According to researchers from the University of Glasgow, the universally-held notion that there are six basic emotions that can be identified using facial expressions, regardless of language or culture, is not correct. They say that while happiness and sadness have distinct facial expressions, both fear and surprise have the same expression. They also suggest that anger is also facially expressed in the same way as disgust. Their findings, published in Current Biology, suggest that there are only four basic human emotional categories not six.
Here is an example of research that mixes emotions and characteristics of mind and calls all of them emotions. If you are on a path of spiritual development, using these academic understandings will probably lead you astray. One of the first things you need to understand is the practical use of the words that we use to reflect our spiritual development—words such as feelings, emotions and character states of mind.
Ideally we all want to constantly feel two things throughout our lives. On one level we want to feel a body that is able to do what we want it to do, when we want to do it; is strong, flexible, coordinated, enduring and relaxed when necessary; ages gracefully and feels free of pain and discomfort. Most of us also want a body that is attractive to others. On another level, ideally we want to feel a mind that is intellectually and rationally clear, with a good memory; has a sense of quality and motivation; and one free of emotional discomfort.
When we feel, we are in a process of accessing changes to sensations that are affecting both our bodies and our minds. We use the word feelings when we access physical sensations in our bodies through either experience or perception. We feel by touch, pain, strength, temperature, injury, and sensations (such as butterflies in the tummy) when they change from one state to another. We also use the word feelings to describe experiences other than these physical sensations. We ascribe feelings to those conscious subjective experiences of emotions and character states within our minds.
Our feelings assist us to survive. Our feelings give us the greatest control, comfort, joy, love and sense of humanness. Feelings can also cause some people such pain that they contemplate suicide. Our feelings, much more than our conscious intellect and rational, naturally guide us to construct desirable, higher purpose, archetypical character traits. Our character traits reflect how we have been dealing with our life’s circumstances. Whether we have been succeeding and growing in characteristic ways to more effectively deal with challenges and securing our future, or being defeated by circumstances and evolving ineffective character traits and thus opening ourselves to a weak uncertain future. From our successes and failures the facets of our character mold our beliefs, concepts, habits, likes and dislikes and generate our desires, wants, needs and goals. The way we develop our character traits either gives us our spiritual experiences and our ultimate humanness, or a nightmare of a life.
As we feel our states of mind we have the opportunity to gauge the vibrancy of mental motivation—urges which drive us to experience our wants, needs, desires and goals reflecting our survival future. We call these motivating urges our emotions. Emotions that urge us on—those that tell us that now and in the immediate future we are tracking towards succeeding in our desires—these we feel as love and joy, our happy emotions. When we feel a lack of mental motivation, we describe what we feel in our minds as anger or sadness or anxiety or shame or fear, as we see that we are failing to achieve these desires. With these negative emotions, we may also feel uncomfortable within our bodies. For example, when we feel anxious most of us feel butterflies in the tummy.
Here is one way to understand emotions: Imagine love and joy to be the focused light of a high energy laser beam. This beam can cut through steel when all the light photons move together in forceful harmony. Love is an incredible mental motivator. If a laser beam is cutting through steel and in its path it passes through a prism sitting on the steel, the light separates into the colours of the rainbow. This scatters the concentrated force and there is no power left to continue to cut through the steel. After passing beyond the prism the light once again re-focuses as a harmonious concentration of photons and it regains the power to cut through the steel. The scattered colours of the rainbow can be likened to the negative emotions that restrict us, such as sadness, fear, anxiety, shame and anger.
Character states of mind
And so we have feelings that allow us to access changes of state, and we have emotions that urge us on or restrict us. From our challenges in life, we develop our character states of mind which reflect the beliefs we have formed through overcoming or being defeated by these challenges. There are obvious character states we develop such as honesty, integrity, courage and thousands of others like these. There are also those that are more subtle, such as the mind states of happiness when we feel love, joy and when we believe we are having fun. And it must be remembered that we can also be feeling upset with either anger, sadness, anxiety, fear or shame and still demonstrate our surprise to quickly changing experiences—or we can demonstrate our disgust as we reflect our beliefs in some upsetting situation. We can also experience various states of mind such as compassion, empathy, hate, sincerity, benevolence, patience, enthusiasm and others, to certain situations, but at the same time feel either anger, sadness, shame, anxiety or fear.
Expanding on this
You may understand that anger, sadness and fear are emotions that restrict us, while disgust, happiness and surprise are really states of mind reflecting beliefs to certain circumstances. But what of anxiety and shame—certainly most of us believe we can read these in the eyes and facial expressions of others. Most of us would also describe these as negative emotions. In a practical sense, there are five negative emotions that restrict us, and two positive emotions that urge us on. We can feel happy when we are not feeling anger, sadness, anxiety, fear or shame.
If you are on a destiny to evolve the ‘story of yourself’—your character—through spiritual pursuits, your essential and first practical step is to understand that you have:
(1) Processes which allow you to access changes to your existing physical and mental states—these are your feelings. You use them.
(2) Driving mental urges that either assist you to succeed or restrict you—these are your emotions. You change them.
(3) States of mind that you evolve or devolve through what you focus upon and the meanings you apply. These are your character states. These reflect your spiritual self.
There are techniques attributed to yoga that can help you evolve your spiritual character. Hatha yoga focuses on feelings applied to developing your physical body, while raja yoga focuses on feelings applied to developing your mind. Bill Giles is a scholar in raja yoga and teaches regular workshops. Contact us to find out more.