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Proto-emotions: Joy and Fear

Proto-emotions: Joy and Fear

by Angel, Sept 14, 2010

The following is an attempt to make things more clear. It's simple. That said: Be suspicious of dichotomies, of polarities. As a general rule, anything that says "it's either this or that..." is likely to lead you into blind thinking. Down this road lie racism, religious crusades, heart diseases, hate, fear, and a lot more that you don't need. Avoid polarities.

I am about to put all that exists in human awareness into a polarity. Be suspicious. What i'm about to explain is not an "absolute truth" but a tool.

"Awareness is a hot pot full of tasty truths sitting in the middle of a campfire. If you reach for it, you're likely to be badly burned. Ideas and their clumsy servants words are just handles to help you "get hold of the pot."

Don't take my words as absolute truth, but as a handle to get hold of your life and sample its tasty bits. When they quit being useful to you, let them go.

Another metaphor: You can see an idea (a truth) as a tool. It is a raft that gets you across a river so you can follow the path on the other side. It's a hammer for driving or removing a nail. If you begin to see the hammer as "true", or worse as "the only truth", all of your life will begin to look like nails. Hammers work well for driving nails but are not ideal for resolving disagreements with a loved one or quieting an unhappy baby.

What follows is a tool to keep in your toolbox, to use when it's helpful, and to ignore when it's not.

Two Proto-emotions

Have you heard anyone say that everything either comes from love or fear? It's not true. It's a useful tool for the very young, but it falls apart when you try to actually use it. Love is too universal to have an opposite. Some things done in fear are still based in love. (exercise: make a list of some. There are surprisingly many of them.)

Love and fear are not opposites. fear is an emotion, or at least a proto-emotion. That is, many other emotions grow out of fear. Love is a universal thing, far more substantive than any emotion.

Emotion is a huge part of human life. It is a sometimes overwhelming and often confusing part. Which emotions are useful and which are destructive? which do you encourage and which do you begin to grow out of? Is there a way to make emotions simpler? I think so. Fear is the proto-emotion, the emotional seed, that anger and hate and agression and sadness and loneliness and many others grow out of. Is there another seed emotion? A sort of light-side-of-the-force that balances out fear and its many children? One promising candidate is joy.

While fear shuts you down, joy opens you to new things.

When fear builds cages around you, joy sets you free to explore.

Fear cripples your legs. Joy gives you wings.

Fear squeezes you deeper and deeper inside. Joy encourages you to wander outward.


This "dichotomy of proto-emotions" is useful to anyone who favors the emotional approach to life. For those who prefer a more mental approach, try replacing "joy" with "curiousity." If you are a feeler, that replacement will make no sense to you. Forget it. If you tend to be more of a thinker, it will help this make much more sense. Here's the dichotomy. There are only two proto- or seed emotions. All other emotions grow from those two. They are simply fun-house mirror reflections of those two.

Some emotions drive you deeper into your shadow. They incarcerate you. They shut you down and lock you away from experiencing the world. Some do the opposite. They open you up to new ideas. They cause you to want to go looking for more. They bring new possibility and new life and new wonder.

 Some emotions make you less. Some make you more. Take some time to consider this idea. It will rock your world.


Considering The Idea

 Hard to believe? Consider that sadness and its children -- depression, hopelessness, grief, bitterness, loneliness and so on -- are simply fear in a mask. Sadness is an anorexic or anemic form of fear.

If that idea is hard to believe, don't. Don't believe it. Take it for a day or a month or a year. Hold it close to you. study it and study people. Look at your past, your friends, strangers and stories. If you are honest about your emotion you will quickly come to this same conclusion.

If you find yourself angered by this idea, don't set it aside. Anger says fear. There is always fear under anger. The idea of a 2 meter tall giant rabbit named Harvey, say, should not be terrifying, because it's make-believe. A tiger stalking you, a poisonous snake about to bite you, a mugger or a rapist about to attack you... these things will inspire fear. They are real threats. If something causes fear (or anger) in you, then that something is "real" to you. you perceive it as dangerous. if the idea that sadness, grief, loneliness, etc are just weak and unsightly forms of fear angers you, then that idea contains enough truth to threaten you. Don't let anger (fear) keep you from considering it, but rather allow it to be proof to you that there is something important here to study.

When you come to the place where you can sense this idea, you can begin to look at other emotions with equal honesty.

Begin to study every emotion you feel. Does that emotion open you up to the new or shut you down, trapping you where you are? Seek out and encourage every emotion that is rooted in joy (curiousity, expansion) and choose to discard every one that is rooted in fear. If you are brave enough to try this, you will have to re-script your life. If you are honest with yourself, you will need to re-evaluate every emotion in your life. You will have to CHANGE.

You will find that some things you've held as sacred need to be set aside. They are not healthy or helpful for you. Others that have seemed scary or wrong in some way will need to be entertained, encouraged and likely embraced.


Two More Points

  1. Some emotions or emotional states have two or more meanings. Those meanings can ever be complete opposites (hope, faith, desire, duty, honor, seriousness, and faith are examples). Try not to make a list of "naughty" and "nice" emotions. Rather, in each moment, honestly feel the emotion and measure it against this new standard. If you label it first and then act based on the label, you'll get caught in this trap of language.
  2. Humans are emotional creatures. Everything you do has emotion in it. Everything to some degree is based in emotion. Everything results in emotion. Once you are comfortable studying each emotion and deciding whether to keep it based on the joy-fear scale, then get bigger. Begin to look at the rest of your life. Begin to measure every decision you make the same way. Look at each of your friends and loved ones. Look at your work and your other responsibilities. Consider your religion, your beliefs, your attitudes, your prejudices... In every single thing, begin to consider whether it opens you up to the new or traps you in the old.
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