In reply to my friend Marci's comment on her post Thoughts Come Before Emotions I wanted to say a few things about thoughts & emotions...
Yeah, ya know, changing emotions oft begins by changing thoughts. When I think of what I'm grateful for it does the work for me to change the emotion...if it hasn't gotten out of hand. However, if I've been negligent in observing my thoughts, I may need to change some emotions before I can think straight enough for thoughts to take me the rest of the way home. For example, recall when Indiana Jones' father teaches him to count backwards from 10 in Hebrew or something like that when he's mad? Similarly, there's a cool story of a samurai that I heard recently from a book by a guy named William Ury. The book was The Power of a Positive No. I've retold it again as I remember it.

A samurai went to a farmer to whom he had loaned some money. The farmer pleaded for more time, insisting that he would have the money later. The samurai drew his sword and was about to strike him down. The farmer, flinching, quickly told the samurai that he had been learning from a samurai master and that he had learned never to kill a man in anger. To which the samurai responded, "your master is wise. My master taught me the same thing. I will give you one more year at which time I will kill you if you do not have the money."

The samurai returned home that evening and to his shock, disgust and horror found another samurai in bed with his wife. He drew his sword to slay them both in rage. Then he remembered the farmer's words. He sheathed his sword and made a loud noise to alert them to his presence.

Upon waking he saw his wife and not a samurai, but his mother dressed in his samurai clothes. "What are you doing?! I almost killed you both!" He raged. To which his wife related how they dressed his mother up so that they'd be safe while he was away if someone came into the house.

So time passed and a year later the samurai returned to the farmer for his money. The farmer greeted him with a smile and offered the original payment plus interest to make up for any inconvenience the delay had caused. The samurai refused and calmly said to the farmer, "Keep your money. You paid your debt long ago."

At the very least, the moral of the tale is to not act in times of high emotions. I've learned recently that the emotional part of the brain, when "hot" disconnects us from our higher reasoning faculties located in our frontal cortex. When emotions are high, it's good to calm them with any number of exercises like deep breathing, going for a walk, taking a nap or going for a jog. THEN we can more readily re-engage our thoughts to calm us the rest of the way and change negative feelings to positive. Last couple thoughts on how emotions can lead to thoughts. I DO believe that there are certain events that can trigger strong emotions without much, if any, thought at all. Think of how you'd respond if you turned around to see a bear mauling your face or a man at the bank with a gun. Some physiological events can also influence our emotions. Such as hunger, fatigue, pregnancy (hormones) and the like. I know that when I'm not paying attention and I get hungry and "pent-up" from sitting down at a computer all day, I can then easily translate that tension and imbalance in my body into frustration. However, it seems even in that case my thoughts still preceded my frustrated feelings. I just hadn't been observing them, so it often seems like they're not there. They were influenced by my body yes, but even then, I can control the way I'm thinking about it. I could think, "wow, this bites, I can't do anything." Or I could say, "It seems like my attention power's worn off. Taking a break right now would be a good thing. I'll come back when I'm strong again." And as I observe these connections in me I can start to plan for them so I avoid bringing my body to breaking point. At present I believe that we can really do lots to keep emotions from ruling our behaviors if we commit to being active observers of our thoughts and the intimate relationship they share with our body & emotions. I've ignored that relationship so much that I'm now finding it difficult to even know how I feel at any given time. As I journal feelings and thoughts that come up, I'm beginning to see more clearly how they are tied together and surprisingly how much say I have in the matter. I'm not a victim. I posted two comments before the above one that came from a place of meaning for me, so I thought I'd put them here as well. I have added some where I felt clarification was needed. Comment 1: Freakin' brilliant Marci. I've been hacking away at understanding what's going on inside of me for some time now. Recently I've grasped firmly onto the idea that my emotions stem from my thoughts. I was in the garden one day & I started feeling very anxious. I remembered that someone said that I could track backwards when I was feeling this way to see what was going on. So, I decided to test the theory. I stopped and said to myself, "What was I just thinking." As I began with the last thought I remember thinking I traced backwards and found something completely fascinating, some thoughts & beliefs about myself that I wasn't even aware I had thought. Previously, I would have simply let the anxiety build, maybe try to shake it off with a jog or something, but inevitably it would return. So, when I saw the thought that I was thinking it was pretty darn clear why I was feeling anxious. The thought was of needing to email a business associate and that I told him I'd do it yesterday. Another similar thought soon came after that. The thought or rather belief about myself that I had totally missed was that I wasn't capable of being dependable, that I was letting people down and that reminded me of feelings when I myself had felt let down. Just wanted to thank you for these thoughts I say one more time, BRILLIANT! Comment 2: From my experience they are so closely connected (thoughts and emotions) that sometimes we're not really sure which came first, the chicken & the egg scenario. However, try a little test and take a feeling whenever it comes and ask yourself, what was I just thinking. Sometimes I've felt that feelings are leading me to thoughts...and that's definitely true too. We're never NOT thinking. I was listening to a program recently and it said we have something like 60k thoughts a day. Not sure how THAT was measured, but a missionary couple in the LDS Addiction Recovery Program told me recently that they were in counseling and the therapist said that we are only aware of about 10% of our thoughts. ("BUT" I thought to myself, they all contribute to our choices) Again, not sure how that's measured, but I think the point is that there are TONS of thoughts going on all the time, in the background, that we're not even aware of. And if we don't intentionally examine them and ask "what am I thinking right now?", being the observer of the thoughts and not the thoughts themselves (because I believe we are much more than our thoughts) then we run the risk of thinking that we're only thinking what comes to the surface. I really believe that our minds (thoughts & deep-seeded beliefs) are like icebergs, controlling so much of what we do, similar to our autonomic nervous system. If we had to think of all our body's millions of processes to stay alive, I'm afraid my planning isn't that advanced yet. When my to-do list gets past 5 things I run the risk of getting frustrated and not getting stuff done. :) Such it is with our thoughts. Once we learn a behavior and what to think in order to make it occur (which also entails tons of thoughts, conscious to us and not) then it's like they just become part of our mental autonomic system, guiding us and letting us get on to consciously processing new thoughts. To be certain emotions do "flavor" our thinking. Just think of when you're infatuated or in love with someone. It may be clear to others he's a loser, but when we're colored with love, it's all too easy to look past flaws. That's my two cents. The bottom line is that we have thoughts that control our emotions and when we start having emotions we tend to ruminate on similar thoughts. New thought on the same "wavelength" start to join the initial ones. And pretty soon it's not clear what caused what. Either way, I think emotions are a window into our souls. Identify one and you can trace it back to thoughts and beliefs.
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