- Your brain recognizes contextual patterns to form your emotions
- These patterns are a compilation of your past experiences
- Emotional concepts are therefore learned and not hardwired
- Anything that is learned can be unlearned
- Stillness gives you the ability to deconstruct the scaffolding of emotions
- This way you can begin to control your emotions
- You can then rebuild different patterns, or just enjoy the subsequent peace
Let’s dissect how your brain builds your emotions and how Stillness can help to give you control over your emotions! “How emotions are made: the secret life of the brain” – Lisa Feldmann Barrett – is an excellent resource if any of this content is interesting to you!
Your Senses Build Your Emotional State
Your emotional state is initially built by your brain from the bottom-up inputs of your senses. When you hear something emotionally provocative (somebody screaming), it then pulls from patterns of past experiences to shape the most fitting state of mind.
For example, if in a dark forest alone and you hear that scream, a fearful state of mind will most likely be induced based on the concept. The combination of your sensory inputs and old contextual patterns of behavior determine which emotional illusion is spun-up by your mind.
To further illustrate this, imagine if you heard the same scream in a different context, say a concert. Your brain uses the context to forms a disparate state of mind.
Emotional Patterns Are Learned, Not Hardwired
These emotional reactions are truly context dependent with a wide variety across cultures.
For example, a perceptual cue of direct eye contact to an American generally signals interest in what they’re saying. On the receiving end, you most likely have a pattern established to construct an emotion of positive engagement with those speaking.
However, in Japan, direct eye contact is interpreted as aggressive or disrespectful so the same cue constructs different emotional reactions based on the patterns we have learned.
Emotional States Are Sticky!
So if emotions are constructed, do you have any control over this process? In short, yes, but it’s hard because you have to approach it indirectly. Most people are passively swept into states of mind because it’s so automatic! It’s similar to the fable of the man riding a horse through town:
He’s riding along when someone asks: “sir, where are you going?”
The man replies, “I have no idea, ask the horse!”
Your mind reacts to your world, creates a state of mind, and largely, you are a victim to these circumstances. The scientific terminology for this is Affective Coloring and this biases your decision making! Affective Coloring refers to the way your brain processes emotions. Even after an incident has occurred, you continue to process the feelings it elicited. This affects how you experience future experiences.
So how can you see this constructing process as more flexible, more malleable? Can you optimise your emotional reactions and avoid the learned default patterns from the past?
Can You Control Your Emotions?
Knowing that your emotions are created gives space to question their authenticity. Should I be believing my frustration right now? Can I change this state? Is this the best state to be in? Sometimes no, reacting with frustration may not be the best way to communicate to a child (who is also building their emotional patterns and observing how to behave).
So evaluating your emotional reactions to a situation is like practicing your swing at the golf course, you’re dedicating concentrated mental attention to a specific task. This allows for your brain to become more familiar and acute to the nuances, you are developing your emotional coordination! But even if you understand a state of mind is not optimal, it can be seriously hard to shift gears! That’s where Stillness comes into play…
How Stillness Helps Control Your State
When you Get Still, you stop engaging with your sensory inputs, they’re still there but you just pull away from that plasma screen of your mind. Without this connection to your perceptions, your emotions have nothing to build off of, no information to fire up a “pattern” of behaviour.
Imagine you stub your toe. You can retrace the pattern and sequence of thought. There’s a connection with the sensory input of mild “pain” and then the unconscious story formation surrounding the “why” it’s there. This may lead to a feeling of frustration with your own carelessness.
Stillness Loosens The Grip
The meaning around experience is completely self-constructed (although we often forget) and so is far more plastic than you may think. When you Get Still, you can play around with “picking up” the concept you’re building around something and “put it” back down. Just this realization alone provides a space to adjust the resulting state of mind.
Next time you stub your toe, Get Still and just observe. Feel the chain reaction that starts to build a state of mind and remember, that’s a train you don’t necessarily have to board! You have more control over the construction of your emotions than you may think.
Better and better Still
When you get very good at this process, you can completely lift yourself out of your own emotional stream. You can still feel the formation of the emotion but it’s almost as if it’s happening to an avatar of yourself.
Sensation then becomes pure sensation. No meaning. No stories. And your mind can’t build any emotional states on top of this without the old patterns to support them.
“If I’m not feeling any emotions, does that just feel like emptiness?”
Although a logical deduction, the feeling is far more beautiful than that. Without the noise and chatter of the monkey mind, you’re left with a cessation of any disturbance. In other words, you’re left with peace.
Learn how to Get Still via our app.
“The easiest way to get into the meditative state is to begin listening. Simply close your eyes and allow yourself to hear all the sounds that are going on around you, listen to the general hum and buzz of the world as you listen to music. Don’t try to identify the sounds you are hearing, don’t put names on them, simply allow them to play with your eardrums. Let them go. In other words, let your ears hear whatever they want to hear. Don’t judge the sounds: there are no proper sounds nor improper sounds, and it doesn’t matter if somebody coughs or sneezes or drops something — it’s all just sound.”