Friday, February 07, 2014

The Emotional Path

I cannot define  ``emotional opening'' or ``emotional truth''. There are other important things too that are hard to define and directly characterize. For example, the question of ``Who am I?'' Or, what does ``surrender (to something, a God, inside)'' mean? Sometimes, it is easier to think about the negation of the thing or concept: what it is not, rather than what it is.

For example, to operate in a society we conform; we create an acceptable image, an outer shell. We can ask ourselves: is this my outer shell, the image I hold up for others, or is this what I would really want if there was no pressure on me (from within and without)?
… the need to prove yourself is based on insecurity and self-doubt. Only to the extent that one is unsure about who and what he is does he need to prove himself to himself or to others.
It is when competition is thus used as a means of creating a self-image relative to others that the worst in a person tends to come out; then the ordinary fears and frustrations become greatly exaggerated. ---p. 105, The Inner Game of Tennis  
Now back to the ``emotional path.'' We can ignore our emotions, not acknowledge them properly, and even misidentify them and be deceitful about them (with ourselves and others). ``Black magic'' can be a metaphor for the horrific experience of confronting our distorted, misshaped, and deformed emotions. It's one of the most frightening experiences I have had.

As we become more open to our emotions, by acknowledging them, they can become very strong and overpower us. [2014-03-17, PS] Here is a relevant quote from the article, Loewenstein GF, Weber EU, Hsee CK, Welch N (2001) ``Risk as feelings,'' Psychological bulletin, 127:2 Mar, pp. 267-86, that I am reading now:
From a neurophysiological perspective, the finding that emotions exert a powerful influence on judgments is not surprising. As LeDoux (1996) noted, “emotions can flood consciousness … because the wiring of the brain at this point in our evolutionary history is such that connections from the emotional systems to the cognitive systems are stronger than connections from the cognitive systems to the emotional systems” (p. 19). ---p. 9
If we stay mindful of our capacity and follow a gradual process of opening the hidden, buried emotions, we can always trust that our emotions are transient and they pass. This basic trust in our power to get through is beautifully captured in the following passage:
Never comfort a whining puppy. … your puppy is going through some distress at this moment, but it's important to let her work through it. The only way possible for her to get past that anxiety permanently is to learn to solve the problem for herself. … If you turn to soothe her every time she cries, she will learn very quickly (a) that she controls you and can summon you by vocalizing, and (b) that you are agreeing with her whining because you are positively reinforcing it with comfort, attention, or a treat. … For now, buy some foam earplugs at the drugstore, have a glass of warm milk before bed, do a little meditation, and repeat to yourself, ``This, too, shall pass.'' … ---p. 110, How to Raise the Perfect Dog
The key point here: Do not reward undesirable emotions and states of mind, but do not traumatize the subject either! All emotions are natural and they are naturally transient. By feeding and rewarding an undesirable state of mind, we reinforce it and make it more permanent than it needs to be! Yet, be aware and mindful of your capacity. If you open all gates of a dam at the same time, you will flood the city and destroy it altogether. What are the internal signs of being flooded with emotions before it gets to a trauma stage? The feeling of certainty! This is one of my most amazing discoveries. Although, later I found out that I was not the first one to discover this. The famous saying that ``love blinds lovers'' is a good example:
He could only marvel once again at the dogged determination some women had when it came to wanting a particular man, at their ability to see life from a completely private viewpoint, as if love, or whatever the particular emotion was called, were a state of mind that could temporarily blind them to all reality and limit their outlook to a narrow, walled-in track, a scenic railway of their own invention that ran only in one direction they wanted it to go. --- p.121, Love Lies Bleeding
The state of certainty is a dangerous state, because most likely, it is associated with emotional flooding, being overpowered and blinded by emotions. It is important to differentiate between the two states, calmness (in the face of uncertainty, pain, and discomfort) and (blind) certainty. The first state is closely associated with my definition of ``faith'', as the acceptance of imperfection in knowledge, ability, and responsibility, whereas the second state is the popular, but misconceived, notion of faith as blind following! Once we see the difference between calmness and certainty, we want to reward the first and avoid the second. Here is an example for how:
To minimize this common first-night trauma, I recommend that people set up their puppy's crate or bed near or in their bedroom, for the first few nights after arrival. The first night of whining may still keep you awake---and, no, you still can't respond to it with cooing or comfort---but if the crate is near your bed, you can tap it once and make the sound you want your puppy to associate with a behavior you don't agree with. This will stop the escalation of the behavior, sometimes long enough for relaxation to set in. If your puppy quiets down for a significant period of time after that, you can reward with praise or even a treat. A bully stick is great for this because it engages the nose and distracts the mind. Only reward a calm state of mind. Then put in your earplugs and ignore. ---p. 110, How to Raise the Perfect Dog
But if emotions and states of mind are transitory, then why do we need to be open to them, acknowledge them, in the first place? Can't we live a logical life, following what's best for us, our society, our family … ? Emotions not only enrich our lives and make it more interesting, but ultimately, they give it meaning! As the philosopher, Giambattista Vico, has said (and neuroscience is beginning to document), ``Meaning is embodied in our total affective interest in the world.'' Moreover, when we ignore our emotions, thoughts, and states of mind, they continue to influence us in hidden ways and resurface as self-destructive tendencies and addictive behaviors. What we fear most, and escape from, directs us most strongly!
The most puzzling question, then, is that what/who should direct our life? If emotions are transient, and our ego self is an image that we construct to conform to social structure, then who is left to guide us, to make important decisions in life? The answer is surrender, to something inside, that is different from our logic, emotions, our ego. But what does this mean? It means not surrendering to emotions, logic, ego, …
``I have never listened to the crowd,'' he said. ``It has always been just like the bull to me, a thing you can work with, change: but only when you can control your principal enemy, your own self. … People think that fighting the bulls is a matter of passion, of inspiration, and valor. They speak of duende and death. But none of that is important. Because, first of all, a torero has to create emotion in the public. And just because you feel an emotion does not mean you can transmit it. Ultimately you must feel it, of course, but only once you have gained control of yourself. …
… the big fear every torero feels, every artist: the fear of not being able to perform, which is bigger than the fear of cornada. … afraid of being made to look ridiculous, which is the same thing you face when you try to write. That is when you can tell if a man has valor, when a man is able to face the responsibility of his profession, of his art, if you like. For you write with your cojones, too. With your mind, of course, and with passion when you are lucky. But mostly you write with your cojones, always, every day, even when you have to force yourself to do it, on the days when you write with duende, and on the days when you find you have left your duende behind you in bed when you got up. That is why it is easy to do a thing once, one book, or one afternoon with the bulls. But to do it for many years, day after day, that is what is difficult, that is the proving of a man.'' ---pp. 108-109, Love Lies Bleeding  
There is an intimate and deep connection between surrender and (emotional) truth, that is what I feel.  Only if it, the emotional truth, was as simple as expressing your deepest feelings or thoughts, or acting on them, then it would be no less frightening endeavor, but at least more straightforward. It is something more, I feel.
Zen practice can be a tricky thing, because, done right, sooner or later all the issues and energies you've been repressing your whole life will ooze, tickle, and burst to the surface through your tight little smile. … This is one of the greatest misconceptions about spiritual work: that if applied correctly, it will make us ``better people'' (whatever that means). Zen is not a psychiatric or therapeutic discipline it's a spiritual one. It's supposed to get energy moving on a deep, fundamental, life-changing level. Its purpose is to orient you toward the truth, toward reality, whatever this takes. It's not supposed to boss you around with behavioral or self-help dictates or to shoehorn you into the slipper of well-adjusted citizen hood.
In other words, spiritual work isn't always just ``instructive''---it's also transformative, and this kind of transformation can get messy. The Sanskrit term for this is clusterfuck. ---p. 165, Zen Confidential

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