Archive for September 4th, 2008

Righteous Indignation

Posted on September 4, 2008. Filed under: Musings, Philosophy, Spirituality |

So, I’m writing this post for myself, basically, however, anyone who wants to read along is invited to do so! ๐Ÿ™‚ I’ve had a series of life happenings lately that have caused me to question lots of things about how I process information. The incidents are startlingly similar, which makes me think there may be a message: “Hey, you! There’s something to look at here!” I am looking, and this is what I see:

At the risk of losing interest in the whole thing, I’ll share just one example of what I’m talking about, although, keep in mind, that the others are similar. I’m a member of a non-profit organization. In fact, I do some work for them (one of my many little jobs), and I believe in their ideals. The group is in need of a new leader. That person must have a special set of qualifications, and it’s among the few paid positions this organization has. (I actually work for three such organizations; and although not all at the same time, all three have faced the above set of circumstances.) There are committees; processes; interviews; demonstrations; presentations; and at the end of all this a new “leader” is chosen. The usual sort of thing; all well and good, right? Except—there are people involved, all along the way. Every time I’ve been through one of these processes, it seems to cause great consternation among the participants.

Part of the issue is that many of us don’t like change. But, nevertheless, change there is! In my last go-’round with the organization, several members actually left the group because we’d hired the “wrong” person. We allowed ourselves to be bullied into a decision which was “wrong”. Now, I wouldn’t want anyone to hang around somewhere they were not happy, but, I’m suspicious of some of their reasons for leaving. And, I must admit, equally suspicious of my reasons for staying…

I wouldn’t leave a group unless I was unhappy there, but I do feel that I should give the new administration a chance, and not stalk off in a huff if I didn’t like something that “they” did. I believe (or fantasize) that I’m well-balanced, emotionally stable, and doing the “right” thing in supporting the organization! Those people are short-sighted judgmental imbeciles! I’m…doing the exact thing I’m accusing them of, and engaging one of my most stimulating emotions: Righteous Indignation! (Thus, the title of the post.)

I’m so very capable of getting myself all worked up about how “they” said this, or that, which “isn’t fair” (that’s always a good one), how my principles are noble, and I shall never surrender! As usual, it’s easier to see these traits in others than in myself, but in my belief system it’s always a clue to step back and have a look when my emotions get the better of me. I mean those last words quite literally. If I’m distressed because of how “they” are acting, the best part of me is not in evidence. However, when I’m engaged in cycle of Righteous Indignation I notice how stimulated I feel. I may be angry or upset, but WOW, there is a lot of energy coursing through me.

That high level of arousal is caused by the addictive chemicals released at such times, according to research neuropharmacologist Candace Pert. She and others have shown that we’re addicted to mental states like anxiety, or depression, or joy! This doesn’t mean they’re not “real” emotions, but does mean they’re, for the most part, physically rather than situationally generated. How else can we explain that an incident or event will elicit a reaction of anger or offense from one, and mild indifference from another? We’ll use a situation, or a person, to get our chemical “fix”, or, perhaps a little less ominously, a situation will engage the body/molecular memory of a similar situation in which we generated these chemicals for survival or protection. The body has a looooong memory of such things, and may torment us with unexpected emotional reactions all our lives without some intervention. (More on that, later). *

Pert says: “…we all make up stories to describe so-called reality when incoming information hits our higher brain. And of course, we all get to create our own version of what’s going on! But this is so important, this ability to either blame others or take responsibility for our actions, which are both decisions made at the level of the frontal cortex.” In a way, we’re products of our emotional and physical addictions. They shape our personalities.

For instance, there is anxiety. Until recently, this would come up for me when I did something like paying bills. It didn’t matter whether there was plenty of money in the bank, or not. My body had learned, through circumstances, that bill-paying is an anxiety-producing activity. I’m also pretty comfortable with feeling smug. I sometimes enjoy that one, even though it is ultimately not helpful. I felt smug when I stayed in the group out of principle when “they” didn’t; I feel a bit smug right now writing this post! ๐Ÿ˜‰

In fact, that “smugness” is the attitude I’ve become aware of when considering my recent life situations. It goes along with, and is the core of Righteous Indignation. In addition to feeling that way in my groups, I’ve written some post comments and emails from that smug perspective, and felt justified. But, is this attitude truly representative of my highest and best self? I don’t think so!

Emotions shape our personalities. On one level, our emotions are the only guidance systems we have; on another, we take them far too seriously: You tell me “I’m upset.” I may feel I must “do” something about that; i.e. your upsetness. If I’m the upset one, I may feel I need to do something about that, also. There really is only one thing to do, and that is to ask a question. The question I mean is not “Why are you upset?” —The “why” doesn’t really matter. The answer to “Why?” is a fairly useless bit of information, made up as it is of our emotional addictions.

The question really is: “Would you like to no longer be upset?” That’s it! That’s all there is to it. Justification; adrenaline; none of it matters. What matters is how we want to feel. I have a dear friend who will periodically repeat to me a question he heard at a lecture, once: “Do you want to be “right” or do you want to feel good?” Generally when he says that to me it’s at a time I’m not very receptive to hearing it! (Grrrrrrr). ๐Ÿ˜ But, in thinking about it when I’m in a calm state of mind, it becomes obvious. I want to feel good. (“But they said; she did…”) I want to feel good. (“ANYone would be upset if this happened to them!”) I want to feel good. (“We have to DO something about this!”) I want…

Yes, s/he-they-them did what they did, and the odd thing I’ve found, as have many others, is that when I get right with myself, the people I interact with tend to calm down, and let go of the qualities which were disturbing me to start with. Once I identified my “smuggish” tendencies (I was fairly dense, as I’d had lots of clues) I realized my “blogging block” of late, as well as my inability to move forward with my work were all tied in with my smuggish oscillations. I cannot make the statement, yet, that I’ve given up smuggishness, but now that I know what it is, I also know what to do with it. *

As my favorite (living) physicist, Fred Alan Wolf says: “There is no ‘there’ out there”. I extrapolate from this to say further that what we perceive as reality is, in fact, only perception. The entire universe “exists” inside our own minds. This is not just a philosophical abstraction, but a tangible—if elusive—quantum physical principle. Therefore it’s possible, once we realize it, to actually change the biochemistry of emotion right inside our own brains. I’m so looking forward to leaving the “smug bug” behind!

*for my favorite tool to let go of unwanted stored emotions, see this post.
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