insight into emotions

General discussion of issues related to Theravada Meditation, e.g. meditation postures, developing a regular sitting practice, skillfully relating to difficulties and hindrances, etc.

insight into emotions

Postby Freawaru » Mon Mar 08, 2010 10:24 am

Hello All,

I practice insight into emotionally altered states of mind for about twenty years or so and I think it is a fascinating exercise. Not just because one learns a lot about the mind, but also about human social behaviour. The emotionally altered mind is more like an animal, more instinctive, than the calm, rational one. So I thought I open a thread on this topic to share insights into it and compare notes.

The way I practice this is either during sittings or everyday situations. When an emotion arises either due to a situation or a stimulating thought or memory I do not cut it before it arises but let it grow, let it take over the mind and body. I observe and analyse what happens while it happens to see the mechanisms and processes.

Some aspect that seems to be true for all emotionally altered states of mind are the increased concentration, alertness and redundancy. Another is the reduction of rationality (no surprise here).

When anger arises inside my mind and body (emotions always seem to influence the physical body, too) the mind concentrates automatically on the cause of the anger. The object whatever it is - say, some car driver behaves badly, just to give an everyday opportunity to practice - suddenly dominates the mind and it stops whatever dominating activity it had done before. Say, when I have been in a dialogue or listening to music or thinking, planing etc, all these are stoped within the second and thoughts based on anger and the object that caused it surface and dominate. But, oddly, it does not stay at that. Instead of moving on when the situation has passed, the mind repeats and repeats the situation in itself, arising memory after memory of it to feed the emotion to stay, to keep the anger altered mind active. And then even older, usually forgotten memories of anger inducing events years ago arise, again feeding the emotion to stay. And then "what if" thoughts and images, ideas of what bad could happen in the future related to the anger inducing situation. It is a kind of feedback loop: emotion triggers memories and thoughts and these feed the emotion that then initiates more emotional memories and thoughts. So, while concentration and alertness are increased by the emotion anger they are also limited to anger related mental processes and situations.

A physical aspect of anger is the increased alertness, pure strength, endurance and reaction time. The body clearly prepares for fight or flight. Physical pain is reduced. When I do not let go of the anger or do some sports I get painful tensions after three days of continual anger-altered mind (I only have a statistic of one regarding this, some years ago I kept my anger active during the whole wake time - got some interesting dreams, too - just to analyse the state. After three days my legs started to hurt so much I decided to end the experiment).

To me most surprising of the analysis of anger altered mind are the social implications. Anger seems to get the mind into a more instinctive state that judges people's behaviour and reactions differently than the calm, rational mind. In my experience there are only two well accepted social responses to anger: fear and anger. Fear is judged as "lower social status" and accepted as such - by the person who experiences the fear, too. A social structure is established on the instinctive level. The response of anger however is considered as not yet established social structure, which prepares the body and mind to fight for it, reactivating rationality. The worst response to anger is calm. I was very surprised to see this as I had been taught to response to anger of another person with calm. But I checked this over and over again: calm signals the anger altered mind that the other person does not take me and my problems seriously. It leads to feeling insulted, ignored and generally not accepted.

I also checked this result on other persons. When other persons got angry with me I tried both responses: calm and anger (not both at the same time of course). It turned out that anger is the best reaction in dealing with others, too. Calm either increased their anger or made them retreat without solving the problem, worsening their self-esteem. The reaction of anger, signalling both "I take you seriously" and "stop, no further than this" had the result of them pausing to reflect on what they do and think and turning the mind to rationality again (even if only to fight more rational at first). I can only add that since I chose this response to anger I get along with people much better socially. (I am talking about other adults, with children the instincts work differently).

What are your observations into emotions? Anger? Fear? Ambition? Jealousy? ...
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Re: insight into emotions

Postby Guy » Mon Mar 08, 2010 12:23 pm

Hi freawaru,

My greatest insight into emotions is that they are just emotions. Anger comes from a strong sense of self, thinking "I am threatened" or "I need to show other people not to mess with ME" or something along those lines and if we believe these thoughts and identify with them they will intensify the emotion. As far as other people's anger is concerned, imo, the best reaction is no reaction. Reacting to anger makes the person feel they are right to be angry since they are getting their desired response.

It is a kind of feedback loop: emotion triggers memories and thoughts and these feed the emotion that then initiates more emotional memories and thoughts.

I agree. With mindfulness we can cut this off rather than reinforce it.

Calm either increased their anger or made them retreat without solving the problem, worsening their self-esteem.

This has not been my experience, I have found that being calm is the most useful technique in dealing with angry people.

With Metta,

Guy
Four types of letting go:

1) Giving; expecting nothing back in return
2) Throwing things away
3) Contentment; wanting to be here, not wanting to be anywhere else
4) "Teflon Mind"; having a mind which doesn't accumulate things

- Ajahn Brahm
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Re: insight into emotions

Postby Freawaru » Tue Mar 09, 2010 10:13 am

Hi Guy,

Guy wrote:My greatest insight into emotions is that they are just emotions.


Yes. I agree. They are just that, not me, not myself, not what I am - just emotions :smile:

Anger comes from a strong sense of self, thinking "I am threatened" or "I need to show other people not to mess with ME" or something along those lines


I agree. This is, IMO, the instinct, both social and survival.

and if we believe these thoughts and identify with them they will intensify the emotion.


Yes. But it is also possible to intensify them without identifying with them or the processes. I view the mind with it's emotions like an animal that needs to be trained. Awareness (mindfulness, sati-sampajanna) is the handler. The mind reacts to a given situation - either a social situation or a survival situation - with anger, instinctive. Like a dog that sees a rabbit and the hunting instinct is triggered. It is now the job of the handler to train the dog to obedience, to tame it. The first, maybe most difficult exercise, is to prevent the dog from chasing the rabbit before the dog actually starts to move. It is difficult because the handler has to be aware of the dog tensing and preparing to run the moment it does so. And the dog has to already know the "stop" signal and been trained to obey it. It is the same with emotions, one has to be aware of them the moment they "tense and prepare to run", so to speak. And give the correct signal to stop.

When this works, when awareness is automatic and the mind reacts properly to the stop signal before anger arises it is possible to train it to "run after the rabbit" for longer and longer moments before calling it back. It is useful to practice this during sitting meditation because one does not need to deal with an external situation as well. When one does mindfulness meditation one does not just observe whatever comes up but initiates an emotion by purposefully thinking and imagining whatever makes one angry and then keep awareness and observes the mind (and body) processes during anger.

As far as other people's anger is concerned, imo, the best reaction is no reaction. Reacting to anger makes the person feel they are right to be angry since they are getting their desired response.


But they ARE right to be angry. When anger arises there is a cause that needs to be dealt with. It is similar to physical pain, the physical pain is a signal that something is wrong with the physical body, there is physical damage that needs attention, to be investigated, and possibly treated (different with chronic pains). When anger arises (not "chronic" anger) it is a signal that something survival or social is wrong and needs attention, investigation, and possibly treatment.

It is a kind of feedback loop: emotion triggers memories and thoughts and these feed the emotion that then initiates more emotional memories and thoughts.

I agree. With mindfulness we can cut this off rather than reinforce it.


Exactly :smile:

Have you noticed, too, that there are at least two ways: one feels like "cutting" and the other like a wave?

Calm either increased their anger or made them retreat without solving the problem, worsening their self-esteem.

This has not been my experience, I have found that being calm is the most useful technique in dealing with angry people.


Interesting. So very different results. Can you give an example or a typical situation and it's development?
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Re: insight into emotions

Postby Kim OHara » Tue Mar 09, 2010 11:47 am

Freawaru wrote:But they ARE right to be angry. When anger arises there is a cause that needs to be dealt with.

Huh?
Saying there is a cause for the arising of anger is no evidence that anger is a justifiable response, let alone the best response.
Freawaru wrote:It is similar to physical pain, the physical pain is a signal that something is wrong with the physical body, there is physical damage that needs attention, to be investigated, and possibly treated (different with chronic pains). When anger arises (not "chronic" anger) it is a signal that something survival or social is wrong and needs attention, investigation, and possibly treatment.

Argument by analogy cannot prove anything. The most it can do is suggest paths that may be worth investigating.

Off-hand, I can't think of any situation which is improved by an angry response.
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Re: insight into emotions

Postby effort » Tue Mar 09, 2010 5:53 pm

A physical aspect of anger is the increased alertness, pure strength, endurance and reaction time. The body clearly prepares for fight or flight. Physical pain is reduced. When I do not let go of the anger or do some sports I get painful tensions after three days of continual anger-altered mind (I only have a statistic of one regarding this, some years ago I kept my anger active during the whole wake time - got some interesting dreams, too - just to analyse the state. After three days my legs started to hurt so much I decided to end the experiment).


what is that, shamanic practice?!

Off-hand, I can't think of any situation which is improved by an angry response.


sometimes i need to show anger to say something is important for me unless people wont care, this is sad but things going this way.

It is a kind of feedback loop: emotion triggers memories and thoughts and these feed the emotion that then initiates more emotional memories and thoughts.


honestly most of the times i stuck in that loop and getting pretty hopeless, its been a while that i try to just let it happen, if i can.

ok, now my turn!!, why this " i dont like this ordinary feeling i want something else ( means something amazing or spiritual or ... ) " doesnt leave me alone?! :tantrum:
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Re: insight into emotions

Postby Guy » Wed Mar 10, 2010 12:12 am

Hi Freawaru,

Freawaru wrote:Interesting. So very different results. Can you give an example or a typical situation and it's development?


In one situation someone I used to live with asked me (actually it was more like yelling a request from another room in the house) to get them a beer, I just calmly said no because I don't drink - which they know already - and I'm not going to endorse anyone elses drinking in any way. A few seconds later they came to the room I was in and exploded with anger "I can't believe you won't do such a simple thing for me after everything I do for you! you are so selfish and lazy! rah rah rah rah" - I didn't even raise an objection, I remained calm and silent. After drinking his beer and realizing how inappropriate his behaviour was he came back and apologized.

Obviously there are many factors involved (e.g. how well you know the person, what kind of personality they have, whether or not you consider them potentially dangerous, etc.) as to the best way to respond but I am pretty sure that being calm is the best place to start from. If you start from a state of inner-calm then it gives you the ability to think clearly which you don't have when you get angry back and also there is the chance that it will confuse the person because it's not the reaction they expected. Confusion is great because it causes the person to snap out of their angry self-hypnosis and maybe see things a different way.

With Metta,

Guy
Four types of letting go:

1) Giving; expecting nothing back in return
2) Throwing things away
3) Contentment; wanting to be here, not wanting to be anywhere else
4) "Teflon Mind"; having a mind which doesn't accumulate things

- Ajahn Brahm
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Re: insight into emotions

Postby christopher::: » Wed Mar 10, 2010 1:09 am

Great discussion topic and opening post. It's cool how mindfulness of this sort leads to insights. Unless we observe how these mental states arise, strengthen and fall away it's pretty much impossible to understand them, and let them go.

Concerning calm vs. anger as a response, i think it depends on the situation, and the form of calm or anger. Anger that is combined with kindness, metta and concern can be helpful. As Freawaru described, people feel that you do "care." Calm that is combined with the other brahmaviharas can be even more effective, helping others to calm down and feel heard.

But calm that is too "cool" and detached doesn't always help. People may feel that you are judging them, or not taking their suffering seriously. It depends though, on the situation.
"As Buddhists, we should aim to develop relationships that are not predominated by grasping and clinging. Our relationships should be characterised by the brahmaviharas of metta (loving kindness), mudita (sympathetic joy), karuna (compassion), and upekkha (equanimity)."
~post by Ben, Jul 02, 2009
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Re: insight into emotions

Postby Freawaru » Wed Mar 10, 2010 9:59 am

Hi Kim,

Kim O'Hara wrote:
Freawaru wrote:But they ARE right to be angry. When anger arises there is a cause that needs to be dealt with.

Huh?
Saying there is a cause for the arising of anger is no evidence that anger is a justifiable response, let alone the best response.


Anger is a mental and physical response to a situation. Just as hunger or thirst or pain. Instinct. It is just a response, I see no sense in valuing it just as I see no sense in valuing the response of the arising of thirst to the situation of a change of the blood composition. Anger - just as other emotions like fear - are natural states of the mammal brain - are you suggesting that millions of years of evolution provided us with an unjustifiable instinct?

Off-hand, I can't think of any situation which is improved by an angry response.


During my teens I was sometimes dog-sitting to a neighbour. The dogs knew me well and were well trained, too. I felt save with them even going into the forest alone, I knew they would stay and they obeyed my commands. But then they had pups. Foolishly, I took the whole pack for a walk, the pups stayed with the adults who stayed with me, so everything was nice. Until another dog came into sight - usually no problem, I never had had a problem controling the adult dogs during this kind of situation before but the pups barked and run to it playfully. I think the adult dog's territorial instincts took over and - ignoring my command - followed their pups and attacked the foreign dog. I was SO angry. Real angry, there was not even the slightest idea of fear except the fear that they would harm the other dog. So I just followed them, held them fast, barked commands at them angrily, opened their jaws with my bare hands to free the other dog (that sped away as fast as possible). The adult pack could have bitten me, but it didn't. I was the alpha and I smelled of anger. They put their tail between their legs and followed me to their home.

Afterwards, people told me I had been insane to go between fighting dogs. But they had been my responsibility so I had to act. I don't think I had been in danger because I smelled of anger. If I had smelled of calm, or worse: of fear, they would have turned against me, but not as long as anger ran through my system. I am very grateful to this emotion as it can save lives.
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Re: insight into emotions

Postby Kim OHara » Wed Mar 10, 2010 11:31 am

Freawaru wrote:Anger is a mental and physical response to a situation. Just as hunger or thirst or pain. Instinct. ... Anger - just as other emotions like fear - are natural states of the mammal brain - are you suggesting that millions of years of evolution provided us with an unjustifiable instinct?

Hi, Freawaru,
You appear to have no doubt that anger is an instinct, but that call seems unjustified to me.
The instincts you mention (hunger, thirst, pain) are common to all people - and to all sentient beings, as far as we know. They are consistently triggered by similar environmental stresses. They are not emotional responses with accompanying physical symptoms, but physical responses with (sometimes) accompanying emotional states. People do not believe that experiencing them is morally reprehensible. They are not thought of as obstacles to spiritual development.
Anger is unlike those instincts on all these points. As far as I can see, calling it an instinct is either a mistake or a cop-out - though I would be interested to see any good reason you may have for doing so.
Freawaru wrote:
Kim wrote:Off-hand, I can't think of any situation which is improved by an angry response.

During my teens I was sometimes dog-sitting to a neighbour....The adult pack could have bitten me, but it didn't. I was the alpha and I smelled of anger. They put their tail between their legs and followed me to their home.

Afterwards, people told me I had been insane to go between fighting dogs. But they had been my responsibility so I had to act. I don't think I had been in danger because I smelled of anger. If I had smelled of calm, or worse: of fear, they would have turned against me, but not as long as anger ran through my system. I am very grateful to this emotion as it can save lives.

That's an interesting story but (1) it's hardly an everyday occurrence, (2) you may very easily be misinterpreting the dogs' behaviour, and (3) even it you are right about the dogs, it was a single isolated incident where anger had a positive result and has to be balanced against all the negative results of anger.

Metta (again and always!)
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Re: insight into emotions

Postby Freawaru » Thu Mar 11, 2010 7:45 pm

Hi Effort,

effort wrote:
A physical aspect of anger is the increased alertness, pure strength, endurance and reaction time. The body clearly prepares for fight or flight. Physical pain is reduced. When I do not let go of the anger or do some sports I get painful tensions after three days of continual anger-altered mind (I only have a statistic of one regarding this, some years ago I kept my anger active during the whole wake time - got some interesting dreams, too - just to analyse the state. After three days my legs started to hurt so much I decided to end the experiment).


what is that, shamanic practice?!


Kayanupassana ?

sometimes i need to show anger to say something is important for me unless people wont care, this is sad but things going this way.


Yes. Social instinct.

honestly most of the times i stuck in that loop and getting pretty hopeless, its been a while that i try to just let it happen, if i can.


One reason why I suggest to practice this in vitro, aka during a sitting, no persons around.

Another exercise I found useful is to first identify with a fictional character and use the fictional situation and emotional response as the object. There is more distance to the emotion in this case. F.e. when using fear and it's processes it can be useful to watch a horror movie or read Stephen King. "Die Hard" for anger or something like that. Identification with a fictional character is like a simulation. Something similar is also recommended by the Buddha:

Patoda Sutta
...
There is the case where a certain excellent thoroughbred person hears, 'In that town or village over there a man or woman is in pain or has died.' He is stirred & agitated by that.
...
"Then again there is the case where a certain excellent thoroughbred person does not hear, 'In that town or village over there a man or woman is in pain or has died.' But he himself sees a man or woman in pain or dead. He is stirred & agitated by that. ...
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html


It describes the same mental process of identification with someone else in a situation one is not in oneself as during identification with fictional characters in books or film. Imagination, empathy and identification are the skills that lead to a simulation of the processes that need to be observed and investigated. It is more safe and easier to detach from (and thus to observe) and can be repeated as often as one wants. It might not work the first time one watches a movie (because one is too focused on the content) but the more often one watches it the more one can wrestle awareness away from the content and turn to observation of one's mind and body.
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Re: insight into emotions

Postby Freawaru » Thu Mar 11, 2010 7:59 pm

Hi Guy,

Guy wrote:In one situation someone I used to live with asked me (actually it was more like yelling a request from another room in the house) to get them a beer, I just calmly said no because I don't drink - which they know already - and I'm not going to endorse anyone elses drinking in any way. A few seconds later they came to the room I was in and exploded with anger "I can't believe you won't do such a simple thing for me after everything I do for you! you are so selfish and lazy! rah rah rah rah" - I didn't even raise an objection, I remained calm and silent. After drinking his beer and realizing how inappropriate his behaviour was he came back and apologized.


I admit I have to agree. These are the kind of situations I tend to choose staying calm, too. Not worth raising to, after all, emotions use more energy than calm.

Thinking about it, there are situations where my mind's interpretation of calm to it's own anger is not insult. Namely, on a regular monthly basis. Oddly, it is different then. While the hormones alter my mind to a more irritated ground state it seems to know it's anger as not being serious. Another instinct?

Obviously there are many factors involved (e.g. how well you know the person, what kind of personality they have, whether or not you consider them potentially dangerous, etc.) as to the best way to respond


I agree here, too. I am still in the process of trying to understand those factors to improve my social skills.

but I am pretty sure that being calm is the best place to start from. If you start from a state of inner-calm


Well, with sati-sampajanna in place I am never quite sure if I am calm or emotional. I mean, both are right, the mind is emotional but the awareness is calm.

then it gives you the ability to think clearly which you don't have when you get angry back and also there is the chance that it will confuse the person because it's not the reaction they expected. Confusion is great because it causes the person to snap out of their angry self-hypnosis and maybe see things a different way.


Yes, confusion is great for this. Nothing is worthless, not even confusion.
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Re: insight into emotions

Postby Freawaru » Thu Mar 11, 2010 8:01 pm

Hi Christopher,

christopher::: wrote:Great discussion topic and opening post.


Thank you :smile:
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Re: insight into emotions

Postby Freawaru » Thu Mar 11, 2010 8:28 pm

Hi Kim,

Kim O'Hara wrote:[
You appear to have no doubt that anger is an instinct, but that call seems unjustified to me.


Why?

The instincts you mention (hunger, thirst, pain) are common to all people - and to all sentient beings, as far as we know.


And so are emotions such as fear, jealousy, anger etc.

They are consistently triggered by similar environmental stresses.


To social animals (and I consider humans to be social animals) other humans provide constant environmental stresses.

People do not believe that experiencing them is morally reprehensible.


Neither do they believe of emotions. Nobody believes that experiencing emotions is morally reprehensible. That is: no *human* culture. Are you sure you are not Vulcan? As far as I know the only species that considers the experience of emotions such as fear or anger as immoral are the Vulcans. It is one my favorite topics in Star Trek.

They are not thought of as obstacles to spiritual development.


Neither are emotions. I mean, okay, fear is considered as akusala and fearlessness as kusala but this only points to sampajanna, IMO.

Anger is unlike those instincts on all these points. As far as I can see, calling it an instinct is either a mistake or a cop-out - though I would be interested to see any good reason you may have for doing so.


From a scientific point of view there are the physical and neurological changes during emotions. Fear produces certain changes, anger others, jealousy others again. One can find those in humans as well as in other social mammals. This is why I call them instinct.

My other reason is my own direct observation: fear leads to certain changes, anger to others, mother instinct to some changes, ideology (it is an instinct, too, in my observation, usually activated in the late teens, early twens), survival, social status (low social status can have it's use, too, just read an article on that) and so on. They are all rather interesting to investigate while observing one's own mind processes.

That's an interesting story but (1) it's hardly an everyday occurrence,


This is right, but even a Vulcan with unsurpassable logic has to admit that it only takes one fact to make statements like "in general experiencing anger is wrong" incorrect.

(2) you may very easily be misinterpreting the dogs' behaviour,


This is possible - I am not a telepath.

and (3) even it you are right about the dogs, it was a single isolated incident where anger had a positive result and has to be balanced against all the negative results of anger.


This is not a matter of judging and voting but a matter of detached investigation of a process.
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Re: insight into emotions

Postby Freawaru » Sat Mar 13, 2010 10:57 am

Hi All,

there is something else I want to ask regarding meditating on emotions. Another kind of experience I experienced both in every-day situation as well as during sittings.

The experience is that I observe my mind and body during the emotionally altered state but in addition something else, seemingly unrelated is happening in my mind. I mean, unrelated to the external situation and the emotional processes, but still somewhat connected. Or, using an analogy, if we compare the emotional processes in mind and body as the drums/rhythm in music the "something else" is like a melody, not related but not completely disconnected either. This "something else" or the "melody" can differ, it can be intense boredom, or joy, amusement, bliss, physical ecstasy of the kind I only know from jhana, a vast empty space, or the experience of a heart bursting impression of beauty (and some others I don't know the words for).

I am not yet quite sure what exactly happens or why and how. I suspect that the concentration that arises due to the emotion in combination with me observing it somehow triggers this - in any case I would like to know more about this strange and unexpected effect.

Has anybody else experienced this or heard about it or knows the name of these kind of experiences in Theravada?
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Re: insight into emotions

Postby Kim OHara » Sat Mar 13, 2010 11:35 am

Hi, Freawaru,
You have made it hard for me to comment on your responses to my post by picking it into chunks that are often too small to be meaningful, so I'll start half way through.
Freawaru wrote:
Kim wrote:They are not thought of as obstacles to spiritual development.

Neither are emotions. I mean, okay, fear is considered as akusala and fearlessness as kusala but this only points to sampajanna, IMO.

May I remind you ...
Three Hindrances aka Three Obstacles:
Aversion aka Anger aka Hatred
Attachment aka Greed aka Desire
Ignorance
Freawaru wrote:From a scientific point of view there are the physical and neurological changes during emotions. Fear produces certain changes, anger others, jealousy others again. One can find those in humans as well as in other social mammals. This is why I call them instinct.

My other reason is my own direct observation: fear leads to certain changes, anger to others, mother instinct to some changes, ideology (it is an instinct, too, in my observation, usually activated in the late teens, early twens), survival, social status (low social status can have it's use, too, just read an article on that) and so on. They are all rather interesting to investigate while observing one's own mind processes.

You are expanding the word 'instinct' far beyond its real meaning.
I objected - mildly - to calling anger and other emotions 'instincts' before, but calling ideology an instinct makes nonsense of your argument.
Here's the Wikipedia definition:
Instinct is the inherent disposition of a living organism toward a particular behavior. The fixed action patterns are unlearned and inherited. The stimuli can be variable due to imprinting in a sensitive period or also genetically fixed. Examples of instinctual fixed action patterns can be observed in the behavior of animals, which perform various activities (sometimes complex) that are not based upon prior experience, such as reproduction, and feeding among insects. Sea turtles, hatched on a beach, automatically move toward the ocean, and honeybees communicate by dance the direction of a food source, all without formal instruction. Other examples include animal fighting, animal courtship behavior, internal escape functions, and building of nests. Another term for the same concept is innate behavior.
Instinctual actions - in contrast to actions based on learning which are served by memory and which provide individually stored successful reactions built upon experience - have no learning curve, they are hard-wired and ready to use without learning. Some instinctual behaviors depend on maturational processes to appear.
Biological predispositions are innate biologically vectored behaviors that can be easily learned. For example in one hour a baby colt can learn to stand, walk, glide, skip, hop and run. Learning is required to fine tune the neurological wiring reflex like behavior. True reflexes can be distinguished from instincts by their seat in the nervous system; reflexes are controlled by spinal or other peripheral ganglia, but instincts are the province of the brain.

In these terms, hunger and pain are simply sensations, emotions are perhaps 'biological predispositions', the suckling reflex is an instinct, and ideology is clearly learned behaviour.
I agree that it's interesting to observe all of these kinds of things going on within ourselves, but I think we need to discriminate more carefully between them. Since (true) instincts are hard-wired, (1) everyone will exhibit them and (2) we are not really responsible for them. Learned behaviours, on the other hand vary from one person to the next and are (somewhat) under our control so we should take responsibility for them. (Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood ...)

There is a separate problem with trying to deal with 'instinct' in a Buddhist context: it is a concept which does not appear at all (AFAIK) in the suttas. I actually did a search for the term (only in the suttas) on Access to Insight and came with no results - zero - in about 1100 documents.

Freawaru wrote:This is right, but even a Vulcan with unsurpassable logic has to admit that it only takes one fact to make statements like "in general experiencing anger is wrong" incorrect.

I'm sorry, but that is a clear error of logic - "in general experiencing anger is wrong" can only be disproven by a majority, or at least a significant minority, of countervailing facts. (In general, crows are black, and that's true even if there are a few albino crows around.)

I actually must have expressed myself poorly, by the way, since you ended up thinking I said 'experiencing anger is wrong.' I didn't quite say it, and I didn't quite mean it, and I'm sorry that I may have led you astray. Giving in to anger, letting it rule one's behaviour, is what is wrong.
:namaste:
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Re: insight into emotions

Postby Freawaru » Mon Mar 15, 2010 8:26 pm

Hi Kim,

Kim O'Hara wrote:You have made it hard for me to comment on your responses to my post by picking it into chunks that are often too small to be meaningful, so I'll start half way through.


Sorry.


Kim wrote:May I remind you ...
Three Hindrances aka Three Obstacles:
Aversion aka Anger aka Hatred
Attachment aka Greed aka Desire
Ignorance


Sure, but here neither anger, nor hatred nor greed refers to an emotion. These terms, or rather the original term that was translated into anger, refers to a reaction to the feeling (vedana) translated as "pleasant". I think this sutta explains it nicely:

Pleasant feeling induces greed...
Painful feeling produces hate...
Neither-painful-nor-pleasant neutral feeling
causes neglect & thus generates ignorance...
http://what-buddha-said.net/drops/II/Bo ... eeling.htm


Pleasant feelings (vedana) arise due to contact with the senses. Mind (citta) is such a sense just as the body senses. The emotion anger is that what is contacted, the object, not the "dosa" that leads to clinging. Think of physical pain, does all physical pain lead to hate or anger in the emotional sense? I don't think so. Actually, I think the emotion fear is more common reaction to physical pain ("what is wrong? Will it heal? What if not?). Dosa is more properly translated as "aversion" as this describes better what happens. When a painful feeling arises we try to avoid it, we don't accept it, we want it to go away and pleasant feelings to return. This wanting for pleasant feelings is called "greed" but it is not a greed for money or wealth or fame or anything like that but simply the wanting of pleasant feeling, whatever it is for oneself.

You are expanding the word 'instinct' far beyond its real meaning.
I objected - mildly - to calling anger and other emotions 'instincts' before, but calling ideology an instinct makes nonsense of your argument.
Here's the Wikipedia definition:
Instinct is the inherent disposition of a living organism toward a particular behavior. The fixed action patterns are unlearned and inherited. The stimuli can be variable due to imprinting in a sensitive period or also genetically fixed. Examples of instinctual fixed action patterns can be observed in the behavior of animals, which perform various activities (sometimes complex) that are not based upon prior experience, such as reproduction, and feeding among insects. Sea turtles, hatched on a beach, automatically move toward the ocean, and honeybees communicate by dance the direction of a food source, all without formal instruction. Other examples include animal fighting, animal courtship behavior, internal escape functions, and building of nests. Another term for the same concept is innate behavior.
Instinctual actions - in contrast to actions based on learning which are served by memory and which provide individually stored successful reactions built upon experience - have no learning curve, they are hard-wired and ready to use without learning. Some instinctual behaviors depend on maturational processes to appear.
Biological predispositions are innate biologically vectored behaviors that can be easily learned. For example in one hour a baby colt can learn to stand, walk, glide, skip, hop and run. Learning is required to fine tune the neurological wiring reflex like behavior. True reflexes can be distinguished from instincts by their seat in the nervous system; reflexes are controlled by spinal or other peripheral ganglia, but instincts are the province of the brain.

In these terms, hunger and pain are simply sensations, emotions are perhaps 'biological predispositions', the suckling reflex is an instinct, and ideology is clearly learned behaviour.


I don't think so. While the explicit ideology depends on experience and memory and is influence by others the ability to think and act according to an ideology, to believe and accept it's values, is a genetic disposition. Like language. The ability to learn a language is genetic encoded, but the explicit language one learns (such as English or Thai) depends on the environment. There are other - purely mental - instincts in our human gene code, f.e. one is called "formal thinking". When this instinct is opened one can learn mathematics and other formal systems much better than before (also is more fun). It is the same with ideology, this instinct is opened at a certain state of mental development (makes no sense to teach it a three month old), but then the explicit ideology one learns differ. But once this instinct has opened the person will feel a need to have an ideology, a set pattern of values, of what is good and what is bad, something he or she can base the thinking, planing, and acting on. This need is just as instinctive as the need of the sea turtles, hatched on a beach, that automatically move toward the ocean. A person in whom this instincts opens will automatically search for a fitting ideology.

I agree that it's interesting to observe all of these kinds of things going on within ourselves, but I think we need to discriminate more carefully between them.


I always like that :D

There is a separate problem with trying to deal with 'instinct' in a Buddhist context: it is a concept which does not appear at all (AFAIK) in the suttas. I actually did a search for the term (only in the suttas) on Access to Insight and came with no results - zero - in about 1100 documents.


You have to look for how the mind is when an instinct dominates. Is it scattered or not? Is it surpassable or unsurpassable? Does an emotion lead to concentration or not? This is not in the suttas as it is a matter of experience of direct insight. There are too many instincts, too many emotions, if at all they can only appear as examples not as general rules.

Freawaru wrote:This is right, but even a Vulcan with unsurpassable logic has to admit that it only takes one fact to make statements like "in general experiencing anger is wrong" incorrect.

I'm sorry, but that is a clear error of logic - "in general experiencing anger is wrong" can only be disproven by a majority, or at least a significant minority, of countervailing facts. (In general, crows are black, and that's true even if there are a few albino crows around.)


Yes, you are right. That is a logical wrong statement. Let me see ... I rephrase it: The general statement "all angry responses during all possible situations are bad" only requires one opposite fact to prove it wrong. Better?

I actually must have expressed myself poorly, by the way, since you ended up thinking I said 'experiencing anger is wrong.' I didn't quite say it, and I didn't quite mean it, and I'm sorry that I may have led you astray. Giving in to anger, letting it rule one's behaviour, is what is wrong.


We agree here. It is important to stay in control even when mind and body are suffused with the emotion anger. :D
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Re: insight into emotions

Postby christopher::: » Tue Apr 20, 2010 12:35 pm

Freawaru wrote:Hi All,

there is something else I want to ask regarding meditating on emotions. Another kind of experience I experienced both in every-day situation as well as during sittings.

The experience is that I observe my mind and body during the emotionally altered state but in addition something else, seemingly unrelated is happening in my mind. I mean, unrelated to the external situation and the emotional processes, but still somewhat connected. Or, using an analogy, if we compare the emotional processes in mind and body as the drums/rhythm in music the "something else" is like a melody, not related but not completely disconnected either. This "something else" or the "melody" can differ, it can be intense boredom, or joy, amusement, bliss, physical ecstasy of the kind I only know from jhana, a vast empty space, or the experience of a heart bursting impression of beauty (and some others I don't know the words for).

I am not yet quite sure what exactly happens or why and how. I suspect that the concentration that arises due to the emotion in combination with me observing it somehow triggers this - in any case I would like to know more about this strange and unexpected effect.

Has anybody else experienced this or heard about it or knows the name of these kind of experiences in Theravada?


Hi Freawaru,

Have you had the chance to talk with a teacher or advanced practitioner about this? I've heard a Vipassana instructor once advise to treat such experiences as passing moments of mind and simply return concentration to the breath...

A teacher might also challenge the idea that there is a "me" that observes such things and triggers this.

:tongue:
"As Buddhists, we should aim to develop relationships that are not predominated by grasping and clinging. Our relationships should be characterised by the brahmaviharas of metta (loving kindness), mudita (sympathetic joy), karuna (compassion), and upekkha (equanimity)."
~post by Ben, Jul 02, 2009
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Re: insight into emotions

Postby rowyourboat » Tue Apr 20, 2010 9:32 pm

Hi Freewaru

It does seem you may be missing a part of the practice:

"One tries to abandon wrong view & to enter into right view: This is one's right effort. One is mindful to abandon wrong view & to enter & remain in right view: This is one's right mindfulness. Thus these three qualities — right view, right effort, & right mindfulness — run & circle around right view.
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html

Right view as you know is the first step of the Noble Eightfold Path- everything follows on from that, as per the Mahacattasarika sutta. The idea that aversion (the broader umbrella term under which anger falls under -dosa, patigha call it what you will) is to be abandoned is rooted in this right view- under kamma (roots), under rebirth (causes), under devas (and how not to get get there) under the idea that enlightenment is to be had (what is to be abandoned).

This was said by the Blessed One, said by the Arahant, so I have heard: "Abandon one quality, monks, and I guarantee you non-return. Which one quality? Abandon aversion as the one quality, and I guarantee you non-return."
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... ml#iti-001

Anger is IMO an instinct- but as all instincts go they are useful in animals that lack higher brain function- (call it panna) because it provides automatic motivation- you dont have to think. However in human beings this function is now outdated - and indeed superfluous. The instinct to eat and store food now creates vast amounts of suffering and obesity for example- better to use your thinking brain. A person who worries to get things done will think that worrying is essential- but the person who gets things done without worry knows that it is not. Similarly a person who gets angry will think that it is essential- but it is not. In fact all these instincts/emotions get in the way of panna and the quest for Buddhist enlightenment.

Another way of looking at Right view is using the four noble truths- The first being that five aggregate (ie- read everything) is unsatisfactory- hence nibbana is the only ultimately worthwhile goal. This is a truth to be arrived at- not something that is understood through common logic. Finding utility in anger in furthering samsaric existence is a statement of ignorance. It almost goes without saying that a use can be found for anything in this world. There is good and bad in everything in this realm (quoting ven sariputta there). Its a bit like saying cancer is good because it creates jobs for doctor- but it causes uncountable deaths. In case of anger- mostly our own.

RYB
With Metta

Karuna
Mudita
& Upekkha
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Re: insight into emotions

Postby Freawaru » Sun Apr 25, 2010 7:14 pm

Hi rowyourboat,

rowyourboat wrote:Hi Freewaru

It does seem you may be missing a part of the practice:

"One tries to abandon wrong view & to enter into right view: This is one's right effort. One is mindful to abandon wrong view & to enter & remain in right view: This is one's right mindfulness. Thus these three qualities — right view, right effort, & right mindfulness — run & circle around right view.
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html


Yes. But right view arises from clear knowing.

"Clear knowing is the leader in the attainment of skillful qualities, followed by conscience & concern. In a knowledgeable person, immersed in clear knowing, right view arises.
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html


Thus it is my priority to become able to stay aware regardless of what happens.

Right view as you know is the first step of the Noble Eightfold Path- everything follows on from that, as per the Mahacattasarika sutta. The idea that aversion (the broader umbrella term under which anger falls under -dosa, patigha call it what you will) is to be abandoned is rooted in this right view- under kamma (roots), under rebirth (causes), under devas (and how not to get get there) under the idea that enlightenment is to be had (what is to be abandoned).


It is not possible that dosa means the emotion anger as sampajanna is stable during emotions as I described in my original post. The mechanism is a different one:

"He doesn't assume consciousness to be the self, or the self as possessing consciousness, or consciousness as in the self, or the self as in consciousness. His consciousness changes & is unstable, but his consciousness doesn't — because of the change & instability of consciousness — alter in accordance with the change in consciousness. His mind is not consumed with any agitations born from an alteration in accordance with the change in consciousness or coming from the co-arising of (unskillful mental) qualities. And because his awareness is not consumed, he feels neither fearful, threatened, nor solicitous.
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html


Unskillfull mental qualities such as anger change and created an instability of consciousness, but the other consciousness - the observing one - remains unchanged, stable. Awareness means to be aware of anger and other emotions. Right view can only arise due to these conditions.

This was said by the Blessed One, said by the Arahant, so I have heard: "Abandon one quality, monks, and I guarantee you non-return. Which one quality? Abandon aversion as the one quality, and I guarantee you non-return."
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... ml#iti-001


What is the Pail term of aversion here ? Is it dosa?

Anger is IMO an instinct- but as all instincts go they are useful in animals that lack higher brain function- (call it panna) because it provides automatic motivation- you dont have to think. However in human beings this function is now outdated - and indeed superfluous. The instinct to eat and store food now creates vast amounts of suffering and obesity for example- better to use your thinking brain. A person who worries to get things done will think that worrying is essential- but the person who gets things done without worry knows that it is not. Similarly a person who gets angry will think that it is essential- but it is not. In fact all these instincts/emotions get in the way of panna and the quest for Buddhist enlightenment.


If instincts would get in the way of panna Liberation from them would not be possible. The whole point is that panna leads to independence. Don't kill that animal you speak about, the animal you deem superfluous - treat it with compassion. :console:

Another way of looking at Right view is using the four noble truths- The first being that five aggregate (ie- read everything) is unsatisfactory- hence nibbana is the only ultimately worthwhile goal.


Yes, but nibbana does not refer to coma.
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Re: insight into emotions

Postby Freawaru » Sun Apr 25, 2010 7:19 pm

Hi Christopher,

christopher::: wrote:
Hi Freawaru,

Have you had the chance to talk with a teacher or advanced practitioner about this?


Yes, but it was from the Tibetan Buddhism point of view. The technique is called "dealing with emotions" in Tibetan Buddhism and it is a vipassana technique. I would simply like to know the Theravada name, too.
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