Blending Rational Thought with Feeling
BY: T. F. Murphy | November 2015 (edited 2018)
Mindful examination of the two internal guidance systems behind our action can refine errant predictions and misguided reactions.
We experience life as a unified whole. Our mind smoothly blends information from diverse sources—senses, memories, and internal feelings; combining and organizing the scraps, the mind derives meaning from the chaos. When functioning well, the final story provides a useful guide for predicting futures. Wisdom is born from our well-functioning system—gathering, interpreting, and storing information for future direction.
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This story-making mind doesn’t always produce timeless wisdom. The blending of data has a few drawbacks. The rational thought easily is easily tainted, leading to illogical conclusions. Feeling, quietly working beneath the scene also guide behavior, establishing personal connections between with a happening. Overly simplified, feeling responses remind us what we like and don't like—I like this smell, I dislike that person. Our brain scans the environment, reacting to any stimulus that appears threatening or beneficial to our well-being and survival; no matter how subtle the threat or benefit.
This biological alarm system directs behavior to avoid possible hazards and approach promising opportunities. Instinctively we avoid walking in front of speeding cars and giving out too much personal information. The built-in warning system isn’t completely functional at birth. The hardware needs valuable input, slowly evolving—becoming more refined or grossly distorted. Our rational mind’s story making becomes part of the learning, deriving meaning from evaluations of complex mixtures of experience, defining beneficial and dangerous. Achieving an accurate thought representation of reality is very helpful—overly distorted is not.
Life can be chaotic. Children raised in homes and communities brimming with unpredictable danger struggle to establish helpful correlations. When the security of childhood is disrupted with threats to survival, the mind becomes disorganized.
Our cognitive powers attempt to gather meaningful information, identifying correlations between actions and consequence. When environments are chaotic, the correlations are misguided. From disrupted pasts, confusion arises. The mind misinterprets important messages, creating impulses to act in ways that damage futures.
"Our rational mind’s story making becomes part of the learning, deriving meaning from evaluations of complex mixtures of experience, defining beneficial and dangerous. "
A misguided belief or bias ignites feelings of fear, anger, sadness or even a joy that isn’t appropriate for the circumstances. These misinterpretations are not isolated in the head, dissipating with time, but create impulses for action that further the distortion, leading us away from the life we desire. We can’t resolve this dilemma by ignoring our impulses. Whether we acknowledge their existence or not, they still spur us to action. By pretending we are above feeling affect, we simply miss the point. Those who drape action in adorning words of logic, often are most blind to the underlying pushes and pulls. Ignoring feelings because of their fallibility puts us in greater danger, alienating us from mindful acknowledgement of misguided and destructive behaviors.
As we grow, gathering diverse experiences, thoughtful reflection on emotions invites expanded understanding. Reflection exposes hidden emotions and the connected habitual reactions. From a mindful position of knowledge, we can identify and adjust errant behavior. With mindfulness, we take a giant step closer to reality.
With a healthy partnership between the rational-story-telling mind and the flowing emotions, we become wiser, blending two rich sources of information that direct us toward a better life. Without careful observations, we drift from the well-lighted streets and disappear in the dark diverse paths of habit; we flounder instead of flourish. Fine tuning the skills of reflection and integration is a process that never is perfected. The liveliness of existence is not static. Much like a garden—our neglected mind quickly deteriorates.
Live life, feel it, examine the thoughts experience generates and the stories created that give meaning to the morass. Slow down to question and skeptically examine these coherent stories for correctness, gently redirecting when they drift from reality and push us away from our dreams.