Followers of my blog will note my fascination with the subject of psycho-epistemology, especially how it relates to mind-body integration (see The Psycho-Epistemology of Acting, Self-Love as a Prime Mover, Mind-Body Integration, The Benevolent People Premise, The Psycho-Epistemology of Sexuality, Are There “Bad” Emotions?). I love thinking about these topics, writing about them, and discussing them with friends. So I was very pleased recently when a new friend expressed an interest in my thoughts on the subject.
Before we got too embroiled in discussion, my friend smartly asked: “What is the ‘cash value’ of these theories?” He wanted to know what applications and implications could be drawn from psycho-epistemology. This is an absolutely brilliant question which can never be asked often enough. If one cannot apply his principles to his life, then his philosophical ramblings are nothing more than armchair rationalisms. With that in mind, I would like to offer an extended example of why the psycho-epistemology of mind-body integration is a very practical field of study.
If one understands the interrelationship between automatized physical, conceptual, and psychological units stored in his subconscious (see Mind-Body Integration and The Psycho-Epistemology of Sexuality Part III), then he is better able to “train” his emotions. If one’s emotional responses are not consonant with his explicit value hierarchy, then he can “retrain” his mind to respond appropriately. Consider an example:
A woman overreacts to minor disagreements with her husband. When he spills milk on the counter, she scowls at him and burns a hole into his head with her eyes. When he protests that she is overreacting, she becomes upset and defends her response by pointing out the value of a clean kitchen. She may not even realize that she was giving him a dirty look. A needless fight over spilled milk explodes.
If one asks the woman how much she values her husband, she would say that she loves him dearly. And she may freely admit that spilling milk on the counter is no big deal. Even when she acknowledges that she is overreacting, she may have difficulty bringing her emotions in line. Emotional responses are automatic, after all, and are not always easy to change. How should she proceed in “retraining” herself?
The first step is to get her priorities straight. She must learn to properly evaluate the relative importance of minor annoyances vs. the value of her relationship with her husband. She must introspect and determine with absolute certainty that she is in fact overreacting. She must introspect in the moment, while she is getting upset about something, and stress to herself her hierarchy of values. Over time, this will allay the intensity of her negative emotional reactions. But there is something else she can do that will help her “retrain”: she can make sure that her mind and body are integrated in her reactions.
One important element of her emotional reaction is the way her body responds. She automatically scowls and narrows her eyes at any minor annoyance. This kind of body language is often strongly associated with very negative evaluations and emotions. If the subconscious treats automatized physical motions, evaluations, and emotions as related units, then by scowling, she is actually communicating to her subconscious – telling it “I am very upset.” Her subconscious responds by stressing negative evaluations and emotions.
Assuming that she has brought her mind in line by clarifying her hierarchy of values, she can bring her body in line by controlling her automatized physical reactions. The next time her husband spills ketchup on the kitchen floor and she starts to get upset, she can monitor her facial movements, remove the scowl from her face, slow her breathing, and otherwise physically act as if she is not upset. Now she is sending a different message to her subconscious. Not only is she training herself to evaluate the situation properly, she is training her subconscious how to respond physically to the situation. Since mind and body are integrated in the way I have described, controlling the physical elements of an emotional reaction facilitates retraining. It can help effect a change much more quickly. As an added benefit, positive body language communicates the proper message to one’s lover as well as oneself.
Paying attention to the physical elements of one’s emotional reactions can be greatly beneficial in many areas of one’s life. It can help one become a better communicator, a better friend, a better lover and, most importantly, a better valuer. If one trains his mind and body to respond to values appropriately -- then he will be happier, more passionate, and more motivated.
Tune in next week, when I will offer another “cash value” example, this time relating to sexuality and romantic love relationships.--Dan Edge