Autonomic Emotions

Just as the body has autonomic functions – processes, such as our heartbeat and our breathing, that occur automatically independently of our conscious will – we can see our thoughts in a similar way; this was discussed in a previous post. What about our emotions?  How often would you say you consciously choose your emotions and how often do your emotions seem to be happening to you? Autonomic processes are not immune to conscious will – we can actively slow our heart rate and change the pattern of our breathing – so the fact that we can affect our emotions doesn’t mean that we are always consciously choosing and creating them.

Is there benefit in seeing our experienced emotions as being largely autonomic, as being primarily an automatic response to a variety of factors outside of our control? Firstly, it can remove feelings of guilt or failure if I am experiencing negative emotions; it can also remove feelings of ego, pride or arrogance is I am experiencing positive emotions. I am not to blame for my negative emotions, nor am I necessarily responsible for all my positive emotions. If my emotional experiences are predominantly caused by a combination of environment, circumstance, genetics, biochemistry, hormones, past experiences and current relationships, then it may be more productive if I focus my attention on how I respond to these emotions, rather than expend energy battling against their occurrence and trying to generate alternative emotions in their place.

This is not an argument for disempowerment and acceptance of your lot; it is a suggestion of what may be a more effective approach to reach a state where negative emotions have much less impact on us and our ability to function.

It is possible, although not easy, to have the will power to function positively and effectively when we are suffering from physical discomfort or from a stream of negative thoughts, we can learn to largely ignore it and carry on regardless, but is it feasible to do the same when we are experiencing negative emotions? Emotions can feel a lot more consuming of our whole being and a lot more powerful in how they influence our whole demeanour, generating a momentum of similarly negative thoughts and reactions. Can we transcend this so we are not struggling to get by whilst the suffering continues, but instead we find ourselves Ina different space where the suffering is greatly diminished?

If emotions, like processes of the body (and maybe our thoughts) are autonomic, then that opens the door to the possibility that our conscious will and awareness can transcend the experience of our emotions, and from that position, create new feelings and responses that allow us to function and interact in a productive way even whilst the negative emotions are present, without feeling such a detrimental impact from those emotions.

Mindful acceptance and awareness of our inevitable negative emotional states may be the first step to finding an inner strength and determination to express ourselves from a place beyond them. We are more than the autonomic processes of our bodies, thoughts and emotions; we are able to be aware of all of these things, and that awareness also has the power to create new and free thoughts and feelings that can be the inspiration for our future actions and experiences.

So I can experiment with this during the day: when I am feeling down, I can notice and name that experience, and then see if there is a part of me that remains unaffected that can generate a new thought, a new feeling and an expression unaffected by the emotion, that reflects the core of my being.

Is this possible? There’s only one way to find out …

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