One of Bruce Lee's most memorable lines, is "Don't think, feel!"
The energy contained in that expression is immense. You can feel it when he expresses it.
Initially, when I had heard it, I thought of it as a "good idea." I mean, it sounds good, move around, get the feeling, try express yourself. But it was only recently that I realized that it contains actually a lot of truth and validated by science.
First, most people will recognize it as good philosophy, but now with great advances in science in the last 10 years, it is also very good science. This, to me comes as being refreshing in a world increasingly dominated by "need for proof" concreteness.
A leading neurologist who has compiled one of the largest database of fMRI scans of brain injuries, Antonio Damasio, researches deep into how emotions affect our mental states and decision making.
He has found feelings are "mental experiences of body states."
Emotions are purely physical signals of the body which react to external stimuli. Feelings are created when the brain interprets those emotions.
Said in another way, "joy or sorrow can emerge only after the brain registers physical changes in the body."
In an interview with MIT, he explains how introception, or internal feelings arise in the organs and the purposes:
"There are certain action programs that are obviously permanently installed in our organs and in our brains so that we can survive, flourish, procreate, and, eventually, die.
"This is the world of life regulation—homeostasis—that I am so interested in, and it covers a wide range of body states.
There is an action program of thirst that leads you to seek water when you are dehydrated, but also an action program of fear when you are threatened. Once the action program is deployed and the brain has the possibility of mapping what has happened in the body, then that leads to the emergence of the mental state."
So, this brings me back to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) theory where they explain emotions are located in the body. Though TCM explains emotions on an energetic level, we can see they also do arise on a physical level which are perceived through the nervous system.
In a study done by Lauri Nummenmaa, a psychologist at Aalto University, they mapped out where emotions are felt in the body.
So whether you are looking at a Chinese view of emotions, or a western view of emotions, we can come to roughly the same conclusions about how they affect us.
While in Traditional Chinese Medicine, they would say that our "qi is blocked" in western medicine, we can look at our physiology to explain it via our nervous system which regulates the body.
If we feel fear, our throat maybe "blocked" energetically. From a physiological point of view, our muscles and nervous system constricts to protect itself, it withdraws to be quiet so we are not seen or heard.
The emotion is felt in the body and the brain interprets it as a feeling. To overcome the emotion, we have to tap into our body and mind. We could massage that area to relax the muscles and do some shouting to retrain our nervous system to feel OK openly expressing yourself.
Our physiology has a big impact on our emotional state. If we start to breath in the same pattern as someone who is depressed, with long exhales and dropped shoulders, we begin to experience that state. Breathing is a fast way on influencing our emotional state.
It just so happens that today, my breathing had become restricted and tense for some reason, perhaps I was stressing about something. It caused my breathing to become tight. Later that day, my confidence was low. When I recognized this, I adjusted my breathing into deep, slow breaths and corrected my posture. Within a minute, my mental state shifted to being very relaxed and calm.
So while before, I may have looked at trying to correct my thinking, instead I corrected my physical state to influence my emotions, which influenced my thinking instantly.
What happens when you purely logical?
Many people may feel that they are capable of being purely logical when it comes to decision making, though, we are actually emotional and then we rationalize it.
Antonio Damasio found that emotions are central to our decision making process. In a study where patients lost the part of the brain where they feel emotions, they would spend five hours choosing between a blue pen or a black pen or a red pen.
They would deliberate for one choice, then on another choice. So they would continue on and on.
What emotion does, is it puts more weight on one decision over the other.
When people try and logically decide on a choice, they quickly overwhelm the executive function of the brain called the prefrontal cortex. Surprisingly, the prefrontal cortex is fairly limited in how much information it can process at any one time. It can only hold up to seven bits of information at any one moment before it becomes overwhelmed.
So if we are thinking about doing something, we block ourselves, we block our emotions. The best thing really is to follow your intuitive feelings because there is more wisdom contained in them than you are aware of.
These feelings actually arise before you are even consciously aware of them. The subconscious mind makes millions of calculations a second from your internal state and external environment, which then bubble up as "hunches" on how to act.
So, your best bet really is, "don't think, feel."
About the blog
Luke Shao and Master Wang are on a mission to share the ancient Chinese approach to acquiring any skill.