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Applied Philosophy

How to Control Emotion

happy_sunflower_jaffa_burstein_1983-344x336New Age literature is quite rich in slogans. For instance, "You create your reality with your beliefs." As a matter of fact, this is true, but if you think that it is the contents of your beliefs that are going to make a difference, then you are in for a big disappointment. If you think that by making a big effort, clenching your teeth, repeating to yourself, "I believe with all my might that the table is not there, so it must be true," you'll make the table disappear, then you are deluding yourself. If you are overweight, standing in front of the mirror repeating the "I am skinny" mantra for hours while gobbling up the contents of another cookie-jar won't make you thin. Yet the belief that losing weight might render you more aesthetically pleasing and healthy may dictate a change in your behavior pattern and you may stop pigging out. Then you might lose weight. You don't change what seems to be the external reality by simply wanting it to change, or by believing it will change because you believe so. You won't be rich because you believe you will be. Your dead relative won't show up for dinner because you believe he is alive. You won't be standing on the moon because you believe you are on the moon. No matter how hard you believe. These, however, are superficial facts.

There is a deeper level wherein creating your physical reality with beliefs can happen. In this deeper sense, time is a belief and physical reality is a belief where definitions create the framework of any reality. Besides creating our physical reality with our beliefs, we also create it with our physical bodies, so to un-create physical reality, we also need to know how to un-create the very physical framework within which we act: our body. As long as we point a finger at our chests when we say "I," identifying by our physical expression, we cannot make a table disappear by believing it is not. To reach a state wherein we can affect physical reality with our unmediated thoughts, we first need the ability to control our thoughts, which facilitates managing our emotions (see also How can your Attention be Utilized as your Energy?). To reach a state wherein we can do wonders and miracles, we first need to learn how things work and gain the ability of controlling and managing our emotions and our lives. When I speak of beliefs in the following, I am referring to that stratum where beliefs create behavior patterns. It is true that beliefs create. However, for any practical application of this fact, we need to know what "Beliefs" are and what "Creation" means. Beliefs create reality through their structure, not by their significance.

For "SHET", beliefs are ways of relating to things, the value content. For instance, believing that all people are bad directs you to behave in a certain manner. You relate to people in a certain fashion, which is different from how you would relate to them had you believed that all people were good. The mental constituents of emotion are those beliefs and values that define the emotion. What you judge good or bad according to your deep-rooted beliefs influences your emotional response to things.

Many Jews feel the emotion of disgust when the word "pig" is mentioned. They were raised with the belief that it is a terrible sin to eat pigs. For them, pig equals forbidden food - it's simply bad. It never occurs to them that a pig is a living being who has feelings and wants to live and who could become a wonderful pet. What matters is not the contents of the specific beliefs, but the direction in which these beliefs guide the process of life. Beliefs are neither right or wrong, nor are they true or false, but those attitudes that freeze processes into a "Still" stating how things are from a certain point of view.

Each individual is a dynamic structure that relates to himself and his environment. His beliefs create the specific personality that is more or less happy with what he experiences. These relations, the beliefs, define and thereby enhance certain aspects and bring them to the foreground from a gestalt background, focusing the person's attention. The whole conglomerate of reality is fashioned in this manner - the individual's emotional attitude gives the tone. "Emotion" is that "Complexity" wherein the main constituent is our way of relating to things, our beliefs about things. That complexity then is the framework within which our reality takes place. For instance, it provides the tone for our relationships with people.

Take notice that there are two levels of relations here: the first level is how we relate in general, our basic beliefs. The second level includes how we relate to individual events colored by the first level. SHET teaches how to change what we feel, the second level, by altering the framework, the first level, which are our basic beliefs.  Our general beliefs are the hothouse of our individual small relations. Usually, what creates a significant shift in our emotional state is a major blow to our general beliefs. That is the time when we re-evaluate our relations to most things and change priorities. Yet precisely those general beliefs prepared the ground for the possibility of the major blow to occur. It does not have to come to that. Knowing "Holophany", we can tackle our major beliefs from a healthier space.

Emotion, in Latin ex movere, means to move away. In Hebrew, emotion is REGESH (רגש), sensitive is RAGISH (רגיש - same root), and exciting is MERAGESH (מרגש - same root again). If we shift the letters of REGESH (רגש) around a bit, we get GARESH (גרש), which means to exile, exorcise, send away, or SHAGER (שגר), which means to send off, to dispatch. As you see, the result is the same kind of terminology as the Latin ex movere. However, there is another possibility, to rearrange the letters of the Hebrew REGESH (רגש), which yields, GESHER (גשר) and means bridge. Indeed, SHET said that emotion is the bridge between the mind, body and spirit. The emotion of anger, for instance, is a fast transmission of our values and beliefs to the body to produce the necessary chemicals to react (i.e., one is supposed to keep his word but did not, so he should be punished). However, there is more to emotion than being the mediator between mind, body and spirit.

Emotion is also "ACHERIYUT", the response-ability of a being. When we are unable to respond, we are in trouble. That is the point forwarded by the neurologist Antonio R. Damasio in his book Descartes' Error[1]. If the brain is damaged in certain sites, then the patient may seem to be totally rational, fully intelligent, yet his behavior is irrational, his decision making erroneous because he does not feel, does not react to emotional stimuli. The inability to respond may very well be due to structural damage to the organism. However, I believe that reduced ability to respond with emotion, for instance compassion, can also be the symptom of psychological deficiency, or simply, socio-cultural desensitizing.

Responsibility, or the ability to respond, is the cognizance of the other in you, transforming you to be an open system, endowing you with life and liveliness (see also Responsibility - the Ability to Respond). Life is being. This being is being in certain ways and not others; that is, being is a process with a direction within a certain framework. Thus life is asymmetric. Its lack of symmetry gains expression through how much response-ability one can contain.

Much of what television, news and movies have to offer is murder scenes, horror, blood, killing and sex. These are supposed to create somatic reactions in the viewer, excitement. Ratings show that indeed that's what people want. Merely a century ago, for a man to have a fleeting glimpse of a woman's ankle engendered excitement. Today, it doesn't. Why? Because we have become desensitized when continuously exposed to stimuli. When we daily view a great number of murders, rapes, etc., we become indifferent to these and we need scenes with more blood, more horror to move us. "The decreased ability to feel emotions means you are giving up, closing down, exhibiting chronic tiredness."

The word aesthetics comes from the Greek aisthetikos, which means to feel, to perceive. The aesthetic sensation moves on subtler levels, which can disappear when bombarded with megaton stimuli, as is the case with people addicted to drugs who cannot enjoy life without the stimulant. Socio-cultural desensitization (anesthetizing), especially violence, engenders emotional pathology.

The question is, if being exposed to violence desensitizes us, would over-exposure to beauty desensitize us as well, so it no longer moves us? The answer is no. To survive and evolve both mentally and spiritually, response-ability is required. Existence is asymmetrical per se, says SHET, thus life has a direction[2], and so, responding to violence or beauty is not equivalent. Consequently, being exposed to love, beauty, etc., brings one closer to being able to respond, whereas being exposed to violence does the opposite.

This should not be taken as a black and white picture, that we should only be exposed to light and love. "Many teachers teach that anger is a negative emotion one should not experience. I teach, however, that anger is one emotion on a wide scale of emotions and experience means having a whole variety of emotions along the scale, not merely being a monotonous static something."

Stimulus, without labels of good or bad, is the means by which we learn. I read about an interesting study using rats. The group that was exposed to stimulus developed far more intelligence than the group that only had love and light and food. We came into this existence to enrich our whole selves, to learn. Learning cannot take place without stimuli of all kinds. The only thing I wish to argue here is that the amount of "negative" stimulus is exaggerated, and this kind of education saturated with violence does not reach the objective of raising healthy, intelligent and compassionate citizens. The research regarding learning by stimulus is very valuable, but we should not forget that in order for the stimulus to work as designed, there should be response-ability on the side of the subject: a dead rat won't respond to any stimulus.

Experiencing and learning are closely connected with the ability to respond and to emotional depth. Experiencing is willingness to interact with the "Indefinite" without the urge to define, which is relating by looking and observing without judgment. Of course, we can only learn if we recognize something new, which is part and parcel of experiencing, instead of relating to something new as if it already was known to us, something that already existed in our system. We cannot learn if we already know. We can allow ourselves to "Unknow", to permit the breath of firstness to penetrate our reality when feeling secure enough to not have to control. And then we can respond.

Emotional deficiency is the unwillingness or inability to observe, which in turn leads to an inability to learn, which brings about a lessened ability to interact with the environment and erroneous decision-making. Emotional stability is a function of the ratio between stimuli and response-ability.

When you define things, you judge by them instead of observing. Then you lose the wonder, the firstness of things, which prevents you from experiencing. At the same time, having put yourself on a pedestal, you have to prove you are superior and then you don't allow yourself to respond, making yourself opaque. You do so because you look through your beliefs. You don't really look, for you already know. When you don't look, you don't observe and you don't react. You get emotionally deficient. Having to prove something places you in competition, or rather, wanting approval makes you competitive, which gains expression then as having to prove, which enforces an invulnerable shell around you. Yes, you have worked on that, but the next step is looking outward with less self-consciousness: becoming sensitive to others.

Your fear of not being accepted, of not receiving approval, compels you to be apart from others, unable to see them. Not having experienced deep emotions, you cannot feel empathy for that in others. It all boils down to the issue of control: you can't let go of control... The more you know, the less you can learn. So un-learn things. Don't judge. Don't define, and then you can be inquisitive again. Then you can learn and "Experience". Observe the observable. This could balance both your "emotional deficiency" and also your diminishing concentration and learning abilities. It is all interconnected... You handicap yourself with the lack of emotional depth burdening your cognitive faculties. To deeply understand, you need the emotional layer.


[1] Antonio R. Damasio, "Descartes' Error - Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain", Avon Books, 1994

[2] Since total randomness is "Non-being" by virtue of being symmetry, without direction or preference, existence is asymmetrical by necessity.


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