thor: Now I am concerned that you are Loki trying to trick me. Are you trying to tell me you know my experience better than I do?
Claire: Not at all. I also don’t know what kind of meditation you were doing. But, I’m guessing you tried to sit and focus on your breath or something? Did you try Headspace or 10% Happier?
Thor: I have an app called ZenGod. It’s specifically for gods but similar. Yes, I tried to focus on my breath, but I couldn’t because I just became filled with rage.
Claire: Got it. And yes, that is totally normal. It happens to the best of us. What did you do when the rage came up?
Thor: I immediately stopped meditating and went to kill monsters with my ax.
Claire: Did that help you feel less angry?
Thor: It felt pretty good to kill those monsters, but the feeling didn’t last.
Claire: That’s really good too. Not good that you felt that way, but that you noticed it.
Thor: What do you mean? How could it possibly be good that I noticed this?
Claire: Well, the reason we meditate is to notice what’s there. When we notice what’s there, over time that becomes wisdom and we are in a better position to know what to do about what’s there. Sometimes the only thing we can do is to let things be, but the wisdom is seeing this.
Thor: I am a god. I don’t “let things be.” I hit bad things with my ax and summon power from the universe to destroy them.
Claire: Well, how did that approach work for your anger?
Thor: It didn’t work at all and I can tell because I am getting very angry right now.
Claire: That’s okay. It’s perfect actually. There’s nothing wrong with anger. You have every right to be angry. You’ve lost a lot. You’ve taken on a lot for other people. Your anger has helped you to protect others several times. Can you just let it be there now?
Thor: It’s hard. I don’t like it. I am very powerful and it makes me nervous to feel like I can’t control it.
Claire: Excellent. You are doing so great. Anger does scare a lot of us because it makes us feel out of control. The more powerful we are the harder it can be because we are responsible for a lot and we don’t want to do something bad. But, remember, you are holding it now. What exactly does your anger feel like now?
Thor: Feel like? It’s anger. Why do I need to explain it?
Claire: Great job again. You are so good at this. You don’t need to explain it to me or anyone else. What I’m saying is to feel it. Where in your body do you feel the anger? What sensations are there that tell your brain you are angry?
Thor: My jaw is clenched. My hands are gripping my ax. My shoulders are tight. I feel like I am holding my breath. My neck and cheeks feel hot. I want to hit something.
Claire: Wonderful. You are doing great. All of those things are normal. That feeling of wanting to hit is energy. We may not like it, but the function of anger is to make it clear to us when something is wrong and motivate us to act. Because you are a superhero, your habit is to discharge angry energy by hitting things. That can be good sometimes, but it can also be good to just learn to hold it for the times when you aren’t fighting monsters.
Thor: So what do I do when I need to hold it? I still feel angry now.
Claire: The first thing is to do what you just did. Notice what’s there. Recognize it as anger. Allow yourself to feel how you feel. After that, the most common way to come back to neutral is to breathe.
Thor: Breathe? That’s so basic. I’m a superhero. Can’t you do better than that?
Claire: You are a god but you have enough human in you such that the breath is the way you can calm down the body. Think of your breath as the ax you use to fight the monster of anger? Does that help? When you focus on your breath, specifically the exhale, it sends a signal to the body that things are okay, that you’re safe. Try it out. Take a deep breath in, feeling what sensations happen as your lungs expand. Hold it for a moment. Then exhale and sense what it feels like to let go.
Thor: *Rolls eyes but tries breathing*
Claire: Let’s try that one more time. This time see if you can make that exhale just a beat longer than the inhale.
Thor: *Continues on and then opens eyes*
Claire: Great job. How was that?
Thor: It helped. I still feel a little angry but I no longer wish to hit anything. But, I’m confused. I thought I was supposed to be calm when I meditated. You told me to feel angry.
Claire: Excellent question. Meditation isn’t about just feeling calm. Many people do it to learn how to get calm or get back to it. But the real object of meditation is to learn to be present with whatever comes up. If that’s anger, then it’s practicing presence with anger. The reason this helps you get calm is that eventually you learn that when you are angry, you can just be angry and you don’t always have to act based on it.
Thor: But what if I screw it up when things are too much?
Claire: You are going to screw things up. Meditation doesn’t make you perfect. It just gives you a new tool to use. The next part is forgiving yourself but I think the rest of the movie is going to cover that, so I will let you and Jane be.
Thor: Movie? What?
Claire: Ummm, errr . . . I just mean that I know you will figure that one out. But, if not, feel free to DM me @BrilliantLegalMind and we can talk again. Good luck with Gorr!
Thor: Goodbye, strange woman from Earth!
A bright light emerges again in the sky and a white circle enshrouds Claire. Thor and Jane return to talking and Claire continues watching from her seat in the theater.
Don’t get me wrong, this post is not intended to tell you to meditation-splain to random people out in the world, particularly not if they are large superheroes with magical axes. But, if you have ever struggled with anger in meditation, at least you know you are in good company. Best of luck in your practice, fighting whatever monsters in life you have to fight, and I hope you enjoy the summer blockbuster movies as much as I have.
If you struggle with anger in meditation or otherwise, you aren’t alone. Check out this article I wrote for Above the Law which shared my experience with it and what helped me. If you have any strategies or practices that have helped you, leave us a comment to share your wisdom with others.
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