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February 19th, 2022
Emotions are rather dumb. They lack object, direction and boundary. All they often have is a source - an initial cause for being, after which they spill into virtually all parts of the psyche, and often all parts of life. We’ve all had this experience: some new vagary of life springs into our awareness and fills us with anger, enrages us, and during this unfortunate tantrum someone totally unrelated to the issue - often a loved one - an innocent bystander, walks in and suddenly takes the full brunt of our emotional attitude. It’s totally uncalled for, but that’s the nature of emotion - it has no specific object even if it had a specific cause.
The unintentional graft of emotion is often touted as one of the issues that can be solved with a meditation practice. And certainly, with a strong mindfulness practice, we can gain the ability to raise walls in the mind to route and reroute emotion properly so that they do not contaminate our life by influencing parts that aren’t relevant. This is maybe the first and largest return-on-investment when it comes to spending time sitting and meditating everyday - a person generally becomes less of an asshole.
But the mental powers generated by a solid mindfulness practice go beyond an ability to simply keep the emotional monsters penned in. The unintentional graft that occurs when an emotion bleeds beyond its realm of relevance can be consciously implemented in circumstances where it’s usually very unlikely but would be helpful. For example, during the practice known as meta, one concentrates on the gratitude and compassion you feel for someone for which it’s easy to conjure such feelings - someone you get along with very well and who you admire and appreciate. Then, once these emotions are fully felt, graft them on to someone for whom it’s difficult to conjure such emotions - someone you don’t like, perhaps even, yourself.
Even though emotion can be highly valenced -that is very negative or very positive- they remain a fuel which can be funneled to any end. For example, anger can be redirected to power a good workout. A sense of compassion and gratitude can be extended to someone who we have a difficult relationship with. It is a kind of situational building block, like play dough for a kid, but sometimes it comes in our least favorite color. It would be a mistake to think that we can’t still do something fun and useful with it, simple because of the color - but that’s exactly what the majority of adults do when it comes to the emotions life gives them. Instead of seeing the wide variety of utility and potential, we take the most superficial aspect of an emotion as the most substantive. The various sources of all emotions are somewhat irrelevant - emotion is a fact of life, and nearly every situation is going to provoke at least a little emotion. It’s what we do with that emotion once we have it - how we regulate that emotional faucet, which determines the kind of life we lead.