Reinterpreting Emotions

This blog entry may contain concepts from earlier entries.  Please refer to those entries for context.  

What did you learn about emotions growing up?  That they were a sign of weakness?  That they were silly?  That they were scary or got in the way of thinking clearly?  That they were to be cherished and nurtured?  Take a look.  You have a relationship with the idea of emotions and also with the experience of emotions.  If you were ever told you were "too emotional" it shaped that relationship.  If you watched men in your family keeping a stiff upper lip you may have learned that was the right way to handle emotions.  And if emotions were displayed liberally and appreciated you learned something there.

The point is that we humans have this part of us that is not discretionary but that most of us are not comfortable with nor do we see emotions as a tool to help us live a better life.  But what if we did?  What if we had an interpretation of emotions that helped us see their purpose and value?  

The ontological interpretation of emotions is that they exist to do exactly what the name says in Latin.  "That that puts us in motion" might be a useful translation.  Emotions in this interpretation are the energies we sense in our bodies that move us.  Without them we would be incapable of action or of choice.  We wouldn't be motivated to change or do anything.  It is only emotions that move use.  

And what if we were to think about why we have them?  There are two answers that somewhat ironically turn out to be quite rational.  The first is that emotions are information.  They tell us what is happening within us and in our interactions with others and the world.  The second is that every emotion exists to take care of a particular human concern.  So each emotions turns out to have three specific characteristics:  They move us in a specific way, they provide us with information and they take care of an important aspect of human life.

For example think of the emotion of dignity.  How does dignity move you?  We talk about someone who is very dignified as "standing tall".  His/her eyes are on the horizon, back erect and head straight.  They are not overly serious but neither are they laughing and joking.  They may have a slight 'Mona Lisa' smile on their face.  What information is dignity providing them?  "That they are of value just as they are".  "They are enough".  "They decide".  And dignity takes care of their personal boundaries.  What they will allow in terms of treatment by others and what they will not allow.  No other emotion combines these three characteristics.  Only dignity.  

This exercise can be done with every emotion and there are hundreds.  At first we may struggle to understand emotions in this way just as we struggle to understand any other topic we are learning.  But imagine the benefit of understanding emotions like this.  They aren't touchy feely, they aren't "in the way" and they aren't a nuisance.  They may be more or less pleasant or unpleasant but that is how they get our attention.  And they want our attention in order to serve us.  It will also free us from the idea that other people "make us mad" or jealous or happy.  What is actually happening is that the experience one has of the other person triggers our emotions for the purpose of informing us.  Simple but life changing.  

When I coach and teach one of the most common questions I get is "how can I learn more about emotions?  What can I read or who can I study with?"  There are books such as "A General Theory of Love" which has some lovely insights.  You can also read the white paper ReLearning Emotions from this website. 

UnLearnReLearn is now offering weeklong immerse workshop on emotions in the U.S. and Europe.  We will study our experience of them from an ontological perspective to get greater insight into their messages as well as the way they interact with our bodies and thinking.  Read the linked flyer and then send a contact request and we can explore whether this is the kind of emotional learning you are looking for.

Dan Newby