Friday, September 16, 2005

Emotions vs. mood

Like a lot of people around the US at this point, I have to admit to some anger about what happened in New Orleans. And I've begun to challenge myself on this issue. When is anger appropriate? Is it ever appropriate from a spiritual point of view?

I’m reading an interesting book (can you tell I read a lot?) called Emotions Revealed by the well-known face analyst, Paul Ekman. At the end of chapter three he says:

This is a good place to distinguish emotions from moods. All of us have both of them, but they are different, even though both involve feelings. The obvious difference is that emotions are much shorter than moods. Moods can last a whole day, sometimes two days, while emotions can come and go in minutes, sometimes seconds. …

A mood activates specific emotions. When we are irritable, we are seeking an opportunity to become angry; we interpret the world in a way that permits, or even requires, us to become angry. …

Another way moods differ from emotions is that once an emotion has begun and we have become aware of it, we can usually point to the event that caused it. Rarely do we know why we are in a mood. It just seems to happen to us. …

Earlier I argued that emotions are necessary for our lives, and we wouldn't want to be rid of them. I am far less convinced that moods are of any use to us. … Moods narrow our alternatives, distort our thinking, and make it more difficult for us to control what we do, and usually for no reason that makes any sense to us. … If I could, I would forgo ever having any mood again and just live with my emotions. I would gladly give up euphoric moods to be rid of irritable and blue moods. But none of us have that choice.

I included that last sentence to be fair the author, but I guess I have to take exception to it. He's basing his conclusion on the evidence of the gajillions of people he's researched and the world he's traveled over to investigate the place of emotion in our lives, so he definitely has more authority on the subject than I. But somehow I can't quite agree that we have NO choice at all. I think when you add prayer to the mix, anything can happen.

But his comments have alerted me to something within myself. And what I don't want to do about New Orleans and other things that have made me angry is fall into an angry mood. I don't think it will help anyone to become so entrenched in a point of view that I can't get out of it.

So my anger is becoming a signal to me that I need to go deeper. Definitely I need to take action when my anger impels me to help and contribute. But I also need to clear the decks spiritually and not let anger get too comfortable within me. Anger needs to stay uncomfortable so that my encounters with it remain productive. And I need to experience forgiveness in the same or higher proportion that I experience anger. This will keep me on an even keel and allow me to help others most effectively.

How to forgive when you're angry? Next to impossible, I admit, yet I've written before about empathy being key. Have I felt any empathy yet toward those in responsible positions who let something bad like this happen? Hmmm. Can't say that I have! So this will be my project for today.

To assist me in that, I'm going to re-read a magnificent sermon:

The Hurricane Within and The Hurricane Without

(second entry on the page) by my friend and frequent blog reader Rev. Myron Jones in Louisiana. I hope you'll read it too.

Your ideas and inspiration are welcome! Please comment below or Contact Laura.
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At 9/16/2005 12:28:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree that anger isn't a mood one should cultivate as an ongoing state of mind. But it should prompt focused action. That action can include things like voting out incompetents, sending aid to agencies that will use it properly, spreading the word about a problem that needs solving, etc. It can also include prayer, but not the kind of prayer that allows us to sink back into just another mood of self-satisfacton and pollyanna optimism. And while forgiveness is important, it should come AFTER people stop screwing things up. Otherwise we run the risk of condoning and supporting screwups like New Orleans.

At 9/16/2005 05:45:00 PM, Blogger Rev. Veronika Birken said...

Dear Laura,
Today I was working on lesson 6 from the Workbook for Students (ACIM). This fitted in so well with your theme today, that I wish to share it here:

“I am upset because I see something that is not there.”

Well, this is dealing with my emotions the exact opposite way I used to in the past! To be upset and saying that I imagine things stops me in my traps. The ego likes dramas. Any good outlet of emotional display is good food for its survival. But as soon as I remember that I made all this up, the emotion is stopped in its track - the fuel has been taken away.
Why would I not want an emotion to express itself anyway? Because I want peace first. Peace is of the Holy Spirit. Peace leads the way Home. All strong emotions are detours. I do not want any more detours. I now choose peace first in my life.

Peace, Veronika

At 9/18/2005 10:50:00 PM, Blogger books said...

I think anger IS acceptable. Jesus got angry. The point is to not stay stuck in anger, just as it would be odd to stay stuck in any one emotion. We are not robots, life happens to us. It's how we handle the anger that's important. Anger can be a WONDERFUL catalyst for growth!


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