31. Courage to accept feelings
The definition of emotion has not advanced much in aeons beyond perception and evaluation of bodily sensations, either reactively or as more enduring sentiment. When preliminary thought in the form of attention comes to bear on feeling, emotion, conscious or unconscious, results, as discussed in Keith Oatley’s book, Emotions: A Brief History. As signals they both guide the behaviour of the one having them, and reveal something to watching eyes. Understanding them happens in this space of interaction. They are integral to self-image and to community, and scholars are now flocking to study their multiple aspects and come up with new hypotheses. Charles Darwin and Paul Ekman had prominently and consistently linked emotions to facial expressions, although the conclusion of universality still justly attracts scientific challenge.
To handle and apply emotions effectively, at least in contemporary Western culture, developing the five qualities of self-awareness, self-regulation, internal motivation, empathy and social skills, has been proposed by Daniel Goleman, who popularised the idea of emotional intelligence. Thought combines with emotion to create attitudes on which action decisions are based. This sequence as governor of much behaviour is why so much time is devoted to tuning into body and mind. Accepting whatever comes up without holding or rejecting, but clearly observing and letting pass, inviting all-over joy, is the practice. The fickleness of feelings, their relative aspect, is one of the first things usually noted, and conditions for happiness are often rediscovered in what was resented or ignored. Raphael Cushnir offers a similar primer.
While the body-scan included in mindfulness programmes acts as a physical check-in, it can also double as a means of alerting to emotions arising, noticing whether they’re pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. They can spur to destructive or wholesome deeds. Tracing the root nature of habits and circumstances using physiological and psychological messages from deliberating on feelings, side by side with knowledge, empowers the practitioner to modify actions as appropriate. Calmly breathing, feelings, that constitute parts of the self, are befriended and not repressed, leaving to insights, wider comprehensions and equanimity, one of the Four Immeasurable Minds advocated in Buddhism.
The defining tone of a personality, a dominating mood, can be caused by an accumulation of past occurrences drawing more on one often negative emotion that doesn’t get to be resolved but stays unconsciously stored. Triggers of that emotion during similar incidents are likely to set off the combined bad internal experiences felt before, forming a chronic reactive pattern. As prolonged painful emotional traits are associated with mental and physical illnesses, releasing repressed emotion is important. There are different ways of doing this. Psychoanalysis can take decades; counselling , years; and brief interventions, like Timeline Therapy, Emotionally Focussed Therapy, Neuro-Linguistic Programming, Hypnosis, memory re-consolidation techniques and others, days or weeks to bring about useful change, ideally when done with a qualified practitioner.
This is how anchors, negative or positive stimuli, work, by persistently evoking a compulsive emotional response. An example is Thich Nhat Hanh’s Pebble for your Pocket exercise. Instead of being controlled by their arbitrary development and influence on behaviour, the state management approach involves cultivating the skill of producing constructive moods on demand, through a simple physical gesture, most commonly by joining thumb and little finger together while inhaling sharply. Anchoring is quick and easy to learn, and depends on strength of feeling, timing of gesture and repetition. Instead of remaining bogged down in despondency, gradually building up inner resourceful with such cues creates stepping-stones to recovery and a stable emotional life which is one of the best foundations for dealing with fate’s surprises.