Expanding on a theme that’s been running through these recent posts, particularly ‘Simple Thankfulness’, here are some additional reflections on taking the time and care to intentionally guide our emotions. For many of us, that’s a new dimension that is entirely unexplored. Human beings are capable of experiencing up to 34,000 individual emotions, and probably even more through subtle combinations. With such a vast and complex aspect of our fundamental being, one would think that there would be considerably more education on how to actually manage emotions, and evoke those that are more fulfilling and helpful.
As a friend pointed out to me recently, that’s not about positive thinking; it’s about getting a handle on how to choose which emotions we frequent or bottom out into. For example, how we emotionally perceive or shape past events we’ve already lived (as in the Molly Bloom Soliloquy in the last post). I’d add here that that’s not living in the past – it’s freeing oneself to be fully in this moment by not tumbling into old, ineffective (and often inaccurate) emotional and mental patterns that drag us backward and downward. Of course, this functions equally in the present moment, in choosing to perceive and consciously generate positive emotions that we’re unfamiliar with or ignore:
“And above all, being real, being sincere.”
Looking at emotional skillfulness from the outside in, there are also external actions we can take that will produce positive emotions and a more balanced state of being in general. Decades of research in medicine and psychology fields have identified that we experience pleasure, joy, inspiration, peace, and wellbeing when our hormones and neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin, and endorphins are released. There are natural activating triggers for these proven to significantly alter our emotional state, and each of them can be produced by specific activities. (Modern lifestyles tend to over-emphasize hitting the dopamine button too often in the search for heightened emotions through synthetic activities, like social media, video games, pornography, fast-paced movies and TV series, and relentless career pursuits, all of which cause a downward spiral of diminishing returns.) Here’s a list of some of the most effective natural activities – employed and evolved over millennia – that produce a more well-rounded, healthy, and satisfying state of being, with simple commentary:
- Exercise. Especially cardiorespiratory and slower forms, such as yoga, Tai Chi, and deep stretching.
- Time in nature. The more immersive and longer time spent, the more effective.
- Nutrition. A balanced, full-spectrum diet (minimizing empty calories – processed carbohydrates, sugars, and fats), with particular attention to how much and when.
- Meditation or prayer. Of any kind that leads to deeper mental and emotional quietness; simple slow diaphragmatic breathing can be done pretty much anywhere at any time.
- Listening to music and engaging art. See ‘Leaning into Art’.
- Generosity and kindness. Including in the simplest exchanges (not to be mistaken for gratuitous or strategic niceness).
- Accomplishment. Small or large makes little difference, but particularly potent when there’s creativity in the process.
- Thankfulness. Easy to activate and just a second away at any time.
- Physical or conversational intimacy. Especially when uncommon, real emotions are expressed and accepted.
- Laughter. Purposely engaging the people and activities that make us laugh.
For advanced practitioners, parents, healers, and educators of all kinds, all of these suggestions can be at least directly encouraged if not actually produced for others. For those who are very creative and sincere, most or all suggestions on this list can be generated in one session. But even just choosing to focus on one or two that we don’t usually attend to will give us a better chance at uplifting our emotional state, and consequently, the experience and outlook of those with whom we interact. Especially during extended periods of intensified stress and strain, some focused attention directed to our emotional wellbeing – and the emotional wellbeing of those we sincerely care about – can make a world of difference.
A great example of accomplishing many of the above suggestions in one stroke (#s 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 & 9), as well as exemplifying the title of this post, here’s a piece of art that expresses well, and calls upon, some emotions we’d probably be better off frequenting more often:
Painting by Andre Zadorine
(Thank you, Guy, for the suggestion of the Barbara Fredrickson video)
There is almost something shockingly simple about your 10 suggestions (indeed, it could all be taught to a child).
Although I know these pretty well, I can see where there is place for improvement (I like your comment on number 9 especially). For some, it was surprising to look at these through the angle of simply rebalancing my emotional state.
I see your emphasis on others here, how it is a win-win situation if we take more time to play/explore with these ideas. We can then become more present and loving and life is more enjoyable for everyone.
Love both the sailing and wolves powerful analogies in the video.
Yesterday I went for a walk along the river and I was really struck by the beauty of that place I often visit. I had never seen it in that light before, not with that scintillating beauty. I also noticed how amazing listening to a calm piano music piece is so nourishing for my soul…
Thank you for your care and for all those excellent reminders. Your posts have really helped me sailing the rough seas of the last 18 months or so!
Before reading a word of your last post, I was immediately crumbled by the visceral rawness expressed through the girl’s piercing expression, that which seems so intimately familiar in recent months portrayed by all the dynamics within the painting; mesmerized in humble awe for the words of the Boz Scaggs dig…Thanks (back) to you. – A
The idea that we have the power to re-wire our emotional reality is a profound one. It is easy to understand that with focus, precision and practice we can transform and develop our physical body. However, taking care of our emotional body, as you’re offering a blue print for here, is much less commonly understood (although we would all benefit from it).
I especially appreciate your emphasis on “real and sincere” rather than positivity without exception. The tiller and the boat metaphor in the video is excellent as is the phrase “toxic positivity”, while much of the current Western (read: New Age) angle on well-being leans superficially and falsely positive to a fault.
Relishing listening to Boz Scaggs’ silky smooth voice and masterful gesture while I let the pieces fall together. Thank you for the opportunity to have a rare moment of a change of pace and different, personally rewarding combination of emotions than I’ve had all week… How hard it is to find that these days.
Thanks to you for continuing reminders.
I recently looked further into this :
“…simple slow diaphragmatic breathing can be done pretty much anywhere at any time.”
The leaves are falling
and the river flows
The Sun is rising
and the Moon glows.
(Author: A fountain pen in tears)
” ABOVE ALL, BEING REAL, BEING SINCERE ”
I have to add my 2 cents comment here by proposing to those virtues written above the following one: “Being humble” to seal this trinity. Being real and being sincere are keys to open people’s hearts as well as being humble is opening ours. I feel this creates a true dynamic of Being.
Humbleness can be faked and manipulative of course. (Like professional beggars on the corner of the street.) I’m thinking more about being humble toward an insignificant object often disregarded like a wrapper. We kinda look at objects as inanimate things but the day you feel affection coming from that wrapper, the perspective changes into respect to a living thing.
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