On my way back from New Jersey this week, two individuals from some religious organization approached me. They were polite and inquisitive about my religious affiliation. It had been a while since someone approached me to discuss religion so I found it rather interesting to reflect upon what they were saying. They got to the inevitable discussion of right/wrong, good/bad, and most important to me, pleasure and pain.
I have no idea what they were trying to say because my mind was already wandering about the subject of pleasure and pain. I thought, you know, this plea doesn’t register with me because of how I now look at feelings and emotions.
Feelings are simply a cumulative perception of the current environment, through the lens of my experiences combined with innate elements of perception.
The emotional salience of an event is a sign of a need for a change in mental mode or some other mode, perhaps a physical change. Emotions trigger our body to change, feelings trigger our mind to change. Especially in the case of emotions with negative valence, i.e.: fear, anger, frustration, pain.
What does all this gibberish mean? Well, if I feel frustrated when someone is talking to me, perhaps I’m not listening to what they have to say, or perhaps I’m doing a poor job of communicating my message. But if I allow my frustration to fester I may blow up and walk away or get into an argument.
If we realize that negative valence is not intrinsically “bad” we can begin to learn to adapt appropriately to these emotions and feelings, to be aware of them, and to respond with skillful, intentional behavior instead of unskillful, reactive behavior.
Try this out yourself, try to be aware of a negative feeling today, see if you can catch yourself in the “act.” Then, take a mental minute to note why you might feel that way and see if there’s an alternative behavior that will address what you suspect caused the negative feeling.