The Shape of Emotion
Emotions exist in perpetual change as if they are approaching something but yet never seem to get there… Is the emotion moving or is it moving us? If it is moving us, is it in a bad way or just a way we couldn’t imagine but which is the most meaningful?
There are really only two things in life, reality and hope, and the art of life is to balance them in a way where we get the best of both. It is no small task to imagine something better than you can currently imagine; what would that look like if you did? If would undoubtedly look crazy at first and then slowly narrow in on something solid. Reality has its limitations, that’s what reality is, a set of defined limitations. Hope on the other hand has no limitations, and so unlike solving a murder mystery for what happen, which though hard is at least possible to reach an ultimate conclusion, emotions are reaching at the limit of possibility which is endless. This journey could seem like hell if the end just seems like a lot of senseless or vain sacrifice.
Despite what so many people have suggested about hell, hades or the underworld, archetypally speaking it represents our raw emotions. Emotions are intuitive and therefore outside of the control of our consciousness, couple that with the fact that there are pushing the limits of possibility and that makes a lot of room for suffering. Emotions symbolically are water, and so the fact that hell is described as a lake of fire paints it pretty well. What did Dante find after descending through all the nine circles of hell? Paradise, the walled garden where seeds of faith naturally spring up to bear fruit and flowers instead of thorns and thistles—exactly what is awaiting us if we descend into out emotions without letting them force us to react defensively.
At the base of the well, Dante finds himself within a large frozen lake: Cocytus, the Ninth Circle of Hell. Trapped in the ice, each according to his guilt, are punished sinners guilty of treachery against those with whom they had special relationships. The lake of ice is divided into four concentric rings of traitors corresponding, in order of seriousness, to betrayal of family ties, betrayal of community ties, betrayal of guests, and betrayal of lords.
Emotions in dreams are represented typically as water which can either be a lake of fire if we become reactive or a frozen lake if we let it paralyze us. Water flows, grows plants, and lifts boats. Boats in dreams are typically intimate relationships. Ice in dreams typically means that flow of emotions has be stifled.
Just as all water returns eventually to be together in the sea, there is something inside us pushing us to make intimate ties and be together as one. Just because there is a drive to be all united inside each of our hearts, that doesn’t mean that our minds, which have a quite different drive, will allow that melting together, especially if the shaming and blaming game has made coming together more not logically worth it. Whereas the descent from the surface of emotion to the root of love at the very center of our heart may have been a pleasant journey at some point in the history of mankind, with emotions being the easiest target of manipulation and exploitation, that journey from the surface of an emotion down to love is a trip through hell.
At the top of Dante’s Inferno is limbo, or in the case of emotions, only a vague sense of the existence of living water deep within us. At the very surface emotions appear to be merely positive or negative. Going a little deeper we see that they are feeling of being scared, excited, bored, or frustrated. At either of these levels the emotions are not very useful because the only thing to do with them seems to be to embrace the thing if it is positive or exciting and avoid or distract yourself from it if it is negative.
As we go deeper into the emotion it starts to narrow in on something specific. We start to see the seven emotions: 1) contempt, 2) sadness, 3) surprise, 4) happiness, 5) anger, 6) fear and 7) disgust. These emotions indicate a meaningful movement towards creating intimate ties. The general approaches, or fundamental actions which our emotions suggest are: 1) to receive, 2) to refine, 3) to expand, 4) to incorporate, 5) to hold, 6) to take, 7) to give. Each emotion is experienced as if through one of the senses. 1) chills, 2) sight, 3) taste, 4) hearing, 5) touch, muscle tone, 6) stomach churning/twisting, 7) smell. All seven emotions are neutral despite the connotations society has placed on them. This means happiness and surprise are not inherently positive, and fear, anger, sadness, contempt and disgust are not inherently negative.
The fundamental action emotions suggest may be spot on for what would be most meaningful, but that doesn’t mean our mind knows exactly how to carry them out; in fact, perfectly carrying out an intuition may be impossible. Though deep at this point, knowing which of the seven aspects of value is most at play and which fundamental action to take, the emotion is not really complete. The deeper we go, the more the aim of the emotion narrows, but never narrows to an exact point. This is why we must keep the ultimate goal of emotions in general in sight. Conveniently in Greek there are four words for love, similar to the four loves Dante, who spoke Italian, referenced.
These for loves can be seen as four directions of movement in reference to someone else.
- Friendship is shoulder to shoulder synergistically working towards the same aim.
- Fondness is facing away as our pooled experience enables us to not need each other.
- Adoration is face-to-face reflection which renders self and other knowledge.
- Charity is one lifting another, supporting, enabling and inspiring the best in them.
Any of these individual components of love alone is not love; it is only at the absolute depth of emotion that these four components to love could be perfectly balanced.
What complicates our journey to learn how to use all seven emotions is that each emotion has two opposing emotions. For example, nothing messes with our stability like having to factor in another person or a paradigm shift; this is why someone who uses the stability of the emotion anger well might have a problem juggling the human connection from the emotion happiness or have a problem striving for greater perspective when that means moving. Similarly someone who jumps in head-first and does what works using the functionality of contempt might have a problem once things are working to want to dissect in apart to see accurately why like sadness would suggest, or shift their perspective to see what other possibilities there are like the emotion surprise would suggest.
Emotions are rooted in our intuition which is unconscious. I believe they are unconscious because they are expressing the ineffability of love and the limitless potential of hope which is infinitely complex. With our intuition being both outside of our consciousness and suggesting things of infinite complexity, to really get deep enough into emotion to know it will move us in a meaningful direction can be hell. Diving deep enough into our emotions to find the well of living love water inside might seem like descending down through the nine levels of hell, but… it’s hell not to try, so we might as well.
Hopefully I have helped that journey be a little bit easier. Hopefully understanding the shape of emotions will lead you to once again give them a change and be pleasantly surprised of what comes from it. There is a lot more beauty and joy to life than we can imagine, it just takes a little faith in ourselves and what is at our core driving us.