What is emotion? What are emotions? A basic and important question to answer if we aim to understand what motivates us and improve our emotional intelligence towards inspired life change.
Being motivated or demotivated are common emotional experiences. Yet, how often do we take a look at the actual mechanics of our internal world? While we're here, let's zoom in and take a closer look ...
A useful definition of emotion I first came across many years ago is that of ‘emotion’ as ‘energy-in-motion’. This useful definition identifies emotions as movements and expressions of energy, or e-motions. No wonder e-motions play such a central role in motivation - emotion and motion are a letter apart.
Defining emotions as energy-in-motion is a good start. It gives us a raw foundation for understanding emotions - the very thing that moves or motivates us. This definition also raises some interesting questions about emotions and how best to relate to them.
What is emotion? Is it one or is it many? The answer to this question may seem obvious. After all, we don't experience all e-motions in the same way. Some e-motions are subtle and others intense; some feel good and others feel painful. While they're all energy-in-motion, each e-motion seems to have a unique flavor - a taste all its own.
However, the question still stands ...
Are emotions one single energy which simply morphs and changes into different expressions? Or are there many different kinds of energies and emotions locked up inside us, each waiting its turn to be ex-pressed?
Do the emotions of ‘anger’, ‘sadness’, ‘depression’, ‘joy’, ‘happiness’, ‘bliss’, ‘frustration’, etc... already exist within you? Or do you actually create these separate e-motions 'on the fly'? It may not be immediately apparent, but the answers to these questions are at the root of all emotional intelligence (also known as EQ).
After all ...
If emotions are already sitting inside you, just waiting for release - doesn't this mean that you're left with a black or white option? You either express the emotion or you stifle it. On the other hand, if you indeed 'create' e-motions on the fly, doesn't this mean that you have much more control over emotions than you may have initially imagined?
So what is emotion? Is it one raw fluid energy; or is it a collection of separate e-motions housed inside? Could it actually be a combination of both?
Through the practice of martial arts, meditation and other mind-body disciplines it's possible to connect with e-motions at a raw, primal level. On this level ... at this depth ... before separate emotions arise there's only one vast field of 'emotional energy'. Before splitting off into separate e-motions we have the raw energy and vitality of life.
This raw energy is the cloth from which all e-motions are cut. The potential for any and all emotions exist within us as this primal 'playing field'.
The potential for anger ‘resides’ right next to the potential for happiness; the potential for joy ‘resides’ right next to the potential for fear.
So when does this united field of energy separate into distinct e-motions? What determines whether we'll feel sad, angry, happy or fearful? What determines if we'll feel motivated or lethargic? Vital or despondent?
Some e-motions are conditioned within you.
Through experience and habit these e-motions - once part of a fluid whole - have come to coalesce within. Essentially, these e-motions are now existing within you - solidified - just waiting to be tapped by thought or circumstance.
These solidified emotions form the basis of the conditioned self. It's also where reactive vs proactive thinking comes from.
The living self, on the other hand, is unconditioned. This part of your self and mind contains the raw, primal energy of all emotions discussed above. It doesn't consist of solidified, individual e-motions. It's fluid, adaptable and free. It's also creative, resourceful and whole. The living self forms the basis for proactive vs. reactive living.
The conditioned self and the living self are both within us. They form part of the totality of authentic self that we are. Operating from conditioned self or living self essentially determines how you experience your e-motions and what you'll be able to do about it.
Generally speaking ... once connected with the primal energy of the living self, you feel vital and full of energy. Distinct e-motions - either 'positive' or 'negative' - may spontaneously come up, yet the overall thrust of your energy is positive. You feel focused, motivated and free. When negative emotions arise, they are quickly melded back into the fluid energy field that gave rise to them. Positive emotions experience the same fate too.
When Bruce Lee admonished, "Be like water my friend" this is what he was talking about. He was speaking of connecting with and operating from the living self.
When operating from our conditioned self, on the other hand, you get stuck on emotion. A particular emotion may have been evoked by either thought or circumstance and you're left stewing in it. The emotions brought up by conditioned self may be 'positive' or 'negative' - you may feel happy or sad, frustrated or satisfied, motivated or lethargic, etc.
Yet the true defining feature of conditioned emotion, versus its 'living' counterpart, is its relative 'stickiness' or rigidity. The e-motions of the conditioned self don't easily or readily flow into each other. They take time to dissipate or transform.
This article looked at the question 'what is emotion?' The answer has an important bearing on inspired life changes now or perhaps in your future.
What is emotion if not energy-in-motion? To move towards inspired life changes, the essential power of emotions is best understood and brought under a modicum of proactive control. Being reactive will only get in your way.
Learning how to skillfully work with the emotions of the conditioned self - to melt them and reintroduce them into the flow of your vital energy - is a powerful step towards inspired life change. Learning to connect with the raw vitality of the living self is another giant step towards your goals.
What is emotion if not energy-in-motion? And what is inspired life change without motion and emotion? Developing a working understanding of your e-motions allows you to take a proactive vs. reactive stance vis-a-vis the life changes you're after. The energy of raw emotions can be channeled and turned into positive forces of inspirational motivation for life.