It’s in the Body

Lou Carcasole
March 22, 2016
It’s In The Body
The Key to Understanding and Changing Human Behavior

Many people think that emotions are in the mind. They fail to understand that that’s only partially true. Far more important is to realize that emotions are in the body. This is important because we have relatively little influence over the mind compared with the body. The key to understanding and changing the way we respond to the world is to work on changing the body. Let’s take a deeper look at how we experience anything in life, including of course, our emotions.
We take in the world through the ordinary five senses – seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling and touching. Perhaps there are other ways that we experience the world that we don’t know of. Perhaps there are other more subtle senses that are the stuff of the paranormal – things like Extra Sensory Perception, the Hundredth Monkey Phenomenon, and so on. I personally believe that these other ways of experiencing the world are real. However, to include them in this discussion might be more of a distraction that an aid to understanding what meditation is about and how to go about it. So, for our purposes here, let’s keep the conversation simple so that anyone reading this can relate to what is being said. Everyone understands, and most have the ability to experience the ordinary five senses.
If you pay attention to what happens within you, you’ll notice that every sight, sound, smell, taste and everything that contacts the body, instantly produces some physical sensations. This may not be apparent at first, but with a little effort at paying close attention, you’ll discover that this is true. It’s rather obvious, of course, if the physical reaction in the body is strong – such as the reaction we might have to a very unpleasant odor, or to a beautiful piece of music. Or to any strong stimuli in any of the senses. However, with milder and even very mild stimuli, the reaction will still be there. It’ll be much weaker of course. The sensations triggered by the stimuli will be of one of two flavors – pleasant or unpleasant. In other words, if you like the stimulus, such as in the case of beautiful music, it’ll trigger pleasant sensations in the body. And, of course, if you don’t like the stimulus, it’ll trigger unpleasant sensations in the body. Those sensations, by the way, are what our emotions are made of. Any emotion falls into one of two categories – they are either pleasant or unpleasant. However, the stimulus itself is not responsible for triggering the physical sensations (emotional response) in the body. Something else is involved here.
That something else is our previous life experience. An example to illustrate this that I often use, is to imagine encountering a dog. I can recall, as a youngster, walking along with a few friends, when we would encounter a dog on our path. My prior experiences of ‘dog’ was to be afraid of them. I had been effectively taught by my mother to be terrified of dogs because she was terrified of dogs. I never actually got it straight why she had this fear. Perhaps she had been bitten by a dog earlier in her life. Or, in the village where she grew up, there were stray or wild dogs that could be quite frightening. In any case, I can remember walking beside her, holding her hand, when we came across a dog on the sidewalk on our way home from shopping. She would pull me in close. I could feel her whole body tense up and tremble with fear. She managed to impart that fear to me. So, many years later, I would be frightened on dogs all on my own. And so, years later, walking along with my friends and encountering a dog, I would feel instantly afraid and look for places to run and hide so I could feel safe again. My friends, on the other hand, more often than not, would be excited and run towards the dog – something I couldn’t imagine doing. So, it wasn’t the sight of the dog itself that triggered the widely different emotional responses in us, it was our past experiences and beliefs about what a dog represented that triggered the emotional responses.
And so it is with all emotional responses. Our past is constantly affecting how we perceive what is in our present experience and molding our emotional responses. Every sight, sound, smell, taste, and everything that contacts the body, instantly produces some physical sensations. Based on our past experiences and beliefs, the sensations produced are either pleasant or unpleasant. If our past experience has been a positive one, the sensations will be pleasant. And, if the past experience has not been good, the sensations will be unpleasant. Either way, the sensations that accompany and define the emotional responses, are in the body. We don’t seem to have much success in controlling the mind. We can’t seem to easily adopt new beliefs, no matter how logical we tell ourselves, they are. That’s because the beliefs we hold are deeply embedded in the mind – deep in the layers of the subconscious. The subconscious mind has not been formed through logic and reason. It has been formed by a lifetime of experience. However, number of years old we are, our subconscious has been molded by our experiences over all those years. It is the product of what our parents taught us. How well they met or didn’t meet our emotional and physical needs. It has been molded by the praise or shame we were exposed to over those years. By whether we were bullied in the school yard, or, whether we were the one doing the bullying. By all our successes and all our failures. Over time, we came to see that the world was a either a safe and exciting place, or a hostile place to be feared.
So, who we are and how we respond emotionally to the world is the result of our beliefs, molded by the accumulation of our experiences. Change then, needs to take place in the same way – through new and different experiences. That’s what meditation is about. We don’t seem to have much influence over our own mind. But we can have a great deal of influence over our body.