I found this intriguing article called 10 Unsolved Mysteries of the Brain by David Eagleman in back issue of DISCOVER magazine this morning.
In it are statements that took my breath away, and some that made me laugh out loud. Much food for thought (no pun intended), and I’ll share one such thought today.
Mystery # 5 (don’t you just love the notion of “mysteries” being quantified and numbered?) asks, “What are emotions?”
Now, I have to admit, I tend to confuse emotions with feelings. Emotion is the actual physical response to a stimuli–the racing heartbeat and perspiration that go with fear, for example.
Feelings, on the other hand, are “…the subjective experiences that sometimes accompany these processes: the sensation of happiness, envy, sadness and so on….”
What took my breath away was the realization that emotions are our innate physical response to a situation or event. Our feelings are our subjective interpretations of those situations or events.
There is no right or wrong interpretation. Only interpretations that help us move forward–or hold us back.
And–to some extent–we can learn to choose how we feel about things. How–and who–we want to be in the world.
Perhaps that’s why some of us quail at even the thought of confrontation, even just arguing on forums, while others thrive on that energy. It explains why some of us never get past our fear of putting our work out there in the world, while others acquire some eagerness to exhibit, to show, to sell our work. Maybe it’s why some of us can never get over the hurts and frustrations and obstacles we encounter in life, while others seem to find some way to work through them.
Why did this affect me so powerfully?
Because I realize I’ve been physically injured–deeply–a lot lately. Multiple surgeries, an air cast, one assault after another in my body. My emotion? Fear. “Run way! Hunker down!” Good responses, considering I need to lie low and heal.
But my feelings have interpreted that emotion as despair, and sadness.
I realized that I could truly choose to see this differently.
I can choose to see “hunker down!” and “run away!” as “Hey, why don’t you take some time off and just read all day–like you used to before you got so busy and successful?” “Why don’t you just goof off and refuse to do the dishes for a change?” “Why don’t you just lie here and daydream for awhile? Not think or problem-solve or obssess about what you can and can’t do–but just look at the moonlight, or watch the squirrels play, or listen to your husband noodle around on his guitar while you watch the fire?”
It’s not, perhaps the “vacation” I would have chosen. But it’s the one I’ve been given. And I’m definitely going to take it.
The practice of mindfulness–simply being aware of our feelings without always feeling the necessity of acting on them or believing them–will help.
I know I’ve had this “aha!” moment before, but I’m just one of those people who has to “aha!” a lot.
So what made me laugh out loud in the article? Further on on Mystery #5, Mr. Eagleman says, “Modern views propose that emotions are brain states that quickly assign value to outcomes and provide a simple plan of action. Thus, emotion can be viewed as a type of computation, a rapid, automatic summary that initiates appropriate actions. When a bear is galloping toward you, the rising fear directs your brain to do the right things (determining an escape route) instead of all the other things it could be doing (rounding out your grocery list).”
I’m so relieved to think that, upon seeing a bear rush at me, probably even my poor beleaguered brain would not consider “shopping” on equal par with “fleeing”–at least, not for very long. Although I still suspect the inner conversation might go something like this:
“Dang! If I don’t start running away NOW, I will never be able to shop again!!”