Tag Archives: feelings


does this happen to you, too? once in a while you look at an obvious fact for the 1,285th time and all of a sudden, its profound truth hits you like a ton of bricks.

for the last few days, this profound truth was – well, let me say it this way:

humans are 60-70% water and 98-99% emotion.

as you can guess, this post is be mostly about emotion (i’ll leave the water to my good friend raul) although it is interesting to note that in some traditions, water is intimately connected with emotion – in most pagan traditions, for example, as well as in jungian thought.

freud spoke of the thin veneer of civilization, and boy, is it thin. even when we are rational (for example, in science). or maybe even then. how edgy we get when our thoughts/logic/rational arguments/fill-in-the-blanks are challenged! anger and fear arise, the stomach knots up, blood pressure rises, heartbeat increases and wham! we fight back. if we stay “rational”, our arguments will not be physically violent or replete with swearing; they will be well crafted and most likely laced with sarcasm, knowing we are right, an unwillingness (and inability) to hear the other and a frantic scrambling for hitting the other with more facts that prove our superiority.

the funny thing is that a truly rational response would be to reach out, to soften, to be curious. that is, assuming that one has in mind to have a true exchange between equals, which again would be a rational thing to do. we could define rational behaviour according to psychologist albert ellis as

acting, emoting and thinking in ways that are alternative-seeking, realistic, flexible and most importantly self- and social-helping and functional in helping humans in achieving their personal and social goals and desires

and somehow we find this incredibly difficult. currently i’m reading three books (you always have at least five books on the go, too, right?) that show just how deeply important emotion is to us. one is mark goulston’s just listen who keeps driving home the fact that in order to interact with people rationally, we need to make sure that they can actually hear us, without being prey to the “amygdala hijack”. the amygdala is part of our limbic brain (sometimes referred to as the reptilian brain) and initiates the fight or flight response. it compares incoming information (e.g. facial expressions, tone, body language, smells, etc.) with emotional memories. an amygdala hijack occurs when the amygdala decides that the information it has just processed threatens survival and hence any reaction needs to be fight, flight or freeze – and not be directed by the frontal cortex, which is the part that helps us act rationally (i.e. the amygdala “hijacks” decision making power from the frontal cortex). the amygdala will react similarly to the threat of being eaten threatened by the woolly mammoth and a perceived emotional attack.

the other book is daniel ariely’s predictably irrational. from the jacket cover:

not only do we make astonishingly simple mistakes every day but we make the same types of mistakes … we consistently overpay, underestimate, and procrastinate. we fail to understand the profound effects of our emotions on what we want, and we overvalue what we already own.

fortunately, ariely proposes that

these misguided behaviours are neither random nor senseless. they’re systematic and predictable.

that’s good. it has such a – rational sound to it.

finally, a book i have been gnawing on for months now is made to stick – why some ideas survive and others die, by dan and chip heath. i’m “gnawing” not because it is hard to read – it decidedly is a joy to read – but because there is so much useful information in it. the main idea of the book is that in order to get a message through to an audience – students, for example – the last thing we need to do is inundate them with facts (which is something our rational brain likes to do). ideas that stick are simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, contain a story, and appeal to our emotions.

they give an example of an appeal to help starving children in malawi, africa. one appeal provided very informative statistical bullet point to show reasons for giving; the other told of a little girl, and what the money would do to help her educate and provide her with medical care. not only did the story-based appeal result in donations over twice as high but also when potential donors were presented with both the story and the statistics, they still gave significantly less.

as i said, many of the points i made are pretty obvious. but do we really act on them? often, way too often, it seems that some irrational part of our brain tells us to keep hitting people over the head with too much rationality.

does that happen to you? how do you deal with it?

inability to regulate feelings at the root of fear of flying?

a guest post by captain tom, on the topic of fear of flying that we’ve discussed on and off here on this blog.

first, by way of introduction, i’m both an airline captain and a licensed therapist. working with people who have trouble with flying has been my specialty for twenty-eight years.

i am fully trained in hypnotherapy and in NLP (neurolinguistic programming). i studied both years ago in my search for things that would help me treat fear of flying clients. i found hypnotherapy to be very “hit or miss”, too unreliable. NLP works with mild cases of flight anxiety.

over the years, my work has been focused on work with people unable to find help any place else. thus, we give away ” free ” the help that some other sites charge for. for free help, see the SOAR library and other free help is available at the fear of flying web site

we also offer free group phone sessions every wednesday night.

there is a great deal of misunderstanding about the cause of fear of flying. it is not caused by a bad flight; most people on a bad flight don’t develop fear of flying. difficulty with flying is caused by insufficient ability to regulate feelings when facing uncertainty.

research since the advent of the functional MRI just eight years ago has helps us understand how the brain works. we now recognize that the ability to regulate feelings is learned and that the part of the brain that does this regulation requires stimulation of the right kind during the first two years of life. the right kind of stimulation requires a caregiver who is empathically attuned to the infant and responds to the infant’s signals, rather than simply providing for the infant according to an agenda set by the caregiver.

if the child is afraid, the caregiver needs to tune into the child’s fear in a way the child really knows the caregiver feels the same way. thus the child knows he or she is not alone.

then, the magic happens; the caregiver then lets the child know that ” though the child’s fear is 100% shared ” the adult has an additional point of view, which is that it is not the end of the world; it will work out alright.

many of us, obviously, didn’t get such optimal early development. thus, when facing uncertainty, we control our anxiety by being in control of the situation, or by having a way to out of it.

that works fairly well on the ground ” except for annoying those who regard us as control freaks. but when flying, there is uncertainty, of course. and, not being in control and not having a way out, there is no way to regulate the feelings.

therapists try to help with CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy), but anxiety can develop so rapidly that CBT techniques cannot keep up with the anxiety build-up.

hypnosis is pretty “hit or miss”. if it helps on one flight, it can fail to help on another flight.

medications are not to be recommended ” according to the world health organization ” because when sedated, the passenger doesn’t move around enough to protect against DVT, deep vein thrombosis. if a DVT clot forms, it is a serious and potentially life-threatening problem.

also, use of medications ” according to research ” is only helpful in very mild cases of fear of flying. in more severe cases, medications make the flight worse!

i have tried to give a good understanding of the cause and cure of fear of flying in a video here and here.

owning our emotions

friday’s child wrote a post a little while ago – i can’t find it again for the life of me – chuckling about a list of things that we are supposed to be embarrassed about. something like having your zipper down in public, if i remember correctly, is supposed to make you all mortified.

i chuckled with her. really, i got bigger fish to fry than to want to crawl under the next rock after having been “caught” with something as commonplace as my fly open.

but it got me thinking. there are so many emotions we are “supposed” to have. not emotions that well up from deep inside but emotions that are dictated by society.

maybe sometimes that’s a good thing – at funerals, perhaps. in general, though, i think it dilutes, cheapens and confuses our experience and our emotional truth.

liberace on the pianodisney is a perfect example of this; they play our emotions like liberace plays the piano – and people, there’s a reason why i’m using him as a metaphor and not, say, glenn gould. disney knows exactly how to make us laugh, get outraged or go “awwwwww”. i’ll never forget watching pocahontas, really an awful distortion of native american history (what’s next? “the happy holocaust”?) – and yet i cried and got all mushy exactly at the right spots.

most people aren’t very much in touch with their emotions anyway. people often say that that’s a new and western thing but from everything i’ve seen and read i’d say it’s a universal thing, going across time and cultures – with notable exceptions, as always. so when someone, be it a family member, a clan, or a part of society, insinuates that we “should” feel this way and not another, it falls on an untended field, ready to be worked by whoever puts some effort into it.

becoming more emotionally connected is part of the challenge of growing up, not only as individuals but as the human race altogether. i am truly convinced that the world would be a better place if people like dick cheney, maggie thatcher, pervez musharraf and robert mugabe had a better handle on their emotions.

if they understood better how much they’re driven by fear.

if they got it that underneath their lust for power is a yearning for love.

if they felt the long-lasting goodness of compassion rather than the short fire of getting high on controlling others.

now please don’t get me wrong – i’m not saying that disney turned mugabe into a monster, or that we should all turn into addle-brained touchy-feelies who can’t make a tough decision because we’re too busy going goo-goo-ga-ga over every june bug we see.

au contraire.

feeling and understanding OUR emotions – rather than the ones that someone else tells us to have – increases not only emotional but overall intelligence. paradoxically, feeling our emotions also helps us to understand that we are not our emotions, that they are just part of us. this helps us have a cool head when we need it.

(this post was mentioned in the 24th total mind and body fitness carnival)

anorexia, appetites, and avoidance

gaining by aimee liu is a fascinating book. it’s about surviving anorexia and bulimia, and about and for survivors of these eating disorders. however, it’s so well written, and such a great mix of scientific information, journalism and autobiography, it would be a joy to read even for people who are not primarily interested in the topic.

one of the experts mentioned in the book is harvard psychiatrist david herzog. i was particularly intrigued by what he says about appetites – and he talks about appetites of all sorts, anything we might hunger, yearn, even lust for. here are some of his thoughts on how people with anorexia experience appetites:

“appetites are scary for them. emotions must be tightly controlled. to do that, my anorexic patients in particular convince themselves emotions are unnecessary. i don’t need anger. i don’t need delight.”

herzog talks about a woman who was so disconnected from her body that she did not know she was pregnant until she was in her 7th month. she and her child are fine now but she remains in therapy because achieving emotional intimacy with her son is a challenge. “the fear is that sensation will overwhelm me.”

an appetite is a desire. a desire is a pursuit, a going-after, a grasping.

what herzog describes is avoidance.

i think now of the buddhist middle way: neither pursuing pleasure nor avoiding pain. and for all things: neither pursuing nor avoiding.

what a very difficult thing for us humans to do, and how greatly misunderstood it can be.

a person who is anorexic seems to not only avoid but also to crave, to pursue the avoidance (incidentally, the chapter in liu’s book that contains these quotes is headed “avoidance”). the need to avoid the fear, the fat, the appetite and all the feelings and sensations becomes overwhelming. nothing else seems to matter.

“appetites are scary for them. emotions must be tightly controlled.”

i think we all have appetites that scare us. we all try to control emotions. sometimes that’s a good thing. it’s called civilization.

and once in a while, someone is driven too far by those fears and makes the conscious or not-so-conscious choice – influenced by genetics, society, a particular family environment, or perhaps by a combination of them – to seriously restrict what they eat.

too much avoidance could equate, then, too much civilization? too much avoidance of the wild beast’s appetites?

is part of the task of the person who wants to recover from anorexia to become a bit less civilized?

and where does everyone else in this civilization, in this well-tamed society of ours, need to become a bit wilder?

time to eat or time to feel?

bad buddhist vs. the sixth precept is the title of a blog post by marie that was submitted to the last carnival of eating disorders. i was quite intrigued by it and would like to talk a bit more about it.

buddhist precepts, says diane esshin rizzetto in waking up to what you do

can be thought of as a beacon of light, much like a lighthouse beacon that warns sailors that they are entering dangerous waters and guides them on course … pay attention! look! listen! … the precepts are offered and received as tools to help free us from domination by the ever-changing stream of thoughts, feelings and sensations.

there is a varying number of precepts (5, 10, 227 …). marie talks about the precept to abstain from taking untimely meals.

in observing the sixth precept, the lay buddhist eats one or two simple meals between dawn and noon and avoids taking food beyond that. this cuts down the time spent on meals and allows him more time to spend on meditation.

yes, what do you want to spend your time on? no matter how we look at time, we only have a limited supply of it. come to think of it, do we want to “spend” it or do we want to “use” it?

watching TV and mindlessly crunching potato chips would definitely fall under the “spending” category. it goes into the “expenses” column – and not an expense in the form of investment. actually, it’s an investment in liabilities.

marie goes on

i think the question of timeliness makes the most sense to me in these terms: is it time to be present and mindful of what i’m eating, or is it time to be present and mindful of what i’m feeling?

what a great question. a question that extends, i believe, beyond eating. just as most issues around eating disorders go beyond eating.

  • is it time to listen right now, or time to talk?
  • is it time to sleep?
  • is it time to pay attention to my child right now, or to answer this email?
  • questions that go right back to what rizzetto says about the precepts:

    pay attention! look! listen!

    please read the rest of marie’s article. she’s got a great sense of humour, and she also has a beautiful description of thich nhat hanh’s eating meditation on her post.

    (this post was part of the 111th carnival of healing)