Emotions and Wisdom for COINTELPRO Victims

Emotions and Wisdom

     Aikido is a Japanese martial art, which name can be translated as “The Way of Harmonious Spirit” (Westbrook, 1970). As a matter of fact, Aikido provides profound wisdom of enhancing harmony. Shioda Gōzō, one of the most renowned Aikido masters, was once asked what the strongest technique in Aikido was. He answered: “To become friends with the enemy who came to kill you, and sit and drink sake together.” This is a great example of powerful emotion regulations because in order to tame your enemy, you have to tame your agony first. The book “Wisdom” also says that wisdom begins with successful emotion regulations (Hall, 2010). In this paper, I will discuss various roles of emotions in giving rise to wisdom. [Advertisement] VPS
Emotion and Brain-Chemicals/Hormones   

In the Psychology of Emotions class, we studied biological mechanism of emotions. A certain brain-chemical (neurotransmitters) and hormone induce a particular feeling. This feeling causes an onset of an emotion. For example, adrenaline and cortisol produce stressful feelings, while dopamine and oxytocin produce pleasurable feelings. When these brain-chemicals/hormones are habitually secreted or inhibited, it can affect both mental and physical health. Therefore, drugs are used in Pharmacological therapy to induce or inhibit particular brain-chemicals/hormones. Nowadays, various kinds of psychiatric drugs have been developed, and some people use these drugs not because of serious mental illness but to boost their mental abilities. This trend is called “Cosmetic Psychopharmacology” (Kramer, 1997). In fact, in the class one classmate raised the question that those psychiatric drugs such as “cortisol-blocker” should be useful because they can prevent harmful effects of the stress hormone, cortisol. This question intrigued my interest in the Biological roles of stress, positive or negative.

To begin with, we learned in the class that there are positive aspects of emotions evoked by brain-chemicals (neurotransmitters) and hormones. For example, mild level of cortisol enhances memory and learning abilities. In fact, regarding cortisol, the book “Wisdom” introduces a research on “stress-inoculation” conducted by Karen J. Parker, et al (2004). Using infant monkeys and their mothers, the researchers found that stressful experience in the early stage of life enhances skills for coping with severe adversities in the adulthood (Hall, 2010, p.218-222).

Furthermore, researchers found that the pattern of cortisol secretion in the course of a day determines the person’s performance level.  A person who has high cortisol level in the morning and low at night shows better emotional regulation ability and consequently better performance (Giese-Davis, et al, 2004). This research also validates that it is not cortisol itself but the pattern of its secretion that matters with our well-beings. Accordingly, emotions are not something that we should nullify— instead, we had better use them wisely.

On the other hand, dopamine, or “a pleasure hormone,” has strong influence on our emotions. Hence, dopamine is considered to be a culprit that forms various kinds of addictions. Furthermore, scientific research found that dopamine intervenes with our decision-making process as well (Glimcher, et al, 2009). In other words, because dopamine shapes our behaviors strongly, it affects our decision-making, and it even shapes our values. Since resisting the influence of dopamine is so difficult, it seems wiser to carefully select our activities where dopamine is secreted. For example, since I quit smoking, everyday meals taste much better.
Besides, in every meal, I try to choose not only tasty but also healthy food, instead of tasty but unhealthy food.
The wisdom is using the pleasurable emotions wisely rather than trying to ignore it.  

 

Emotions and Brain Structure

     According to Richard Davidson (2011), signals from the Prefrontal Cortex to the Amygdala, and from the Amygdala to the Prefrontal Cortex, determines how quickly the brain will recover from an upsetting experience (p.71). In addition, Davidson’s (2011) research found that specifically the left side of the Prefrontal Cortex shortens the period of Amygdala activation. In other words, the left side of the Prefrontal Cortex plays the important role in recovering quickly from negative emotions such as disgust, anger, or fear (p. 71). On the other hand, Tucker, et al (1989), suggests that the right side of the Cortex responds to emotional processing, such as recognizing other people’s emotions.  For example, a person whose right side of the Cortex is impaired – for instance, from a stroke— has difficulty in the expression of emotions. At the same time, the recognition of other people’s emotions worsens. As a result, it becomes difficult for the person to have empathy. On the flip side, the activation of the brain parts which are related to emotions plays the vital role in cultivating empathy or compassion. Thus, both the left and right sides of the Cortex activations are essential to improve the quality of our life. 

    Likewise, a lot of recent scientific research revealed the facts about emotions and the brain structure. Among the others, the most fascinating discovery is that mind changes the brain structure. Davidson (2012) illustrates revolutionary findings that even purely mental activities, such as meditation and cognitive therapy, can change the brain. These mental trainings thicken specific neural circuits in the brain.

On the other hand, Rick Hanson (2009) explains from neuroscientific perspective how “attention meditation” leads us to the advanced level of emotion-regulation, that is, equanimity. According to Hanson’s study, our brain naturally tends to seek for particular stimuli rather than staying neutral. However, by voluntarily sustaining attention to the neutral state, our mind becomes more comfortable with the calmness, and less inclined to emotional changes. This skill makes the cornerstone to non-judgemental awareness, so called mindfulness. Mindful awareness produces profound wisdom for better life, which I will further discuss in a later paragraph.       

  

Reappraisal

    These findings are used for therapeutic purposes such as cognitive therapy. Daniel Siegel (2010), clinical professor of psychiatry, points out that regarding the stressful events in the early stage of life, what matters is not how terrible the experience we had was – rather how we interpret the terrible experience. This idea has been elaborated from the conventional Freudian concept that the past acts upon our future. In Chapter 8 “Prisoner of the Past,” and Chapter 9 “Making Sense of Our Lives” of the book “Mindsight,” Siegel emphasizes that people who experienced traumatic events in childhood can recover by finding a positive meaning out of the past events. This cognitive change is called reappraisal. Appraisal is one’s evaluation of an event, which is usually processed unconsciously. Appraisal determines what emotion should be evoked to an event or thought (Oatley, 2006). For example, if we see a cockroach on a dish, we feel disgusted. However, when we see a lobster on a dish, most of us do not feel disgusted although both creatures have gross looking. These automatic cognitive patterns become flexible by reappraising. Reappraisal is to modulate the cognitive process so we can intervene with connections between the automatic evaluation (appraisal) and the subsequent thoughts and feelings. This is the wisdom of cognitive science that enhances the ability to correct maladaptive thoughts and avoid detrimental consequences of negative emotions.

 

Emotion-Regulation and Aging

     As discussed so far, emotions should not be viewed as obstacles which we have to eliminate. Instead, we can use them wisely, just as we can use horses as helpful animals when we successfully tamed them. In terms of taming our emotions, research indicates the tendency that older people have better emotion-regulation skills. The researchers speculate that as we are aging, distance from our death shortens, and pressure to set priorities on most important activities rises. Consequently older people become more careful with emotional stability. The elderlies focus on task which maximizes emotional satisfaction while minimizing the time being engaged in destructive emotions. This theory is named socioemotional selectivity (Cartensen, et al, 2003). After all, older people are more aware that we do not have time to waste, thus, they are good at selecting and focusing on emotionally satisfactory activities. As a result, older people maintain better emotional stability in general. Regarding these findings, Hall (2010) introduces in his book Heraclitus’s words: “To be even-minded is the greatest virtue.”(p. 62)

 

Emotions and Life-Shifting Events

   The book “Wisdom” points out that enhancement of the emotion-regulation is not strictly tied with age. In fact, life-changing events can play the same role (Hall, 2010, p. 72).  In my life, the most impactive event occurred in the mid-thirties – that was my father’s death. My father, retired naval officer, was victimized in a serious crime in 2004. He was well known for compassionate, gentle personality. However, since it was a secret-crime case, the local police did not investigate it. Instead the police forcefully institutionalized me at a psychiatric hospital when I started looking into the case by myself. Since that time – until now – I have been deprived of any privacy, persistently stalked and harassed by so called organized stalkers, and even threatened to death several times.

This was not a paranoiac delusion. In fact, in Sep. 2005, about a year after my father passed away, one of my closest friends suddenly died an unknown cause of death. In her case as well, the police gave up identifying the reason of death. This happened exactly when I found the facts about my father’s case and tried to let her know about it because she also seemed to be a victim of the similar type of organized crime.  Nonetheless, the perpetrators kept stalking and harassing me constantly 24 hours every day. I was exposed to extreme stress day after day over a few months. Even when I was at home, they used unclassified devices to peep into my privacy. I changed rooms to sleep, and for some days I stayed at a hotel, but the perpetrators chased me no matter where I went. Suffering from unbearable stress and miserable feelings, I started to think about putting an end to my life. Finally, I got myself prepared for death. I regretted so many things unaccomplished in my life.

 One day, however, out of nowhere, I got a sense of compassion – if I am alive, I could help other people in a similar crisis. It was a mystic moment—as if someone convinced me that I deserved living. I regained self-efficacy and got out of the worst crisis in my life. Strange to say, it was “oxytocin (a sense of compassion)” that saved my life. In addition, I got insight on inter-dependence of the world phenomena. Gautama Siddhartha is said to have seen the Twelve Links of Dependent Origination when he achieved awakening. In my case, as if looking at every single picture of a long movie film, I saw each event and person I met in my life from childhood to that day linked by cause and effect relationships. In other words, I realized the basic teaching of karma – everything we have thought, said, and done -- good or bad-- comes back to us. I visually understood that everything in the universe is inter-related just as the law of conservation of energy indicates. If any single factor I have been related to is missing, I would not be as I am. I became grateful to the environment including people around –deseased or alive. This was the wisdom I attained from the life-shifting event at the expense of my father’s and closest friend’s lives.       

    Unfortunately, however, we cannot always count on shocking events such as 9/11 or something like my case for improving our emotion-regulation skills. Not everyone can always experience such a tragedy even if we wish to. In addition, no matter how many people were killed and no matter how life-threatening an incident we witnessed was, we soon resume taking our life for granted unless the other people’s death are seriously associated with our own death. We forget the fear of death and start indulging ourselves in mostly dopamine-oriented activities which do not provide any profound meaning of life. In fact, I was not exceptional, either. I did become much more prudent after the life-changing event. However, as the fear of death decreased, I got subjected again to negative emotions such as anger.

Furthermore, I witnessed some friends having experienced harsh realities such as the death of fiancé, a serious traffic accident or illness, and became humble for the time being. Nonetheless, they eventually returned to selfish people, who always claim their own rights while they do not respect even the basic human rights of people around. I realized that without cultivation of compassion, we do not attain the ultimate wisdom even if having experienced a life-shifting event. Therefore, we need a constant effort to cultivate self-compassion and compassion to others. To make it happen, the best way is to facilitate skills for focusing our limited time and energy on the most meaningful task for the self and the others, that is to say, mindfulness.

 

Mindfulness, Emotion-Regulation, and Wisdom

Mindfulness is a concept of Buddhist traditions, which is defined as voluntary, and non-judgmental awareness of the present moment. Through mindful training, people enhance an ability to focus on task here and now rather than ruminating the past or worrying about the future. By mindfulness, we learn to select the most constructive activity to engage in at every moment, and concentrate our time and energy—or emotions in this context— on it single-mindedly. Accordingly, practicing mindfulness also helps regulate our emotions and improve our life.

More profound benefit of mindfulness training is that by staying here and now non-judgementally, we can let “inherent wisdom” of our mind take care of the difficulties we are facing (Segal, et al, 2002). To explain “inherent wisdom,” Segal uses analogy of mathematicians who often find a solution to a conundrum once they have given up thinking. These mathematicians report that the answer comes as if from nowhere. Similarly, people who practice mindfulness report that they can feel “as if their mind appears to find ways of handling difficulties that are wiser than their thinking” (p.190-191).         

 

Emotions and Spiritual Wisdom

In the Western philosophies, emotion has traditionally been viewed as illogical, so to speak, “saboteur of pure reason” (Hall, 2010, p. 65) Nonetheless, spiritual wisdom acknowledges the positive role of emotions. As already introduced above, since 2,500 years ago, Buddhist meditation traditions have had the wisdom of using emotions prudently. The following words of the Buddha indicate that basic emotions such as shame and fear are positively regarded as a means to discern what we should refrain from.

They who are ashamed of what they ought not to be ashamed of, and are not ashamed of what they ought to be ashamed of, such men, embracing false doctrines enter the evil path (Dhammapada 316).

They who fear when they ought not to fear, and fear not when they ought to fear, such men, embracing false doctrines, enter the evil path (Dhammapada 317).

They who forbid when there is nothing to be forbidden, and forbid not when there is something to be forbidden, such men, embracing false doctrines, enter the evil path (Dhammapada 318).

They who know what is forbidden as forbidden, and what is not forbidden as not forbidden, such men, embracing the true doctrine, enter the good path (Dhammapada 319).

The core teachings of Buddhism suggest to follow the Eight-Fold paths, which are divided into three steps: first to establish morality by right deeds, next to restrain the emotional mind by meditation, and finally to attain wisdom to navigate ourselves to the ultimate happiness, Nirvana. Through this practice, we can achieve cessation of sufferings. Verse 281 of Dhammapada says:

Watching his speech, well restrained in mind, let a man never commit any wrong with his body! Let a man but keep these three roads of action clear, and he will achieve the way which is taught by the wise.

Accordingly, in the Buddhist wisdom, restrain of the emotional mind is one of the key steps to achieve the ultimate happiness. 

    In Christian traditions, on the other hand, emotions play more essential role in their faith. I consulted a Ph.D candidate in Christian theology at Theological Seminary about the role of emotions in Christianity. He suggested the following verses from the Bible as examples of emotions regarded positively.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction (Proverbs 1:7) .

And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good? (Deuteronomy 10:12-13)

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength (Mark 12:30, etc.).

He explained that "with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength" in the last verse listed above includes the emotions.

     In addition, the author of the book “Wisdom” introduces the story of Job from the Bible as the greatest example of the power of emotional resilience (Hall, 2010). The interesting view-point of Hall is: “It is this resilience, not patience, that elevates Job to an exalted perch in the Bible’s wisdom literature” (p. 64). Citing Job’s words of emotional lamentation, “Why should I not be impatient?” Hall points out that Job himself turned down the idea of patience –instead, Job acknowledged his sadness and recovered from it each time adversity came up relentlessly. This emotional resilience, rather than patience, makes his story the model of the Bible wisdom even in modern society. 

 

Conclusion

In the beginning of this paper, I quoted the words of the renowned Aikido master, Shioda Gōzō. He said that the most powerful technique of Aikido was: “To become friends with the enemy who came to kill you.” To sum up the wisdom of emotions discussed thus far, Shioda’s comments could be paraphrased as: the most powerful strategy is to maximize one’s oxytocin (compassion) and minimize adrenaline (hostility) –this creates a harmonious environment, which can maximize our happiness. In order to realize his wisdom, we must increase positive emotions through the effort to enhance emotional resilience and mindfulness. Furthermore, we can expand the definition of “enemy” from a hateful person to aging, sickness, and death within ourselves. If each of us attains coping skills to become friends with these universal sufferings of human, our life could not be happier. For the last, let us remind that 2,500 years ago, Shakyamuni Buddha encouraged people as follows:

If one man conquer in battle a thousand times thousand men, and if another conquer himself, he (the latter) is the greatest of conquerors. (Dhammapada103)

One's own self conquered is better than all other people; not even a god, a Gandharva, not Mâra with Brahman could change into defeat the victory of a man who has vanquished himself, and always lives under restraint. (Dhammapada105)

 

 

References

 

Carstensen, L. L., Fung, H. H., & Charles, S. T. (January 01, 2003). Socioemotional Selectivity Theory and the Regulation of Emotion in the Second Half of Life. Motivation and Emotion, 27, 2, 103-123.

Davidson, R. J., & Begley, S. (2012). The emotional life of your brain: How its unique patterns affect the way you think, feel, and live--and how you can change them. New York: Hudson Street Press.

Giese-Davis, J., Sephton, S. E., Abercrombie, H. C., Durán, R. E. F., & Spiegel, D. (2004). Repression and high anxiety are associated with aberrant diurnal cortisol rhythms in women with metastatic breast cancer. Health Psychology, 23(6), 645-650. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0278-6133.23.6.645

Glimcher, P. W. (2008). Neuroeconomics: Decision making and the brain. London: Academic Press.

Hall, S. S. (2010). Wisdom: From philosophy to neuroscience. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

 

Hanson, R., & Mendius, R. (2009). Buddha's brain: The practical neuroscience of happiness, love & wisdom. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.

 

Siegel, D. J. (2010). Mindsight: The new science of personal transformation. New York: Bantam Books.

 

Oatley, K., Keltner, D., & Jenkins, J. M. (2006). Understanding emotions. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub.

 

Segal, Z. V., Williams, J. M. G., & Teasdale, J. D. (2002). Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for depression: A new approach to preventing relapse. New York: Guilford Press.

 

Tucker, Don M.; Frederick, Sherri L. (1989).Emotion and brain lateralization. Wagner, Hugh (Ed); Manstead, Antony (Ed), Handbook of social psychophysiology.Wiley handbooks of psychophysiology., (pp. 27-70). Oxford, England: John Wiley & Sons, xvi, 447 pp.

 

Westbrook, Adele; Ratti, Oscar (1970). Aikido and the Dynamic Sphere. Tokyo, Japan: Charles E. Tuttle Company.


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yenu

Author:yenu
The Writer of 『拝啓 ギャングストーカー犯罪者の皆様』(Dear COINTELPRO Criminals) and <集団ストーカーの死> The Death of Gangstalker; also Co-Editor of 「新しいタイプの人権侵害・暴力」 Unprecedented Human Rights Violation

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