Thursday, December 17, 2009

Emotional Awareness

I have long been a fan of the Dalai Lama. Even though I don’t accept the deeper doctrines of Buddhism, like karma and reincarnation, I really admire the efforts that he has put in to teaching people to live more peaceably with each other. His optimism is infectious. I’ve also been a fan of the work of Dr. Paul Ekman. So it has been really enjoyable to have my commutes filled with their voices as I’ve been listening to Emotional Awareness: Overcoming the Obstacles to Psychological Balance and Compassion: A Conversation Between the Dalai Lama and Paul Ekman.
Ekman and the Dalai Lama both have the same goals but they are approaching them from different perspectives. Ekman is the scientist who is studying emotion scientifically with the goal of trying to make people’s lives better. The Dalai Lama is a spiritual leader who is also trying to make people’s lives better. Both have found a very common ground in the study of emotion and how to respond to our emotions.
I have so many things to take away from this book that I don’t really know where to start.
Much of the conversation focuses on just being aware of our own emotions and controlling what we feel and how we respond to that emotion. The Buddhist principles of compassion and mindfulness come into play quite a bit in this area.
Ekman refuses to classify emotions as positive or negative. It is only our response to that emotion that can receive such a value judgment. Fear that prompts us to get out of the way of an oncoming train can be good. But fear used to intimidate is bad. Similarly pride and anger can also have similar positive effects if channeled constructively. The only emotion that both the Dalai Lama and Ekman agree has no positive effects is contempt.
Moods are a different issue and both men agree. Moods poison the well and last longer than emotion. Most emotions only last for a relatively short time. Moods however skew you perception and are never constructive. A cranky mood will cause you to misinterpret the actions of others to fit your preconceptions. Even a good mood can be destructive if it causes you to gloss over and not give due attention to a stimulus. I found it very interesting that The Dalai Lama agreed that being overly optimistic can have similar negative effects to being overly pessimistic.
The biggest take away I have found from this book is simply an awareness. I’ve been trying to identify my feelings as emotions or as moods and then trying to consciously decide how to respond. I have a bad habit of taking tidbits that I’ve learned and educating my family. That I believe is good but I tend to sound like I’m lecturing them. I hope that as I learn better emotional awareness I will also become better at sharing with my family.

1 comment:

  1. I agree completely with the mood emotion differences. I too often get in moods. Must work on that.