How emotion works

For Eckhart Tolle, there is a natural flow of emotion fitting the immediate situation. You are in a pub, and someone starts abusing you because you are trans. You feel fear and anger, and as Steven Moffatt via The Doctor said, fear is your superpower. Adrenaline flows, and you are ready to fight or flee. And, there is a pathological emotion causing suffering arising from your thoughts about a situation. You resent your boss. You think they should not treat you as they do. You lie awake at night thinking of what they did, and you feel the anger surging, but it is not about what is happening in the moment, because you are safe in a warm bed. So all the energy the anger and adrenaline give you have nowhere to go, but keep you awake.

Tolle says the pathological anger is not about reality but about the stories your ego tells, and you should stop listening to the stories and notice where you are. This immediate presence fits your emotions to the situation. The cognitive behavioural technique “Situation-Thought-Emotion-Behaviour” tells you to change the story, and you will change the feelings, and that works.

There is an NLP technique to give yourself a boost of joy by thinking of a particularly happy memory. As I was taught it, you associate a particular hand gesture with that memory, then make the gesture and feel the joy. I thought of my sister’s children joyfully calling out “It’s Uncle John!” as I approached their front door. I never picked on a new one.

What if you are told your office will close and you will be redundant in six months’ time? If you find a new job within the six months, you will lose your redundancy payment. This is unfair, you think. You are angry at the unfairness, but you still have the choice, to run out the six months and get the redundancy payment but then be looking for a job after losing yours, which is a black mark against you. If your feelings arise from what you imagine your entitlement is (They should not play this mean trick) that is from ego rather than reality, but this is a current situation which will produce “natural” emotion, which could be complex- hope, determination, resolve, as well as anger.

There is not one choice here, but many. It’s not whether you will get a job before the deadline, but what will you do today? Will you look at job adverts again? Whether to risk running out the time depends on how much the payment would be, but also on likelihoods. You don’t know what will happen. It is an emotional rather than rational decision- do you “hold your nerve”? It is fruitful for what Tolle most condemns, the ego telling repeated stories to itself, including that “It’s not fair!” story at 4am.

To Tolle’s two alternatives, of emotions as an immediate response to a stimulus, and as a response to stories the ego tells itself further trapping the unconscious person in those stories, I would add a third, emotions as a response to an ongoing situation. (I have not yet finished reading “A New Earth”.) They could just be part of a story; or they could be a true, immediate perception.

I am also reading Jonice Webb on childhood emotional neglect, which seems to fit me: I did not know what my feelings were. Still, much of my feeling is static and unconscious, such as the fear of taking risks or venturing out. There is anger here, and conflicting desires to hide away but also to be seen, to have your attention. I am sensitive, and also sensitised: the association of, say, job applications with a sense of failure is so great that I cannot bear to make them.

There’s a slogan that can answer that:

Every day is a new day!

I am not that child. I am this adult, in this situation, and- I don’t really believe this but will say it anyway- if I live in the moment and react to things as they are rather than from the stories I tell about past experiences- I can stop sabotaging myself.

I avoid meditation too. I associate it with pain. Yesterday, kneeling, I thought, it really hurts to have critical voices this strong, and got upset. A problem is that there are so many ways to describe it! The critical voices would call it self-indulgent play-acting. I call it feeling pain I have denied. My working theory is that I remain unconscious of much of it, and it is a burden: as I become conscious of specific pain, I lay that part of my burden down. And the intense pain of yesterday- the critical voices hurt so much!- might lead to a shift in me, where I listen to them less, or even begin to convert them. They are the voice of my mother at her angriest and most confused, taken into myself to stop myself doing things which she did not like, as self-protection. They are from the past- could I make them fit the present? Is it that the pain makes me change how I am?

For my pictures, I am back to Bosch.

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