The first revolutionary idea contained in this book is this one: Humans do not have separate ‘good’ and ‘bad’ emotions. We have a very helpful measurement system that has been misunderstood by the human ego.
Think of ‘emotions’ the way we think of ‘colour.’ In reality, white light contains all of the wavelengths of the full spectrum, as we see when a prism spreads them out. But note: the prism doesn’t divide them into neatly-divided, distinct lines. It’s a blurry spectrum of evolving change, from which each culture chose their versions of their colours, as needed, in a different order, at different times, from that prism-haze of possibilities.
If it feels strange to think of people as having ‘thought colours into existence,’ consider the fact that the practice continues today in professional subcultures—which explains why the average designer or house painter knows dozens more colour definitions than the average person. Their jobs require them to have those additional colour divisions layered over our shared, full-spectrum reality. To the rest of us they don’t even exist until defined by someone else.
What we call ‘colours,’ are in fact mental illusions of separateness that humanity has, over a large amount of time, placed over one section, (the wavelengths defined as ‘light’), of the universe’s full-spectrum reality. What’s important for personal mental health and general human relations is that we’ve done the same sort of thing with our feelings. We now trade in so many divisive words that they blind us to reality.
The truth of our emotional lives is that, as a species, we have innocently, unwittingly, and randomly chosen certain wavelengths of thought, and then we named them, and then ranked them as ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ In reality, underneath those individual labels is one constant, spectrum-state of reality that is in truth, more of a vase-like ‘measurement system.’
Just like with our sight, or sense of smell, our feelings exist to help us succeed in surviving and thriving in the present. The problem is, by naming and ranking our feedback as ‘emotional states,’ we have misunderstood the purpose of our feelings, which leads us to innocently misuse them in dramatic ways that make life much harder.
As an example, let’s say that we are at home studying for an important exam in university and the neighbour’s dog starts barking. At first it’s just loud enough for us to notice it. Noticing is the experience we have when a new event first enters the flow of our reality, as witnessed by our consciousness.
If we imagine that our Personal Reality is contained within a vase-like consciousness, then our vase would be filled with us studying for our exam. And when we first notice the dog, what we are detecting is some other bit of General Reality, (in this case, the dog’s Personal Reality), rippling the surface of our own Personal Reality.
If the exam is important and we choose to keep focusing on the dog’s barking, we can find ourselves emotionally irritated. This is where we first begin the process of interrupting our thoughts about the material we’re studying, to take a few moments to think about the dog as a distraction. “No. Please don’t start barking now.” At that point our vase of consciousness is filled with just a little bit less studying, and just a little bit more dog.
If the dog continues to bark, our resistant thinking can increase to the point where we feel frustrated. Now even fewer of our moments are invested in thinking about the subject we’re studying for, and even more are invested in resisting the reality of the dog. This is done in the form of even more fervent self-talk sentences like “Why won’t that dog shut up?” Which in turn triggers the sort of unpleasant chemistry we experience as the ‘emotion’ of frustration.
If the dog continues to bark, even more thoughts about the subject we’re studying can be sacrificed in order to give us the moments necessary to think resistant thoughts about the reality of the dog. Once we hit equal amounts of dog and exam in our vase, we are the most conflicted, and our frustration shifts to anger. We are now mad that the animal even exists. “Why did Rod ever buy that stupid dog?!” (and leave me in this conflicted situation?)
If the dog continues to bark, and we allow our thoughts to start telling us that our studying is hopeless, then the time ceases to even be about us and now it’s about the dog. That lack of personal meaning causes the energy in our anger to plummet and we find ourselves depressed.
After that, it doesn’t take a human ego long to construct a narrative where even something as small as a dog’s bark can threaten our entire future. (e.g. “I am never going to grasp this stuff and I’m going to fail this test and I’ll probably never be a lawyer.”) That’s how our ego’s thinking can make life’s very small things seem genuinely big.
In this scenario we have seen the human go from noticing, to being irritated, to being frustrated, to being angry, before collapsing, depressed. We have different names for all of them, and yet each one is simply measuring an increasing degree of want.
Noticing is simply wanting to know what is going on. Irritation is us hopefully wanting the dog to stop barking. Frustration is really badly and really specifically wanting that dog to stop barking. Anger is wanting the dog to never have existed. And the depression is us not wanting to exist, as ourselves—at least in the face of the dog.
Notice that we can feel worthless and even suicidal due the contents of our vase, even though in reality we, as the vase itself, are most-often completely fine. In this example, even if we did fail the exam as a result of the dog, that would still not dictate whether or not we could become a lawyer, nor whether or not we could live a life that filled our vase with valuable and precious experiences. But we can think it can. And our emotions can make it harder to avoid that.
In the end, our emotions blind us, and chasing them is humanity’s problem. Rather than liking some and resisting others, in reality we are best to pay attention to what our feelings are telling us. To illustrate that point, I will take the same progression of increasingly worse ‘emotional states’ described above, and I’ll show you how those same feelings can also exist as helpful and informative feelings that can help us to guide our lives with wisdom.
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.