Opinions Sought on Emotional Chart

21 May 2009


So, I threw this chart together over the past 5 minutes, and just wanted to talk a little bit about it. A lot of people talk about the "now" or the "moment" -- specifically, about the benefits of living within it as much as possible. This is something that people have been thinking quite seriously about for ... well, forever. I know that many people, most notably Eckhart Tolle, have popularized the idea in recent years (although I've never read his book).

Prior to my own awakening vis-a-vis some of these areas of enquiry, I never gave the matter much thought at all. In a way, I look back and feel as though I were almost purer in a way for it. Ignorance, as they say, is bliss, right? I'm not sure how it is that I got to be nearly 40 years old, always highly philosophical in nature, and never explored this particular avenue of human existence. Most likely, I was just hung up on other philosophical issues like free will versus determinism and whether we're responsible for our actions (a related notion).

Anyway, that chart captures some of my current thinking on the topic (having decided to just think on it all myself rather than reading the work of others -- mostly because I just don't have time to read books these days and, if I did, I have too many others on deck, both fiction and nonfiction). While the chart is pretty much self-explanatory, and likely conveys rather obvious/rudimentary/possibly erroneous concepts to anyone schooled on the topic, I still am currently interested in thinking about it out loud here, for a moment.

So, the "now" is this moment in time. It's when I'm typing this. When I'm thinking about writing this sentence, the story goes, I'm arguably incapable of experiencing any of the problematic domains shown above. I began thinking of the now as the intersection between two axes: (1) the axis of time, and (2) the axis of emotion.

This scenario offers four distinct non-now domains:

(1) When you're in a "positive" emotional state and thinking on the past, I call that "nostalgia." I toyed with a few of words -- not for long enough, probably -- but nostalgia seemed apropos. Nostalgia, after all, implies a certain bitter-sweetness, and maybe that's the best we can do when it comes to our past because, by definition, it's gone. When you remember your child as a toddler, your wedding day, your interactions with past loved ones who've moved on ... Those are all sweet memories, for sure. But, there's always the undeniable truth that these things are past moments. So, again, bitter-sweet nostalgia. And maybe that's not so bad. I have wonderful, wonderful memories within me that, although they're tempered by my current reality, I still am able to cherish in, I believe, a positive way.

(2) Goal setting. Let's stay positive, first, shall we? I could have gone down to "depression" next, but I think goal setting is more exciting. This domain also provides perhaps the easiest-seen red flag that the chart needs some work still because, certainly, dwelling on the future, even for goals, can probably be viewed as damaging to one's psyche. For example, there is "good" ambition and there is "bad" ambition, right? So, perhaps a third axis should be added in the future ... perhaps a "quality" axis or something. But, for now, keeping to two dimensions, let's just assume that when I say "goal setting," I'm speaking of "good" ambitions -- things like setting out to find your passion or mission in life. That's good, right? Envisioning your future, doing vision boards, working toward those noble goals that you have. Those are all good uses of visiting that domain.

... okay, let's enter the lower domains ...

(3) Fear. To me, this is when you're existing in your imaginary future, only in a negative way. It's all confusing because your future fears are based on your past reality, right? (Or, at least your past perception of reality.) For example, few people fear dogs who have not previously encountered dogs in some negative way (and that could be an actual, physical encounter, a story you heard or read, a dream, a movie, or whatever.) While much of this topic is actually spiritual in nature, fear seems to stem from our rational minds -- and there's nothing wrong with that, as fear likely keeps us alive in many practical situations. You probably wouldn't approach a lion (especially a hungry-looking one) in the wild out of good old fear that it might eat you. Rationally, you know that lions are carnivores and, historically, you've heard of other human-lunch incidents. So, leaving the fear domain open for business can't be all bad. It can just be unhealthy, as all of these domains can, when you linger there too long.

Last night, I re-watched "What Dreams May Come." (Great flick.) There's a scene (in the afterlife part) in which Robin Williams' mentor tells him not to visit his wife's spirit for too long. She'd committed suicide and, in this movie, suicides become hopeless cases of self-absorption, from which there is no return. If Robin Williams' character would have stayed too long, he's warned, then his wife's reality may become his own and he, too, would be doomed to stay there forever.

(4) Depression. To me, this is when you're existing in your past, or your perceived past, in an unhealthy way. And when I say "you," of course, I probably really mean "me," but just want to sound more universal in nature here. And, when I say "in an unhealthy way," I think, for now, that I mean "for too long." Whether it's healthy at all to visit these domains is perhaps a topic of another post. I could be beneficial for us (certainly it's perfectly human behavior) to experience some mild to moderate longing from time to time. I'm sure great art is borne from that, among other things. But, somewhere, there's a line, and true clinical depression is clearly past that line.

Wow, it's time for me to leave, so maybe I'll just post this little thought experiment as it is, for now, and return to it later for refinement. Feel free to share some thoughts on this, as I'm still interested in discussing it further. What do you think of my model, though? I'd planned, given more time, on getting more personal with this, perhaps self-analyzing where some of my problems are within these four modes.

For a brief example, you have only to look at the image atop this blog -- to some text there that, I believe, states something about my attempting to feed to good wolf in my life. I don't always do that, sometimes knowingly so. There was a span today when I did not, when I fed the bad wolf within, knowingly so. And, as awful as it was, I had an interesting insight from the experience. I said to myself, "You know what you're thinking will only hurt you. So, why are you doing it?" You probably think I'm really stupid for having such obvious thoughts, but to me it really was a profound moment. Why would I want to hurt myself? I need to think more about that because, frankly, I do not know the answer to that question. Any suggestions?

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