Daily Archives: December 6, 2011

Three Truths and One Wish

For me, love and fear are inextricably linked. There is not one without the other because for every thing I love, I fear its loss. I was thinking about this last night because Dexter was limping, apparently cracked another toenail, this time on his front foot. I love him so much, but know that eventually he will die, so each hint of any physical weakness or injury spins me into a tizzy.

This got me thinking about emotion and how, when we let it take over, it can cause us to generate so much suffering, which leads to today’s Three Truths and One Wish.

1. Truth: As humans, it is in our basic nature to experience emotions. Over the years, there has been a tremendous amount of research done in an attempt to understand this phenomenon. The lists I’ve seen suggest anywhere from 6-48 basic human emotions. The Wikipedia entry “List of Emotions” is really interesting. The artist in me especially loved Richard Plutick’s Wheel of Emotions, a mandala of feeling.

2. We feel emotion in our bodies, embody our feelings. This is why things like fear and stress can be so detrimental. Emotionaly}Vague “is a research project about the body and emotion asking: How do people feel anger, joy, fear, sadness and love? In order to answer this, a simple survey was developed, the results of which were compared and combined to reveal patterns of feeling…Ultimately, 250 men and women from over 35 countries between the ages of 6 and 75 responded.” This research was conducted by a graphic designer Orlagh O’Brien in 2006/2007. It went like this:

Each final survey contained five sheets of A4 paper, one reusable colour swatch board, a red marker pen and a memento card. After the first written questions was a free-form drawing one which led to pages that were more specific, asking for: ‘one spot only’, colour associations and just arrows.

Q1: What makes you feel each of the emotions?

Q2: How do you feel these emotions in your body? Draw anything you wish.

Q3: Where do you feel these emotions in your body? Draw one spot only.

Q4: What colours do you associate with these emotions? Refer to numbered colour chart.

Q5: Do your emotions have direction? If yes, draw arrows.

My favorite part of the findings is the images that compiled how this set of people collectively understood “where” emotions were in their bodies and what direction those emotions traveled. For example, this is love:

And this is fear:

3. Truth: The most fundamental quality of emotion is energy. This energy, by itself, is neither good nor bad. What gets us in to trouble is when we create stories to go with the emotions, to explain them, and when we get hooked by these stories and act out in ways that don’t serve us, that aren’t wise or compassionate. When emotion arises, when we feel that energy, we don’t have to avoid it or push it away, or let it hook us and drag us off somewhere and get us into some kind of trouble.  We could instead be curious about it: “Where do I feel this in my body? What does it feel like exactly? What is the specific reality of my experience in this moment, without the story and without acting on it?”

“What happens with you when you begin to feel uneasy, unsettled, queasy? Notice the panic, notice when you instantly grab for something, (51)” ~Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart. In this way, we can learn what triggers us, become aware our patterns and habits, and take time to consider what the wise and compassionate action to take would be, in light of our clear understanding of the situation. “The more we witness our emotional reactions and understand how they work, the easier it is to refrain,” Pema Chödrön. We can simply sit with the emotion, accept it and fully experience it, see it as workable, and in the end it dissipates on its own, we are able let it go, or we are able to direct its energy to something more useful.

  • I wish you ease and curiosity when approaching and working with our emotions today, and for all the days that follow. May you discover the energy and wisdom underneath the feelings, and be able to direct yourself towards compassionate action rather than generating more suffering.