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Emotions are physical, not psychological. Scientists are beginning to understand this now. Emotions act as a bridge between our bodies and minds. Each of us is a psychosomatic network, but this doesn't mean that whatever we are experiencing in our bodies is not to be taken seriously -- quite the contrary. Psychosomatic means that our bodies, minds, and emotions are intimately intertwined. As we alter the awareness of our emotions, we automatically alter our physical state. Managing our emotions is now considered a form of disease prevention. If we heal our emotions, we heal our bodies. Scientist Candace Pert in her landmark book, Molecules of Emotion, says, "Mind doesn't dominate the body, it becomes the body -- body and mind are one." So, if we suppress our emotions, what happens then?
Western culture has been built upon the belief that reasoning is far more important than emotions. For more than 350 years, rational interpretations of behavior have urged us to believe that the judgments of our minds were the key to our actions. Descartes' cogito ergo sum -- "I think, therefore I am" -- elevated thinking to sovereign status. But on every level, including neurobiology, thinking can never be divorced from feeling. There is a profound connection between our emotions and our decisions, between our feelings and our logic, between our brains and the depth of our experiences.
In the East, too, there is disregard, often contempt, for emotions. Eastern spiritual traditions favor a contemplative, detached, dispassionate ideal often confused as enlightenment or nirvana. Great value is placed on the ability to withdraw oneself from all but minimal involvement with the world. Even the stereotypical view -- the serene yogi sitting in exalted meditation -- warns against the distracting power of emotions.
But emotions are not disruptions of an otherwise calm and reasonable experience. They're at the very heart of our experience, determining our focus, influencing our interests, giving meaning to our world. Feelings stir us. They are our inner barometers, our God-given orientation system. Emotions provide us with our most basic communication network within, helping us connect the incidents, the relationships, and the experiences that make up our lives.
Our emotions and our health are intimately connected. Moods and attitudes directly influence our bodies. Unresolved, distressing emotions that linger are toxic and a risk factor to health. But when emotions are acknowledged, understood, and expressed, they are as valuable as any healing intervention available. By getting in touch with our emotions, both by listening to them and directing them through our body-mind, we gain access to the healing wisdom that is our natural and biological right. Once we make a conscious decision to enter our body-mind's conversation, we can heal what we can feel, and this is good medicine.
In truth, "real life" occurs only when we feel deeply. It happens when we allow ourselves the adventure of nurturing our feelings of pain and fear as well as our feelings of pleasure and joy. As we engage in this play of feelings, we move through a range of emotional experiences. Our controlling, logical structures fall away, and a wondrous spontaneity arises from within, bringing real transformation and change. Feeling is an art, a rare art. But it must be practiced.