Friday, March 27, 2015

Negative emotions

Common Merganser in the rain
Sparkill, NY

Question: I was observing negative emotions and it came to me that I'm not sure what the word "negative" really means here… also, could the craving of addiction be called a negative emotion? …Do you find it easy to see your enjoyment of negative emotions? 

Response:  This got me thinking about my own negativity. I realized I make a lot of assumptions about it. I often speak about negative emotions as though I understood them.  Yet I am not so sure about that now.

Ouspensky implies there is no negative emotional center:

For instance, although he undoubtedly gave the fundamental basis for the study of the role and the significance of negative emotions, as well as methods of struggling against them, referring to non-identification, non-considering, and not expressing negative emotions, he did not complete these theories or did not explain that negative emotions were entirely unnecessary and that no normal center for them existed.

 —In Search of the Miraculous, P. D. Ouspensky, page 56

Yet Gurdjieff himself said there was a negative part of emotional center:

G. said that centers were divided into positive and negative parts, but he did not point out that this division was not identical for all the different centers.
—ibid, page 56

But in consequence of the wrong work of centers it often happens that the sex center unites with the negative part of the emotional center or with the negative part of the instinctive center. 
—ibid, page 258

Anyway, let’s try and simplify it. A negative emotion is, in my experience, a selfish or destructive emotion. If the emotion serves myself only, it is negative in the sense that it is rejecting of others and the world. In this way even things that I experience as quite positive for myself could well be negative emotions; and this is worth thinking out a bit. One sees, for example, throughout one’s life countless examples of people having emotions which they subjectively experience as positive but which are, without any doubt, supremely negative. In this way we see that our personal reaction to an emotion probably has little or nothing to do with whether or not it’s negative. Here’s a typical and common case: most people enjoy watching movies in which the “bad guys” get killed. They deserve it, we think; and a great deal of moviemaking with violence relies on the premise that we’ll enjoy the violence as long as it appears justifiable. To a great extent, we do: the reflexology of the situation gives us little time to consider how tragic and horrible the killing of other beings is, and we forget it. So we are coaxed by the habit of our own nature into liking bad actions.

This is a gross, that is, coarse example; yet there are others too numerous to mention inside each one of us. Intellectual examination alone is never going to sort it all out; so we’re left with the fact—the absolute fact— that another part of ourselves needs to become more sensitive and more active if we’re to begin to understand which emotions are negative and which ones aren’t.

In this sense, your question is astute, because it leads me to see that I don’t actually know precisely what negativity is at all. I just think I do.

So just what is negativity? It is, I would propose, exactly what I said earlier: a selfishness of impulse—that is, a subjective impulse. 

In the end, we can verify this somewhat easily—because every impulse that serves the ego, that serves me, does not serve God, that is, the higher, the good—and this is a rejection of God, that is, a negating of relationship and a negating of the good, all in favor of myself. Perhaps seeing this is a clue as to why Gurdjieff so often emphasized objective consciousness and objective conscience. These are unselfish impulses, since their center of gravity is not my own well-being. 

We might recall that the only time Beelzebub mentions an occasion for concern for his own well-being, he calls it “criminal”: 

…I wish to confess to you in all sincerity that although my essence, with the consent of the parts of my presence subject to it alone, had decided to participate in the scientific experiment about to take place within Gornahoor Harharkh's new invention, and although I had entered its chief demonstrating part without the least compulsion from outside, yet this same essence of mine had allowed to creep into my being and to develop there, side by side with the strange sensations I have described to you, a criminally egoistic anxiety for the safety of my personal existence. 

However, my boy, so that you may not be too distressed by this confession, it is not superfluous to add that this was the first time this ever happened to me, and also the last, throughout my entire being-existence. 

Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson, G. I. Gurdjieff, p. 156-57

When we say that negative emotions are an impulse, it means quite literally that they drive us towards something. It is a matter of the horse; so it is, indeed, a matter of feeling, or emotion, which is always what imparts an impulse. 

I think the negativity and negative emotion doesn't come from whether I like the experience of the emotion or not, but what the intention behind it is. The aphorism like what it does not like already implies that I don't understand what I like and don't like, or what is good for me, in the first place.

So if I don't study my intentions, I am unaware of my actual intention, I can't know whether I am negative or not. 

And if my intentions intend harm—if they are selfish—

well, that's negative.

 That includes, of course, negative or destructive intentions towards myself.


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