This is a blog all just for me. It has no purpose whatsoever except for me to share some of the random nonsense I happen to be thinking about in my day-to-day life. Sometimes it sure is nice not to have a purpose.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Emotions, Thoughts, and Action in the Modern World

Last week, I came across a list of parenting books on a library web site (yes--people actually use them!). I felt inspired to check out some of the titles even though I've barely had (or, I suppose, made) time to do any reading recently. In the past, I've had mixed luck with parenting titles, but in this batch I've found one so far that really has me excited: Parenting Your Anxious Child with Mindfulness and Acceptance by Christopher McCurry.

I started off by getting drawn into a section from the middle of the book, which I also hope to write about in the future. But, just as I was becoming engrossed in the middle, I thought I should stop and try reading from the beginning lest I might miss other great content. I'm glad that I went back, because I have been captured even from the foreward, which is written by Steven C. Hayes from the University of Nevada. Below are some quotes from the foreword that particularly struck me:
  • "Emotions evolved to elicit action--now...but when emotions become entangled in our more recently evolved capacity for symbolic, predictive, evaluative thought--especially when that capacity is in overdrive due to the age of chatter in which we live--we often experience emotions that do not require immediate action. In a simpler world, we could muddle through the difficulties this creates. But modern technology has made that strategy untenable." (p. xii)
I find it interesting to hear this take on how the modern world is changing the way that we need to handle our emotions and thoughts. This plays upon the now common theme of how we humans find ourselves operating today in a completely unnatural way--that we are truly living mismatched with our evolutionary track.
  • "We need to teach our children more about how to deal with their own thoughts and feelings in a way that is healthy. In the modern world, emotional intelligence is just as important as the more traditional kind of intelligence...suppressive, avoidant and mindless approaches to the experiences within simply will not cut it anymore...[we] need to learn to accept our feelings, without being driven by them and without rushing to removes ones we do not like. Trying to get rid of feelings only drives them underground while simultaneously giving them more capacity to control behavior without our awareness." (p. xii)
It's hard for me to believe that this type of emotional awareness wouldn't have been useful during any time period--being able to face and accept one's feelings is something that I have always stood by. I feel particular resonance with the last sentence from the quote above as I've stood witness to this truth many times.
  • "[We] need to learn to watch our thoughts, without reflexively adopting the world-view dictated by them...Thoughts are easily programmed, and they are nothing to be right about--or wrong about. They are just thoughts. Some of those thoughts will not be attractive because they are constantly being programmed by sources we do not control. We will hear in our own minds the echoes of the fear, judgment, bias, or prejudice to which we are exposed nearly every day. The point is not to feel bad about the existence of such thoughts in our heads, nor to feel self-righteous about the thoughts we have that we agree with. The point is to be more conscious, open, and flexible in how we translate thoughts into action...while being aware of our feelings and thoughts, we must make mindful choices about what to actually do, based on chosen values." (p. xiii)
Yes! I have recently been reflecting upon wanting to control my thoughts better. It has always made sense to me that feelings are something less out of our control. But, I never thought about how thoughts could also be so "uncontrollable." It's no joke. My husband and I have just recently had conversations about trying to work on being less "assish." But, when I do stop and think about it, our assishness really exists mostly in our thoughts--it is good to realize that maybe we're not so off track. We simply need to remember to be conscious of our thoughts and how they influence our actions. I also think there is much wisdom in the reminder that we should refrain from "self-righteousness about the thoughts we have that we agree with." Yet again, I find that the older I get, the more I am reminded to judge less and to instead discern more shades of gray, an ability which McCurry later recognizes as a true "developmental achievement."

In closing, here's a nicely worded summary:
  • "Fear, anger, and desire are part of the human condition. They can sensitize us to what is going on in the moment--but we have to learn how to have them without being had by them. The emotional imperative of "now" is just too automatic and mindless to be trusted in the modern world. Modern minds need to learn to be guided by values and choices, not just by emotional and cognitive programming." (p. xiii)

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