Saturday, March 31, 2012

Emotional Intelligence (4): A Myriad Of Emotions

Grieving (possibly Isis mourning Osiris). A rare piece of Egyptian terra cotta in the Louvre Museum, Paris.

Happiness, sadness, frustration, irritation, humility, pride, confidence, uncertainty, joy, depression, misery, defeat, hope, cynicism, anger, kindness, jealousy, fear, patience, impatience, boastfulness, grief, laziness, listlessness, delight, ecstasy, love, hatred, contentment, envy, greed, ambition, rapture, optimism, pessimism, self-possession, lack of control, melancholy, despair, fondness, passion, sorrow, bliss, embarrassment, contempt, vitality, self-awareness, elation, boredom, guilt . . .

Fifty feelings, emotions and states of mind. A list we could easily extend to one hundred, two hundred more.

I want to thank Amanda for this astute observation:

"It's certainly possible that we can examine the thought itself, but to address the core emotion, respect it for what it is telling us, and then choose wisely our response to the emotion is another path to consider. I don't believe there is such a thing as a negative emotion — emotions themselves are pure. Again, it is how our human mind is domesticated to respond to the emotion in often kneejerk behavior which gets us into trouble."

And I also want to thank Am for her remark that "sins" (or "vices" or "negative qualities") are "part of what it means to be a human being."

I've been thinking about both these comments. We are assailed by feelings and emotions much of the time: some strong, some diluted, some welcome, others not so welcome. They overwhelm us daily, if not hourly — at least they do me. As Am says, feelings and emotions are part of the human makeup.

I know I can seem perhaps unusually emotional for a man (if we accept the cliché that women are more emotional, or show their emotions more readily, than men — though who really knows what's going on behind that male machismo and that stiff upper lip?) I feel a need to express my own feelings, and try to be sensitive to the feelings of others. I cry quite easily while watching romantic films and hearing emotive pieces of music. And so on.

These feelings, and the core emotions from which they come, seem to well up naturally, and, as such, are pure, and to be honoured — as Amanda states. To categorise feelings and emotions simply as positive or negative, good or bad, is a crude and inaccurate shorthand, which does not reflect and respect the complexity of those feelings and emotions, their naturalness and their purity.

I think we are wise to tune in to our feelings, to listen attentively to them and discover what they are telling us. Again as Amanda says, we often seem programmed to act on our feelings with some thoughtless kneejerk reaction — which can be at best unhelpful and at worst destructive.

Speaking for myself, I don't want to be constantly buffeted this way and that by a helter-skelter of emotions, by a tangled, undifferentiated mass of feelings. I don't wish to hide or suppress them, as this can lead to difficult if not dangerous psychological problems. (Anyhow, I like and relish my feelings, on the whole. To feel is to be human, to be alive!) But neither do I wish to be completely ruled by my feelings, to be at their mercy, to be dominated by them so much that I feel powerless and out of control.

So how do we achieve a balance — if balance is what we are agreed upon — of thought and feeling, reason and emotion? How do we integrate emotion into our lives in such a way that we have some control over our feelings and are not totally controlled by them?

Eros and Psyche's kiss.


  1. Achieving balance is an intuitive thing; it’s not something that can be moderated. If you’re walking a tightrope and suddenly become conscious of what you’re doing, you’ll fall over.

  2. These are excellent points and insights, from you and your friends. I have just left a comment at my last post about "negative emotions," falling into that shorthand. I know what I mean by it, but it is definitely more complex, as you and others here are exploring. I do think that accepting emotions as they come is the first, most important thing. Resisting them is fruitless. Osho says, when you are sad, be sadness. There is something about that embrace that helps to disempower it. My friend Inge, when she was undergoing chemotherapy, realized one day that there was nothing wrong with being sad. And suddenly she felt less sad, like the sadness did not control her.

    When I have emotional responses that tangle me up with resistance, I stop and ask what my belief is about what I'm responding to. If I am really honest about my core belief (as Amanda might say), I can see that my expectations are probably unrealistic, thus resulting in "negative" emotions. Often, when I change my belief, then my response changes too.

    This is just one thought in response to your post, which is wonderful to think about. I let out a happy yelp whenever I find a man who is comfortable expressing his emotions.

  3. Another great post for prompting thought and discussion Robert.

    With time and attention we can learn not to become identified with our feeling states. We can learn to let them wash over us, giving us the information we need without attaching to them. One of the keys to a balanced, open, healthy emotional life is to relate TO our emotions and NOT FROM them. E.g. "Of course I am feeling over-wrought considering the trauma I have just experienced." You acknowledge the emotion, give it room to be without allowing it to 'rule'.

    E-motions are meant to move through us. Our goal should be to not allow them to possess us. Easier said than done, but with practice we can allow the emotion, glean the information it is giving us, and then move on to the next emotion that will surely follow. Feelings are essential to the flow of a human life - adding richness and depth - we just don't have to drown in them as we do when we become identified with them. (E.g. "I am experiencing angry feelings right now" rather than "I am an angry person".)

  4. How do we integrate them? My knee-jerk thought is: perhaps by not "dis-integrating" them in the first place. I don't know. Just thinking aloud.

    Re being ruled by feelings. So much of what we are is unconscious: perhaps what rules us is not the emotion, but the subconscious "content" which leads a particular emotion to surface. E.g., if a certain politician always makes me angry, perhaps it's less a matter of letting my anger control me* (or not) and more a matter of questioning what prejudices and assumptions are being subconsciously applied to give rise to my feelings of anger. I don't know. I'm not a psychologist. Perhaps I'm talking rot!

    *Unless I have a problem managing anger generally, whatever the cause.

  5. I don't know how to achieve a balance, but I have been fascinated by Leonard Cohen appearing to have achieved a measure of balance after his Zen teacher said, "You should sing sadder."

    "Cohen sought Roshi's counsel in all things, including his music. He Invited his Zen master to a recording session of "New Skin for the Old Ceremony." The next day at breakfast Roshi told Cohen, "You should sing sadder." Cohen felt that he lacked the courage or the ability to explore his malaise, "I need to go deeper, always deeper," he said in 1991. One of his attractions to Zen was that it forced him to go deeper and discover new truths about himself ... "
    (Source: Various Positions: A Life of Leonard Cohen, by Ira Bruce Nadel, p. 201-202)

    Leonard Cohen does not appear to be suffering from depression anymore. Whatever was out of balance in him seems to be dynamically and creatively balanced these days.

    Thank you so much for posting the accompanying art work which evokes in me a balance of thought and feeling, reason and emotion. The arts help us integrate emotion into our lives in the best of ways.

  6. Personally, I try to hold on to that old zen image of a large stone in a river. The river—which is often muddy, often turbulent, often threatening—is constantly flowing over me and around me. Trying to resist the river is futile. If I remain centered in the present moment, however, the river will course around the superficial contours of my life and move on, leaving my core values intact. That is my ideal, but I often fall short of it.

  7. "To categorise feelings and emotions simply as positive or negative, good or bad, is a crude and inaccurate shorthand, which does not reflect and respect the complexity of those feelings and emotions, their naturalness and their purity." I liked this observation very much, and agree. It's a funny thing for me, reading these posts, as I realize this is not something I tend to focus on, yet I think your question closing the post is of crucial importance. Here's a preliminary thought: when I have a feeling that I find unsettling in some way, I try not to walk past it (or step on it), but to look as straight at it as I'm able. I try to determine what occasioned it, then try to work from that perspective to bring the feelings back into a comfortable balance. This often involves a lot of trial and error, and I think, in an odd way, my feelings tell me whether my reasoning has been on or off the mark.

  8. Danish dog — I think achieving a balanced emotional life may be intuitive for some people, but for many I believe it may require thought, consideration, self-examination, and scrutiny of one's past life, one's motives and one's actions. I don't think the analogy with the tightrope walker holds because that's a purely instinctual, self-preservational thing of the body.

    I think this is wonderful stuff you're saying here, Ruth. "When you are sad, be sadness." Yes! And the notion that accepting the emotion full on helps to disempower it and empower you. Similar to part of what Bonnie and Susan are saying too. I feel you are right, and have experienced many times myself how accepting, respecting, getting to know, exploring, unpacking the feeling or emotion can lessen the anarchic influence it may have over me. The only thing I would counter is this: could this "mental" method of dealing with our emotions make everything a little too balanced and "grey", if you like? Perhaps we risk compromising too much the wild, raw beauty of some unadulterated, unbridled passion, a passion which may be dangerous, but at the same time could really make us feel alive?

  9. Thanks for your very helpful and illuminating comment, Bonnie — which is all the more relevant and resonant as it comes, not only from a very aware and empathic human being, but also from a qualified and practising psychotherapist! I really liked what you wrote about emotions moving through us, and how you acknowledged the richness and depth of our emotions but recognised at the same time the need to keep a little apart from them so as not to be drowned in them.

    Dominic — yes, indeed, but unfortunately most of us are already "disintegrated" already! I think you're right in saying that we must track the unconscious prejudices and assumptions, impulses and motivations, which bring about certain emotions like anger. This will help us to understand and perhaps moderate our anger — although, as I mentioned in a previous post, anger may provoke us to act for social or political change, for example, which may be a very good thing.

  10. Thanks for bringing this image for our meditation, George ... and Susan, thanks for your participation. It's great if these posts and subsequent discussions are causing you to focus beneficially on things you don't normally consciously reflect on. Similarly, on your blog, I'm very gradually being drawn in to the world of contemporary "classical' music which I knew very little about. Eventually I may even be able to comment sensibly about it!

  11. I take your point. I made it sound as if disintegration is something we have more control of than we perhaps do.

    I suppose I'm thinking that it sometimes feels that our emotions are towering over us, and that we are "ruled by our emotions" when in fact we're ruled by the 90% of our psychic activity which we aren't even aware of.

  12. Belated thanks for your wonderful comment, am. Unfortunately it was erroneously identified as spam by Blogger — no idea why — and I've only just found it!