2022-06-15 Wise to Emotions (3 of 5) Emotions and Self-Referencing
7:31AM Jun 17, 2022
Hello. We are here to continue on this topic of emotions. An important part of mindfulness of emotions is to recognize how some emotions arise out of an appraisal of the situation, evaluation of the situation we are in. I like to call these secondary emotions that arise from the stories, judgments, and meanings we assigned to the situation. I call primary emotions, those which do not require much appraisal, evaluation, assigning of meaning to the situation.
Certain things can happen suddenly. You are working in a kitchen with a knife, and the knife suddenly falls off the counter towards your foot. There might be a sudden, quick reaction of fear, and response. That does not take much evaluation. It is not like you look at the knife falling and say, "Oh, there's a knife falling. The point of the knife is heading to my foot. This wouldn't be a good idea to have it hit me." There is not enough time for that level of evaluation. It is just very quick. Or fear that arises very suddenly, because maybe a car appeared out of nowhere right next to you, driving fast, and so there is fear.
Some emotions arise because of the evaluation. Sometimes those evaluations have to do with me, myself and mine. The situation is what it is, but we then refer it to our selves. We evaluate it in reference to how we identify ourselves, how we think about ourselves, how we consider ourselves.
For example, if we have this idea that I am supposed to be in control, all the time, in every situation, then we bring with us a preestablished evaluation, meaning, idea. When this idea of control does not work, then we are disappointed or despondent. That is a secondary emotion in my vocabulary. It arises, not out of the simplicity or the basicness of the situation we are in, but the situation travels through our need to be in control. We have this idea that I 'should' be capable of taking care of things. If we do not take care of it properly, then it goes through that idea, "I should have been able to do it." Then there is disappointment, or there is anger or grief.
This idea of of referring it back to some idea of self, and then emotion arising out of that, is not a primary but a secondary. In being secondary, maybe it is not always needed. Maybe sometimes it is. To be able to consider how this works. To be able to question, "Is this emotion I'm feeling now more primary, or more secondary?" Some emotions lend themselves to being primarily secondary.
For example, something like guilt. Many reasons for guilt, but one aspect of guilt is when we have the idea that "Who I am, myself, I'm wrong, or I'm bad." I have seen people who feel guilty, for no reason that I can tell, that they have done anything wrong. But they have this almost preconceived policy that if anything in the world is going wrong, they should say "I'm sorry" and feel guilt or something,
Anger. We can have self concepts about ourselves. If those self concepts are threatened, or attacked, we can get angry sometimes. There are other reasons for anger. So I am sitting here today and I read the news. The news says that self-respecting dharma teachers should only wear blue shirts, not red shirts. Then "Wow. Where's that coming from." Now I get angry, "I chose this shirt carefully. I'm happy and proud of my shirt. This is essentially broadcasting of my importance as a dharma teacher to wear a red shirt." Now someone is saying something different and I am angry with them for somehow threatening or hurting me, because I had this idea of what a dharma teacher should be like.
Or perhaps I read the headlines, and it says that dharma teachers should wear blue shirts. Now I am in front of all of you. You have read the same headlines, and now I am afraid. I am afraid of the judgments. I am afraid that now I am wrong. I am gonna be threatened in some ways. All about this image about who I am. I am defined by the shirt I wear.
Sometimes boredom is a sign that the self, the self-concept we have, is not being pumped up. It is not being reinforced. Sometimes when our concept of self gets praised, or it gets criticized, then we feel energized by that. Maybe we feel a certain kind of joy, when we are praised. Maybe we are ready to be angry if we are criticized, or if something does not support, or challenges our status, our sense of self.
When nothing happens, neither supports the self nor threatens it, then boredom can arise – a particular kind of boredom that arises from evaluating everything through the filter of my self-concept, who I am and how I am being supported or undermined by situations.
All of these can be primary emotions, in the sense that they can come just from the moment's experience without going through the channels of my self-concepts, my self-definitions, my ideas of who I am – me, myself and mine. But so many emotions people have, are triggered by some idea that it is threatening, praising, or challenging for some idea, we are carrying around with us, of how things should be. Some of those ideas are probably fine, maybe appropriate even.
Some of them are not. Particularly the ones that are most painful have to do where we are attached to some concept, some image of ourselves, that we want to hold up, want to defend, or want to use to create safety for ourselves. Some idea of self that has to do with status, conceit, "But I'm better than others," and how does that get threatened. Some idea of what a self is, what a human being is – we have ideas of what we are supposed to be to be successful human being. If we do not have that success, then we can feel despondent, because that is what a good human being is supposed to be like.
With these secondary emotions, we do very well to ask ourselves, "What are we believing?" "What are the stories?" "What are the evaluations?" "What is the appraisal we are making, that has triggered this emotion?" If we do not do that investigation, we might think that the emotion is a primary one. "This is just built into the nature of the universe that if someone says something about the color of my shirt that casts some kind of character on who I am. I need to defend myself for who I am."
Maybe I could look at that and see in my mind that even if people do judge a dharma teacher by the color of their shirt, that is their problem. That is their thing to do. Why do I have to pick up what their judgments are, their ideas are? I can be free of that. I will wear what I would like to wear, and let it be that way.
I do not know if my example is very good. The point being, that there are emotions that arise, that are primary, that are core, central emotions that may be important to listen to. They have important messages for us. Then we have some emotions, where the message, what they are about, is not really to our best interest. They come from appraisals, evaluations, ideas of self, concepts, that are not really well-founded or very useful. When those ideas of self or whatever ideas, encounter situations which threaten them, support them, offend them, then we can have these secondary forms of guilt, anger, fear, boredom, despondency or joy, excitement, all kinds of things.
It is these secondary ones that I would like to leave you with today as an investigation. Maybe at some point through the day, a couple of times, maybe the end of the day, sit down again, maybe with a pen and paper, or with a friend going for a walk, and review some of the stronger emotions of the day. Ask yourself, "Did those emotions get triggered by some evaluation, appraisal of the situation, idea and concept that we carried with us?" In and of itself a situation did not trigger an emotion, but only triggered an emotion after it went through the appraisal. Was that appraisal, that evaluation, somehow related to your self identity – to the concepts, ideas of who you think you should be and how you should be in the world? Once you do this exercise, then ask yourself, "Is there a simpler way? Is there a way to be present for that experience, any experience, without the filter, the curtain of these appraisals, evaluations, self concepts?" Can we set our experience free of the, sometimes incessant, ideas and concepts we are using to constantly appraise the situation, often in terms of what it does for me – me, myself and mine?
I hope this is useful for you, and we will continue in this exploration of emotions tomorrow. Thank you.