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It seems more often of late that wherever I turn I find a heart offering from the universe. It got me thinking about emotion—what is it? How does it affect us? How does one capture and express it? Dictionary definition: Emotion is a strong feeling deriving from one's circumstances, mood, or relationships with others. A sensation. An instinctive or intuitive feeling as distinguished from reasoning or knowledge.
"An emotion is a complex psychological state that involves three distinct components: a subjective experience, a physiological response, and a behavioral or expressive response." (Hockenbury & Hockenbury, 2007)
Emotion is experienced by all sentient life. For us humans, however, emotion, as well as being a physiological phenomenon, is subjective and although there are (as believed) basic universal emotions (e.g. 'angry,' 'happy,' 'sad') regardless background or culture no two people have the exact same experience. That although we label emotion to make sense of it in a social context it is very much a unique, multi-dimensional and complex experience.
Some theories surmise that emotion arises as a result of arousal of the nervous system to internal or external stimuli. That they are a communication of electrical impulses from our body to our brain (and vice versa) which vary in degree of strength stimulating our nervous system to produce an action or reaction in response.
The nervous system (in short)
'The nervous system is the control center for your body. It interprets the things your body senses, and it sends information to the muscles and glands, telling them what to do. It also runs the systems you don’t have to think about, like the digestive and cardiovascular systems. The nervous system is also responsible for your moods and your thoughts' (David Terfera, Shereen Jegtvig 2012)
From the perspective that mind and body are one, like an earlier post regarding our capacity to reason, I consider our ability to emote and if it is a tool to aid survival of our species. How far, if at all, does emotion function to keep us evolving and how and why has it affected / led so many to annihilate either themselves or others? When is emotion supportive and at what point does it become unhelpful?
To emote is to react to thought and to be averse or attached to people, places, and objects. Some of us throw ourselves to the wind, experience turbulence, get whipped up in a vortex, spat back out landing from a hundred mile an hour spin. Others disappear themselves into a numbness, a place with no connection to feeling. Others stroll along observing all that they pass sometimes taking a closer more involved look and other times noting but not engaging. For some it is like being lost in a field of weeds or flowers, crawlers, or butterflies. We tend to see through lenses, tinted by the spectrum between opposites, of our own sense making. Focus ever shifting according to thoughts and emotion. We can find ourselves slaves to our feelings, perceptions and thoughts or we can gracefully accept and move with that which arises. The spectrum or cosmos of emotional experience is vast and personal, a soul holding within it an extensive, dynamic, consistently evolving universe. Finding language to convey one's true meaning and then for it to be heard and understood by another is one of the hardest challenges. How often are we misunderstood? Some examples in literature of emotional integration and expression and some classic works stand out for me when I consider how we integrate our emotional worlds. The first example is written by Edgar Allan Poe and for me it encapsulates how we, through the experience of emotion, project whole senses of reality onto situations or inanimate objects:
Fall Of The House Of Usher ~ "...found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher. I know not how it was --but, with the first glimpse of the building, a sense of insufferable gloom pervaded my spirit. I say insufferable; for the feeling was unrelieved by any of that half-pleasurable, because poetic, sentiment, with which the mind usually receives even the sternest natural images of the desolate or terrible. I looked upon the scene before me --upon the mere house, and the simple landscape features of the domain --upon the bleak walls --upon the vacant eye-like windows --upon a few rank sedges --and upon a few white trunks of decayed trees --with an utter depression of soul which I can compare to no earthly sensation more properly than to the after-dream of the reveller upon opium --the bitter lapse into everyday life --the hideous dropping off of the veil. There was an iciness, a sinking, a sickening of the heart --an unredeemed dreariness of thought which no goading of the imagination could torture into aught of the sublime. What was it --I paused to think --what was it that so unnerved me in the contemplation of the House of Usher? It was a mystery all insoluble; nor could I grapple with the shadowy fancies that crowded upon me as I pondered. I was forced to fall back upon the unsatisfactory conclusion, that while, beyond doubt, there are combinations of very simple natural objects which have the power of thus affecting us, still the analysis of this power lies among considerations beyond our depth. It was possible, I reflected, that a mere different arrangement of the particulars of the scene, of the details of the picture, would be sufficient to modify, or perhaps to annihilate its capacity for sorrowful impression..."
We tend to see our inner feelings in that which we look at, we see that which isn't actually there or happening. Our personal inner experience brings life, history and metaphoric context to an otherwise non-significant subject, object or event. The just'is'ness of something or someone becomes an elaborate happening. As an alternative to Poe's deep exploration Shakespeare sums it up more succinctly: "There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so" ... and... we follow the train of thought, the feelings that arise and make up (although we believe based in truth) our stories of what is going on. We are in effect all amazing story tellers, even if we do not feel like creative beings it's our natural propensity. We create webs of whole realities that do not, never have nor will exist. Our emotional reaction to that which is misshapenly perceived clouds our ability to just see and experience what is. Another perspective I have considered is how we can also become that which surrounds us, we have tendencies to absorb and integrate our environments into ourselves reflecting inside what we experience outside
"I was in the darkness, so the darkness I became"~ Florence Welch
Pervaded by the sense of darkness around her, the character reflects the darkness back from inside. Psychoanalysis introduced the concept that unconsciously (I would also say consciously) we collect introjections, absorbing opinions from people we meet and allow some degree of influence in our lives. We often allow them to have a particular role in shaping who we become, the opinions that we hold onto most feed our sense of self sometimes they are nourishing and other times they are like poison slowly erroding us. Often the opinions remain current in our psyche but out of context and with little understanding behind the original meaning, wisdom or lack thereof and intent. A projection placed upon us (as discussed earlier) from another person that is from their own inner belief based on projections they encountered, that we absorb recycle and project out again. Thinking about this feels like an endless mirror of obscured images. Where did it originate? How many people's emotions have contributed to what I am feeling right now? How many generations, centuries of emotion am I feeling? How much has another person's perception affected mine?... and all of this is before I begin relating with another human being. I'm not original instead I am full of a constellation of hundreds, thousands, millions of human experiences. Many voices of emotion speak within this one heart. I am a multiverse of emotion. Each of us the same, so I now question how many voices of emotion are flowing in one conversation between two people? Who is actually speaking at any one time? Rather mind blowing to say the least. I feel a third piece of art coming to life. Genetics Science has now found that our ancestors emotional experience can be passed on by scaring on our genes. These markers can influence our chemistry and affect our life choices.
Here is a fascinating article:
'Grandma's Experiences Leave a Mark on Your Genes'
You... Me.... Each of us differ in our capacity for empathy with others and the degree to which we experience, interpret and respond to feeling brings its different effects. I ask you... how do you convey your feelings? Who has influenced you consciously and unconsciously? How do you experience, capture emotion and express it? Because of the unique, multi-dimensional and complex experience of emotion it can be hard to put into words and express. It is easier for some and harder for others. Sometimes emotion has a conscious context and sometimes it is preverbal when we did not have or perhaps were unable to use language to make sense of it. It is a complexity of direct experiencing, subjective interpretation and consequential thought again... and again... and again! With, it seems, a million different voices of other people's emotion contained within it and influenced by genetic emotional code from our family history.
No wonder it is hard to be and feel understood! I return to my earlier post regarding vulnerability and add this as further thought. This contemplation is just in its beginnings and leaves me with so many more questions the strongest of which being 'who are we really?'