Emotions--The Mirror of the Mind
Ayurveda holds that the basis of life is the tripod of mind, body, and spirit. These are the purview of examination and the realm of treatment. The object considered must include all of these aspects to be considered life. The implication is that each element is a representation of the others. Physical processes are mirrors of mental and emotional events and processes. Conversely, each mental phenomenon is an expression of a physical process proceeding in the body. Thus health or disease affecting one aspect of life are reflected in and affect the other aspects of life—this is the law of nature. This article focuses on the emotions as expressions of health or disease in the body and mind.
Ayurveda holds that feelings and emotions are the expressions of a very subtle level of the faculty of intellect. The intellect is that faculty of mind that performs discrimination. It produces such distinctions as category (black or white), difference versus sameness, or diversity versus unity. On the other hand emotions and feelings are mainly the product of an experience which provokes recollection of past experience. How this happens can be described in this way: Present experience is sent to memory for storage and possible later retrieval. It is compared to memory of experiences already stored there. Experience is a kind of knowledge--shaping our concepts and understandings. What and how we think about things is due to the nature and extent of our experiences. The feelings and emotions come when the comparison of present and past experience is similar. Thus the response to old experiences lives on in the present in the form of feelings and emotions.
In research findings in the field of neuroimmunology it has been shown that emotions are associated with the production of physical molecules, called neuropeptides. About 88 of these molecules have been discovered. These protein-like molecules are the product of non-material mental activity and are secreted by cells in the body. They serve as the mediators of mental activity, of mind, to bring action or change in physiology. Originally, it was believed that only neurons, nervous system cells, produced these molecules but now there is growing evidence that every cell in the body may have the ability to produce these neuropeptides. Thus, mind creates a physical expression of its activity or content and this physical entity serves to give instructions to all cells in the body. In our model of Ayurveda we say that the neuropeptides and emotions are associated with the governing principles of physiology—vata, pitta, kapha. Vata includes worry, fear, anxiety, and insecurity. Pitta includes anger, hatred, envy, jealousy, competitiveness, aggressiveness, judgment, and so on. Kapha includes attachment, greed, and so on. (For more on these principles of physiology see our article “The Doshas’)
Ayurveda holds that the connective tissue of the body serves to store these molecules. They accumulate because our own biological and cellular intelligence, called pithara paka and pilu paka, can not adequately process them when they are produced. The cell is a unit of awareness and intelligence. It possesses a kind of fire analogous to the fire of the digestive tract.. Fire, called agni, is responsible for the transformation, absorption, and assimilation of intelligence from the food, air, and water we ingest and from the other molecules we synthesize in the body. When this fire is weak then we do not adequately process information in its various forms. When digestion is weak then a kind of cellular toxicity occurs—called ama. This is a physical substance which degrades physiology. If it is the product of emotions then the content of the emotions are stored in the extra and intra-cellular substance of connective tissue. Its presence in the connective tissue serves to degrade physiology and leads to stiffness, pain, and suffering. The body naturally tries to eliminate this material through the channels of elimination. But this stuff is sticky and resists elimination. While circulating it contacts the cellular membrane and makes the cell aware of its presence. Because the cell is a unit of awareness old emotions continue to resurface in one’s awareness when these molecules of emotions past contact the cell membrane. This scenario happens often during those regimes which cleanse the body. New experiences continue to look like old ones and serve to bring up old memories and elicit the old responses to them. For many people it seems that we are nothing but conditioned reflexes to past experiences.
One important source of memories and, hence stress, pain, and suffering, is our relationships. Relationships provide us with a continuous stream of experience. The intellect processes this experience and moves the experience and our understanding of it into memory. When the intellect cannot deal with this experience—produce adequate understanding--it shoves the experience into the basement of memory, called the subconscious. Here we store every thought, emotion, and experience we can’t or won’t deal with. Thus it follows that the content of the subconscious mind is stored in the connective tissue of the body. Because relationships are an on-going experience they provide us with a continuous opportunity to learn. What they can teach us pertains to our own inner nature, as well as things about others.
The essential premise of our model is that what we like or dislike in others is that which we like or dislike in ourselves. When we dislike others for being judgmental then we are being judgmental ourselves. It’s important to understand that judgment, as discrimination, is important in life. But when we take a stand and label something right or wrong, good or bad, then this is what is meant by “being judgmental.” Judgmental behavior is labeling judgmental behavior as right or wrong. Often it is the case that we are projecting onto others our own judgment and criticism, whether or not others are engaging in such behavior. While it is not necessarily true that the fault of another is our own; that we label and criticize another for some behavior reveals some weakness, some lesson to be learned about our own personality. Relationships reveal these lessons to be learned. They present opportunities to grow--to forgive, to accept, to become more circumspect, to not label, or to not judge, etc. It is our emotions and feelings, when witnessed passively, which can be real learning devices and opportunities. They are the mirrors of our own inner health. They are the mirror of what is to be learned in life.
There is another aspect to our emotions. Specific emotions are associated in Ayurveda with certain organs. Anger is connected to the liver and hate to the gall bladder, for example. Sadness and grief are connected to the lungs while fear and anxiety are associated with the kidneys and colon. The neuropeptide molecules have an affinity to their respective organs. Over time the organs begin to reflect the constant bombardment of these emotion-laden molecules. Unfortunately, even the qualities of our food, climate, etc. can have the same effect as the emotions themselves. Thus food can provoke the experience of anger when the food is hot, spicy, sour, or salty. These foods have a fire component in them functionally equivalent to the fire of hate and anger. Hence when we are out of balance emotionally our diet can trigger emotions stored up in the body’s organs and tissues. When we are angry the liver may become inflamed, tender, even enlarged. Another point about emotions must be noted.
We do not have to eat pungent foods or have a fight with a loved one to experience anger. Often it is that the experience of an emotion comes without any known provocation. At such times it is possible that we experience an emotion which is that of another person. Mind is not limited to the body nor is awareness limited to our own thoughts and experiences. The field of life is a continuum of consciousness, awareness, and activity. It is often the case that our thoughts are not of our own creation. Our mind picks them up and we identify with them—call them our own. The at-a-distance affects of thought have been well documented by modern researchers. Much of this has been studied under the rubric of paranormal psychology—not credible in most countries in the West. The states of the former Soviet Union have done considerable research in this area, however. But in the ancient Vedic tradition much of this knowledge comes to us from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. The implication of being able to know or experience another’s thoughts is huge. On the grand scale of life it means that we should have pure thoughts so as to affect others in a positive way. On another level we must know that it’s not enough to bring change to our selves by avoiding the company of another whose thoughts, speech, and behavior are disturbing to us. We need to bring awareness to our own imbalances, which also helps others indirectly, but doesn’t disturb them either. We can help others directly by educating them to this fact of interconnection / interdependence of life.
We want to talk briefly about love. Love is also feeling or emotion. Sometimes it is bliss, while at other times it is momentary happiness. As bliss it does not arise as the result of a single event of experience. In this case love is a state of being--of mental, emotional, and physical well-being. It is a process of being in balance at all times. It is not a static goal. It is not a temporary joy or happiness which have objects producing them. In this case love has no object or reason for its existence--it just is. On the other hand, love can be a temporary object-bound experience. As for example when one professes “I am in love” or “ I love you” we must understand that this emotion may have an object. Unless one espouses and feels love for all persons and things equally this love is a qualified love. Only universal love is true, non-judging, accepting. So we must be clear that when we say we love we also say that everything is grand and good. Everything is as it should be. If we can not say this honestly then we have something yet to learn in life. Our fleeting emotions and feelings can tell us this. Interestingly, sweet foods from their sticky and binding qualities mimic the feeling of love. Love promotes attachment, binding, and bonding and so do sweet foods by virtue of their properties. Those who are feeling lonely, empty, and insecure will tend to want sweets. Sweet cravings therefore may expose the state of our emotions.
Let us return to our dialogue about cellular intelligence and its gatekeeper--cellular agni (fire). DNA and grosser functions of the cell membrane (pithara and pilu paka) ensure that we feel bliss when their functioning is normal and balanced. Thus it is that balanced, healthy physiology is the parameter of balanced, happy, healthy emotions and mind. Because the body has substance its processes are relatively stable. This stability in physiology is very important to bringing stability to our emotions and thinking. The emotions come and go in the blink of an eye. But when their environment, the body, is healthy then they tend to remain stable and happy themselves. Thus it is that so much emphasis is given in Ayurveda to making the body balanced. The detoxification techniques of Ayurveda such as panchakarma, exercise, diet, proper fasting, herbs, yoga asanas, meditation, and pranayama promote balance. This balance is expressed as health, happiness, and longevity. These are techniques to be done daily and seasonally.
But moment-to-moment living will also promote health, happiness, and longevity. It is when the individual is caught up in the moment that everything is ok. It is when we have forgotten the past regrets, disappointments, and angers, etc that we can be free of their influence through the neuropeptides. If we can accept the present as ok then the future will be likewise. The “being” of present physiology gives direction to the future--to becoming. Thus fear, anxiety, worry, or insecurity need not arise. They don’t have to be suppressed--only ignored by being aware of the present. And when in the present some emotion arises we need only just witness it. Let your full awareness be with it. This non-judgmental awareness will cause that emotion to blossom fully. Only in the blossoming can it be realized for what it is. “Where ever attention (and awareness) goes grows” is the maxim of our science. If we bring our awareness to our emotional distress it can leave the dungeon of the subconscious. Disease is the blockage to the flow of awareness. Some call this flow of awareness as the flow of prana but the meaning is the same. The intelligence of the universe must move for order to be sustained or restored. When the sap of the plant—the prana—does not flow then the flower does not blossom. Emotions behave as the flower. When the awareness moves to the emotion it can blossom and die. Thus it is that awareness brought to any imbalance will restore balanced functioning. This is the truth about healing. Awareness alone can heal. So we can use the rational techniques discussed above to augment this intuitive technique of spontaneous living. Both complement one another. Taken together they provide a complete approach to healthful life.
(C) Copyright 1997 Michael Dick All Rights Reserved www.ayurveda-florida.com