“Everybody gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense.”
— Gertrude Stein, novelist and poet
|Lincoln Stoller, PhD, 2021. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International license (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)
We’re under the illusion that thinking is the process of putting ideas together to reach conclusions. Even those of us who are artistic fall into this trap and see the creation of good art as a conclusion of our thoughts. For Homo sapiens, thought is good when it produces a result. Thinking is a prison of misery, and most of us are locked in.
The obsession with executive function explains why few of us can communicate with animals. It also explains why few of us can express our authentic nature. We believe that we are thinking beings but we are not; we are feeling beings. It’s our pursuit of an independent identity that forces us into our thoughts and away from our feelings. The idea of our independent being-ness is a sterile construction.
“We have for so long defined ourselves as separate personalities that we have fallen into the hypnotic spell of believing that separation, no unity, is the underlying reality.”
— Larry Dossey, 2006, in The Extraordinary Healing Power of Ordinary Things, p. 72.
When we talk about intelligence we’re talking about the properties of our intellect. The idea of emotional intelligence is an oxymoron because emotions do not act intelligently. They don’t formulate, strategize, solve, or construct. Intellect is what we use to navigate our separateness through a landscape of meaningful events. Emotion makes that landscape meaningful. Emotion is the geography of the meaningful.
To “think” emotionally is to be aware of what’s within us and around us. This is not thinking in the intentional sense. You can no more “think emotionally” than you can think yourself to sleep. There is no process or output but it is not static either. Let’s reserve thinking for intellect and use feeling for emotions. The two feedback into each other but they operate by different processes.
Our reality is our emotional landscape. It is a living system that grows of its own accord. You do not think your emotional world into existence anymore than you think how to walk. You can think and you can walk, and you can think about how you walk, and you can focus on walking and become more aware of it.
You can think yourself to focus and become more deeply aware, but being is not focus, and focus is not thinking. Thinking is structural and computational. Thinking can trigger feeling, but it’s the feeling that is the being.
Most of us cannot stop thinking, and some of us cannot start feeling. We’ve grow up in a world that so obscures feeling and so denigrates our having feelings of our own that many of us don’t even know how traumatized we’ve become. Give the chance to feel many of us behave psychotically, entering fits of delusion to create dichotomies, projections, and childhood conflicts we never learned how to resolve.
Much of psychotherapy is designed to patch up this container and convince us that our disembodied minds will make it to the nonexistent finish line. As the Lakota shaman Lame Deer said, people “stumble along blindly on the road to nowhere—a paved highway which they themselves bulldoze and make smooth so that they can get faster to the big empty hole which they’ll find at the end.”
We have not found our personal, social, or ecological balance because our intellectual world has none. It is not intelligence we lack, a flame that disintegrates everything it touches, it’s emotion which is to say an emotional identity. You cannot have an emotional identity if you’re petrified with fears of scarcity and encroaching destruction. If your world is your enemy you will never know anything but war, and if you are not in the war then you will make the war around you. You will draw war to you.
To be emotionally able does not require emotional intelligence as intelligence presupposes decisions which require intellect.
The intellect rests on beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors. Emotions also rest on beliefs and attitudes, and lead to behaviors. The intellect operates by connecting ideas in sequences. Emotions operate through recognitions, associations, and impulses. The six steps pictured below—which proceed from appreciation to definition, ideation, orientation, testing, and finally implementation—can describe either intellectual or emotional understanding, but the steps have different meanings in each case.
Emotional ability requires no intellect. If you had an accurate map of how everything behaved, even given the uncertainties of nature, then you would have no fear in being and in expressing yourself. You would eat of, live in, and mate with whatever gave satisfaction and didn’t bite you.
Animals are emotionally able and they have intellect. They configure their reality but they don’t introduce unnatural constructions. They don’t pollute their environment by making abstract conflicts real. They don’t project their frustrations on their families and warp their children’s’ minds. They might eat their children, but that’s a survival instinct not a pathological behavior.
On the other hand, modern human societies behave pathologically. We live in an intellectually unbalanced world where obstinance and aggression are always on the menu. We attempt to achieve balance on a material level while building on a roiling, emotional swamp. An emotionally able solution would be to drain our swamp, quench our conflagrations, and find solid ground. Instead, we develop emotional blindness in order not to see and, through unawareness, allow and overlook our disabilities.
The difference between a balanced and an imbalanced culture is that the members of a balanced culture depend on and collaborate with each other. Where people depend on each other and are supportive of each other we find healthier communities. But when people exploit each others and are supported in these exploitations, we find sick communities.
Intellectual intelligence operates in both healthy and unhealthy minds, but only those who are healthy are emotionally able. These people build balanced and sustaining emotional bonds both outside and inside of their circle of dependents. In contrast, unhealthy cultures can sustain themselves only as long as they can enslave and exploit; they fail when they run out of resources.
In spite of the tyranny of our intellects we all enter emotional states when we dream. These non-executive functioning states of mind return us to a non-Homo sapien level of awareness. A dog’s waking reality would be like a dream to us.
Dreams build the emotional landscape, the landscape on which we build our waking life. Here we build our intuition and instinctual awareness. Our dreams are the artwork of animals: drawn with paint, crayons, dirt, and feces.
Each night we take our life’s worth of jigsaw puzzle pieces, including the new pieces recently introduced, and assemble a hodgepodge construction in which nothing fits but everything of importance is included.
Dreams are your attempt to terraform your emotional landscape. You will notice that although dreams explore all manner of odd combinations they do not violate your essential feelings. For example, I doubt that you dream of having sex with you parents. If you go to sleep weighted down by particular situations, they will appear in your dreams in some form.
Hypnosis Is Emotional Thinking
Any freely associating state is a hypnotic state. The signature of hypnosis is being fully invested in the reality of the moment, like a dream state or a fully absorbed state. The difference between dreams and hypnosis is that in hypnosis you have the option to remember and participate.
If you can enter a dissociated, emotional state without the guiding, filtering, and interpreting effect of the intellect, then you are in a hypnotic state. When awake, the intellect is always there to ensure its dominance and your protection. An emotionally able person, like a hypnotically able person, can suspend the intellect and fully embrace the reality of their feelings without forcing them to conform to preexisting beliefs and attitudes.
We define non-hypnotizable people as “analytic resisters.” These are people who are too cautious, vigilant, controlling, insecure, or frightened to set aside their intellectual identities. Many of the most intelligent people I’ve known suffer from this condition. It’s not that being intellectual is a disability, it’s being unable to hear your feelings or appreciate the feelings of others that’s disabling.
Some persistently intellectual people create separate environments in which they explore their emotions. They will relax their intellect only under controlled and protected circumstances. They take off their intellectual garb and skinny dip in the shallow end of their pool of emotions.
With help from a hypnotherapist, like me, people feel comfortable going into the deep end. I act as an ally or lifeguard. I come from an emotionally curious place that is not just nonjudgmental but also discards intellectual filters, assumptions, and interpretations. It’s not that just I don’t care, it’s that I don’t presume to know because, in truth, you don’t either. Emotions open us to feeling, not knowing.
Let’s get away from the word therapy and use the word wisdom instead. What you want—and I’m pretty sure I can speak for you as the reader—is the wisdom to handle your emotions. You want to feel safe in the exploration of your emotional extremes.
They say that people at the end of their lives rarely regret what they’ve done, they regret what they did not do. But, of course, doing means nothing in and of itself, it’s the feelings we’re after. What people regret is never fully engaging their emotions.
Everyone needs a safe environment in order to explore what we need to do, learn, and feel. This is why we must stop abusing ourselves, and stop abusing others in our families and communities. Living in emotionally unsafe environments—a defining pathology of our culture of scarcity—prevents us from learning how to become emotionally able. We all need safety, and we can begin to create safety by recognizing what safety feels like.
Create a safe boundary within which you can explore. Even if you are alone inside that boundary, that is better than tolerating the company of those who are hostile or would exploit you. You have allies that will emerge in the solitude of your own retreat. If you’re like most people, being entirely alone with your feelings is a lonely and disheartening experience.
Emotional support is valuable, and few therapists or counselors can provide it. Wise people provide support, and healthy cultures provide these people in the form of elders. In our culture, few of our elders are wise because their growth was stunted.
Wisdom can be found in non-directive colleagues and advisors, such as emotionally able coaches and hypnotherapists. Some religious, contemplative, physical, and athletic pursuits foster non-directive wisdom. Wise people don’t project their pathologies on others, and they don’t attempt to “fix” anything.
Don’ wait until you become sick to grow yourself. Sickness begins with a system out of balance. If you don’t recognize what it is to be in balance, then you will surely move out of balance before you recognize something is wrong. If you require injury to attend to your growth, then you’re creating the situation for this injury. Be proactive.
You’re not seeking help—that’s the therapy model—you’re seeking growth. Modern life is a maze of empty streets. All healthy cultures rely on wisdom keepers, but our culture has driven most of them away; consider the injured or imperious characters presented in the media. Find the wisdom that will help you. We need to support each other in regaining health and balance as individuals and as a culture.
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