Are you positive about emotions?

As tan bear clearly shows us, if there’s one thing many people know about emotions, it’s the idea that there are positive ones and negative ones. But it’s not just silly cartoon animals that share this idea: In emotion research, the categorization of emotions into the two simple categories of positivity and negativity is called valencing. Valencing theory tells us that there are two kinds of … Read More

Are you a skilled emotionologist?

As psychology, neuroscience, and primatology leap forward in understanding, we’re finally remembering that empathy and emotions are essential to our intelligence. The old, tired idea that emotions are the opposite of rationality has been superseded by this: emotions and rationality are partners in cognition. You can’t think clearly without your emotions, and you can’t emote skillfully without your verbal, rational intelligence. One aspect of your cognition … Read More

Is it real, or is it reified?

We talked about the difference between imaginary things and imaginal things a few days ago, and about how important our imaginal capacities are. Basically, the difference between the two is that imaginal things are those that we create intentionally, whereas imaginary things (such as Easter Bunnies and optical illusions) are those that we don’t consciously choose. For me, imaginal things have intentionality behind them; they have … Read More

Imaginary or imaginal?

Our site pal Mike Stumpf has asked me to explain the difference between imaginary and imaginal, because I mention our imaginal abilities in my book. It’s a good question, Mike! I think we all know what imaginary things are: they’re unreal things we might fear or wish for, like a bogey man or the Easter Bunny. We mostly know that these things aren’t real, but we can … Read More

Let’s talk about suicide

The Darkness before Dawn: Understanding the Suicidal Urge Suicidal feelings are painful but normal responses to deep pain and deep trouble — and people survive their suicidal urges every day, and go on to live and thrive. If you or anyone you know feels suicidal, there are some excellent free resources that can help. First, here in the US, you can call the National Suicide Prevention … Read More

The Shadow Knows

In the 1930s, there was an excellent radio show called The Shadow that enchanted millions of people, my father included. The Shadow was a serialized detective show, and each week, the announcer would ask in a deep baritone voice: “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!“ In 1937, the young Orson Wells lent his voice to the radio show and … Read More

The Age of Empathy

Oh, here’s a great book you’ve got to read: The Age of Empathy: Nature’s Lessons for a Kinder Society. Primatologist Frans de Waal works with our cousins, the great apes, and has been able to identify empathy and emotional awareness in very helpful ways. Dr. de Waal sees empathy as an inheritance from our ancestors (primate and otherwise), and he sees empathy as the organizing center … Read More

What’s so funny ’bout “negative” emotions?

Last week, I spoke at two bookstores here in California. During one Q&A, someone asked me about the ideas a current spiritual teacher has about emotions. This teacher says that emotions are the body’s responses to thoughts. I blurted out “Oh, he’s full of sh!t.” Out loud. I experienced a complete failure of my internal monologue system. Oh shiiiite! You could hear a pin drop, and … Read More

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