"I can't say I have control over my emotions; I don't know my mind. I'm lost like everyone else."
- Richard Gere
If you haven’t watched "Inside Out" (see sneak-peak clip on YouTube) a Pixar movie, it’s worth viewing, not only for the pure entertainment value, but also the educational aspect. Imminent emotion Researcher, Paul Ekman, who also helped develop the Cultivating Emotional Balance Teacher’s Training (CEBTT) with B. Alan Wallace, was beckoned to Hollywood to give guidance on the facial movements for the characters in the movie. The movie illustrates only five of the universal seven. Regardless of gender, culture, ethnicity, age, we each will exhibit the same macro and micro facial movements for these seven emotions. They are sadness, anger, fear, disgust, contempt, surprise, and joy (or called enjoyable emotions in CEBTT). Of course, there are many other emotions, more nuanced, that do have cultural, gender, and ethnic differences.
Sociologists suggest the evolutionary function of emotion is to save our lives and to motivate us to engage in behaviors necessary to form relationships. Such facial cuing had to be the same in order for understanding to be passed along our makeup for these reasons and it all happens below the scene of conscious awareness. Even if we are trying to conceal an emotion and blunt the gross movements on our face, there are micro-facial movements that are out of our control. We are caught in the grips of evolution and those around us will catch on via their own attuning networks signaling them “something’s up.”
Antonio Damasio, University of Southern California, has studied neural correlates of emotions and formulated a theory of Somatic Marker Hypothesis. Essentially, there are neural pathways that connect to the brain, going both directions to and away from brain (not a one way street), and it is this that allows us to have the embodied experience or maybe all to often, the un-embodied experience.
Our meditation practice informs us very intimately about these neurological processes if we are mindful and attuning to our meditation experience. If we are having a difficult time with an emotion and not so sure what it is, Dr. Paul Ekman might just suggest to you, grab a mirror and check out your facial movements. Ahhh, maybe you’re not familiar with those facial movements, then watch Inside Out and you’ll very clearly see the common five emotions we display on our face. The two emotions cut from the film are contempt and surprise. I think we know what a face looks like when we are surprised. For contempt, not to get overly politically here, but just check out the majority of Donald Trump's photos and you’ll witness contempt at it’s best (universal gesture is lip corner tightened and slightly raised).
Until next blog, enjoy the movie and may your practice be truly an embodied experience and your emotions held with compassion and loving kindness.
"We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking we used when we created them."
- Albert Einstein
As we continue our investigation of the Four Balances (see link for previous blog explaining Four Balances), let’ examine how our cognition influences whether we are aligned with cultivating balance in thought or dropping into a dissonance and miserable mental state that arises with thought.
A slogan suggested from renown author and nun, Pema Chodron, is "don’t believe your thinking, don’t believe your thinking, don’t believe your thinking." If it’s true that we think about 50,000 thoughts daily and most of these thoughts are recapitulations from the past or futuristic thoughts, then we surely may want to adopt this slogan for the time being.
As a sex counselor there are few topics (maybe money being the other hot topic) such as sex that ignites mental states that are riddled with much intensity and density. While understanding our stories about our sexuality is vital to undercover it’s nature, the negative thinking about our sexuality is what needs transformation. If we could download our daily thoughts about our stories around sex, what would they be? Write it out. What is the story line? What would the title be? This inquiry is important to know. Because once we peer into the thoughts produced, we can see how it leads to mental states that plague our sexuality.
A recent exchange between a couple in my office, I’ll call them Jay and Karen, went like this. She shared what she thinks when he makes advances toward her. It goes something like, “I hate when he comes onto me like this. It’s always the same and he never asks me if I’m even interested. He just goes in for the ‘kill’ and I just give in because it’s too much of a headache to talk it out." Karen says this is at least 90% of the time what she is thinking. Jay shares his thoughts, “I know she doesn’t care about sex anymore and she always turns away from me if I try to kiss her. She seems like she’s just putting up with me. I’m usually thinking that she doesn’t really like me or sex, but because I want to have some closeness with Karen, I guess I look at this type of sex as something that may get us to be close.” Jay says this is what goes on for him in his mind almost 100% of the time.
They both said they knew the other person had those thoughts as they had shared them with each other at various times, but could not get themselves out of the habit of recapitulating the same story. This is what I call a cognitive imbalance or cognitive dissonance. We often just let our thoughts run amuck and we don’t intervene on our own behalf to stop the storyline that we repeat over and over. I asked them what their deepest intention is for the relationship. They both agreed that they want connection, closeness, love, and to feel sexually satisfied.
So how do we bring about a cognitive intelligence and resonance with our sexual partner? Check up on your thinking. Is it aligned with your intention or conative intelligence? If not, then we must change our level of thinking to a resonance with the Intention. Jay and Karen want to have connection. They’re ruminating thoughts are not in alignment so the first step is to create a new thought pattern that reflects connection. Instead of Karen assuming Jay is just wanting sex and pursues her to “get some,” she is practicing mindfulness of her thoughts and changing the story knowing that Jay wants connection and that he wants her to enjoy their sexual play together. Jay is doing the same thing. They are telling a new story that reflects connection and love and their sexuality is founded on these principles.
Quoting from Gandhi, "watch your thoughts, they become your words; watch your words, they become your actions." To watch our thinking requires mindfulness. It requires us to remain on guard, to be a custodian of our thinking is such a way that when we sway from a balanced emotional state we reel in discursive mind of rumination and negativity bringing it back to rest in calm and peace that is held with kindness, love, and connection. To finish quoting Gandhi, “ watch your actions; they become your habits; watch your habits, they become your character; watch your character, your character becomes your destiny.” So begin to think kindly of your partner and watch how your destiny becomes that of kindness and connection.
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