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    Originally posted in my training journal.  I was actually kind of torn whether this belonged in this forum or in the spirituality/philosophy one . . . ?

    The next book I selected for the outside study section of my PLP was Emotional Awareness, by the Dalai Lama and Dr. Paul Ekman.  From this I gained an enormous amount of insight into the nature of emotion and several useful tools for both inquiring critically into my own emotional states and putting the information I learn from that inquiry into practical use.

    For those who don’t know, Dr. Ekman is one of the foremost thinkers and teachers on the science of emotion.  In his quest to discover a tool for objectively measuring emotional response, Dr. Ekman pioneered the measurement of micro-expressions, which he was later to adapt into a well-known system for evaluating whether someone is telling the truth.

    The book is composed mostly of transcripts of conversations between the two men, with occasional articles or research briefs interspersed at appropriate places to give additional information.  The Dalai Lama, despite having lived a contemplative life as a person of faith, has long been fascinated by science in all its forms (see, for example, The Universe in a Single Atom).  Dr. Ekman, on the other hand, became convinced of the efficacy of meditative techniques after his first meeting with the Dalai Lama and a series of experiments conducted on an advanced meditation practitioner.  So the two aren’t inclined to seriously doubt each other, yet the dialogue is robust because of the vast difference in perspective each brings.

    There is a great deal here that is of value to someone walking the Jedi path, but I found none more so (for myself) than the sections dealing with anger, resentment, and hatred.  what follows, then, is some of what I learned; apologies if this is elementary to some of you.

    It’s helpful to break down a destructive emotion like anger into its component parts: the impulse to anger and the mental, verbal, and physical actions that result from the impulse.  Analyzed in this model, there is a gap — however infinitesimal — between the impulse and any action; the gap is shorter between the impulse and a mental action than between the impulse and the other two types, and in fact in many cases the physical or verbal action arises not from the impulse directly but from the mental action it created.

    Many of us are sufficiently socialized to be able to intervene in the impulse-action chain in time to be able to prevent a destructive physical action (striking the person who angered us, for example); fewer of us are able to intervene in time to head off the mental action.  Meditation is useful in this context in a number of ways: it increases our awareness of how our mind functions in general, it affords us an opportunity to examine our negative or destructive impulses after the fact to allow us to recognize the precursors of the destructive impulses in the future, even before the impulse is generated.  It’s been theorized that meditation might actually help to create new neural pathways that give the superego a place to intervene earlier or more fully in the impulse-action chain.

    On the other hand, Dr. Ekman theorizes, hatred may work an opposing effect: it may actually create new neural pathways that channel our anger impulses much more efficiently, possibly even to the detriment of less destructive mental functions.

    There is a great deal of discussion about the actual manner in which the destructive emotions function in the brain.  Dr. Ekman has postulated that an emotion like anger, for example, exerts a measurable physical effect upon the brain’s ability to process sensory information or higher functions — we become unable (to a greater or lesser degree, depending on the person) to register stimuli that don’t help feed the anger impulse, for example, or we actually lose the ability to self-talk or rationally think our way out of the throes of the emotion.

    At one point, Dr. Ekman engages the Dalai Lama on the topic of when destructive emotions results in positive consequences, using the example of how his own hatred for his abusive, hyper-competitive father spurred him to remarkable scientific accomplishment and, by extension, practical applications of his research that have helped relieve suffering in many patients.  And yet, the Dalai Lama gently points out that in some measure, he’s viewing this through the lens of false causation; yes, undoubtedly hatred of his father was a factor in his accomplishment, perhaps even the largest individual factor, but it was not in itself the cause — the cause was the intervention of an overarching intelligence which processes positive and negative impulses alike.  And then, of course, there is the undeniable damage that always accompanies hatred, no matter what incidental good may also come from it . . .

    As students of the Jedi path, we are instructed to engage with our emotions, to examine them thoroughly whenever they arise.  This book has given me truly valuable insight into what I’m examining.

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