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February 27th, 2019
Emotions are at the core of what gives rise to our experience. This is true as far as this word ‘emotion’ can encapsulate the concept and phenomenon it attempts to describe and name. The reasons why we do anything boil down to one emotion or another. In one sense they are reflections of our reaction to what’s going on and based on their message we take further action. They are indications in a similar way that a compass needle indicates something about our orientation in any given place.
In the same way that we can have an inaccurate interpretation of our orientation while looking at a compass that is being affected by an unknown near by magnet, so too do we misinterpret the signal of our noisy emotions.
Nothing is more detrimental than this misalignment between the reason an emotion is occurring and what we actually take away from it.
The way negative emotions are spoken of in such an ill light is a good example of this.
There are the comments about anger being a knife that is held by the blade, or being a hot coal that we hold while waiting to find someone to throw it at.
Such sentiments are generally good guidance regarding what the consequences will be if we act upon such negative emotions in the quickest way that seems to create the densest short-term pleasure. Such sentiments are accurate in the same way that almost any field has long-term detriment at the cost of short term benefit. This is obvious in finance, nutrition and physical health. Eating the donut has a short term benefit in the sense that we feel good for a few moments, but at the cost of longer term health. The same is true of anger. Acting on it in the moment feels great for those few fleeting moments, but doing so almost always leaves a carnage of situational problems that require a lot more work.
Tens of thousands of years ago that urge to eat the sweet, calorie dense food had a very useful place in our physiological repertoire. Such pleasure was actually a positive motivation because it meant more energy which afforded more physical ability in the environment. The alternative was spending an entire day chewing foods with far less density when it comes to calories.
In our new and highly altered environment, that hard wired urge to grab for the sweet thing is now a detriment. This strange reversal is something our biology is not well suited to deal with. But our executive minds are versatile to handle this reversal if that executive function is exercised and healthy.
We might then wonder about anger. A cursory understanding of evolutionary biology might lead us to the conclusion that we’ve been given nothing that did not at one point in the process benefit us in terms of survival. This may then in turn lead to the question: why anger? why jealousy? why depression?
Juxtaposed with the example of the urge to eat a donut might lead to the superficial conclusion that these emotions are also out of date vestiges of a time when they had some good use. But perhaps not.
Despite all the swirling controversy that surrounds such a hot topic as depression: it may be entirely accurate that such an emotion is an indication that something needs to change. Depress literally means to ‘push down’. We might think of stepping on a blade of grass. Lifting one’s foot almost always results with the blade of grass springing back up to some partial height and over some course of minutes returning to it’s former orientation. Keep that foot down on the grass, however, and given enough time, it’ll die. Such a simple visual image of a live organism being literally depressed is not terribly far from the emotion of depression. Something feels hindered, unexpressed, in the wrong orientation, not fulfilling it’s function, not being able to get the sustenance it needs in order to thrive. These describe the depressed person and the biological state of a blade of grass pressed down by a boot.
Some people seem to covet an imagined fact of depression like an identity which is a huge danger. This is a class="internal-link" href="http://tinkeredthinking.com/index.php?id=7">The Identity Danger to a T. And it may be a perfect example of misinterpreting the signal in the noise of such negative emotions. Depression has it’s healthiest interpretation as a signal to try and change anything and everything that might result in a life where one thrives. Instead, all sorts of other things are ascribed to this state, and many narratives have been created to give life to these identities and perpetual states.
We may do anger the same injustice and interpret it far more simply: perhaps it’s a kind of disappointment in one’s self that we did not understand how our reality is composed and how it will unfold. We can imagine the manager who gets angry at employees for not doing things in the way the manager imagined. Or the lover who expected a partner to act in a different way. Anger is a common response. The development and realization of such situations merely indicates that there were flaws in the way we imagined how the world works. Interpreted differently, we might move forward and realize that our mental map of reality needs some updating, and our ability to edit that map perhaps needs a bit more flexibility.
We might phrase this bit about anger in an allegorical image. Anger is evidence that our ability to edit our mental map of the world becoming brittle and breaking.
Meditation practices like mindfulness are invaluable tools for sifting the noise and intensity of such emotions in order to find the real signal of such immersive and intoxicating experiences.
Our effectiveness as people is ultimately determined by how much we act upon the signal of emotion instead of the noise. The signal is of course, the real underlying cause of the emotion, whereas the noise is the loudest, quickest and most ostentatious way we can resolve this emotion.
Ultimately, these emotions are a reflection of who we are and what we want to be. Within this paradigm of noise and signal the conclusion is formed from nearly a mechanical logic: misinterpreting these reflections and acting on them in unintended ways is most certainly going to lead us away from the better future we dream of, because these hot emotions are arising from the same brain that has spawned such dreams. And emotions, however blunt and inaccurately read are ultimately trying to help guide us towards these dreams.
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