Archive for November, 2012

Emotions, another look

The typical way of understanding emotions is as states of being or feeling. But on my meditation seat this morning, I was struck by another perspective. Let me try to describe it here.

Think of an emotion as a cause that has an effect. Or even more specifically, an action that has a desired result.

Wait, what? Emotion as an action?

Consider this: If my desire right now was to release adrenaline into my system, it would be impossible to will it in the same way that I can will my hand to open or close. And lots of things that we (i.e. our bodies) do are equally impossible through will. But if I were to suddenly become afraid of the grizzly bear that just smashed open my front door, adrenaline would flood my system immediately.

This is the difference between voluntary and involuntary responses.

Now what’s interesting is that I can will my mind to conjure thoughts—including thoughts that cause me to experience the emotion of fear. In other words, I can do fear, in the same way that I can do physical actions like opening or closing my hand. In that way, so-called “involuntary responses” are accessible to us.

This perspective opens me up to new answers to questions like “What should I do today?” I can do peace, I can do enthusiasm, I can do love, I can do joy.


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