Tag Archives: Emotion

Owlfoolery (awake after midnight)

It was the sound of a mournful puppy that drew me outside.

I’d meant to be in bed an hour earlier, but I just kept finding excuses to stay up a little later.  I wasn’t actually accomplishing anything, of course.  Just puttering around the house, unwilling to give up on a day that was almost over anyway.

11:58pm.

Ugh!

I’d finally decided that enough was enough, and was locking up, when I heard the noise.

Sad puppy, somewhere down the street it sounded like, making a noise somewhere between a whine and a bark.

I turned the deadbolt on my front door.  Not my problem.

The sound came again, and I turned the bolt the other way.

Stepping out, the night air was cool and moist.

The last few weeks, here in North Texas, have seen more rain and thunder than anything else.  It had rained, on and off, for most of the day, but for the moment the clouds seemed to be minding their own business, scudding their way across a grey sky and a few blurry looking stars.

I stepped out into the middle of the yard, away from the porch-light, and as I did, the strange yelping sound came again, and again – close!  And a strange blunt shape hurdled through the air from the side of my house and landed in the low branches just to my left.

Before I could fully register what had happened, the first shape was followed by a second, which flew past its fellow, and into the branches just a few feet in front of me.  The branches, just an arms length out of my reach, dipped low with an unseen weight, and that strange ‘puppy’ cry sounded again.

I turned back toward the first shape in time to see it launch itself toward and then past the second shape, its course curving through the branches, and coming to rest a little higher and on my right.  Its small, compact shape only dimly visible in the reflected glow of my porch light.  An owl.

Owls!

The second owl launched himself high up into the branches, lost completely to my view, until I heard it land, again to my left, very near to where his friend had first touched down, and the circle was repeated.

Once…,

…twice more, before they vanished off into the night, and I was left there, standing alone in my front yard, grinning like an idiot and truly awake again for the first time in months.

Flying Owl

I listen to a lot of National Public Radio, and a couple weeks ago I tuned into a program discussing studies that had been conducted, showing that emotions are not just things of the mind, but that they possess a physical component.

The claim ran something like this: If you are sad, maybe you slouch and shuffle, maybe you frown, maybe you gesture and speak in a certain manner.  These are the bodies physical expressions of your emotional state.  The unexpected twist, is that according to multiple studies, if you slouch and shuffle, if you frown and gesture and speak in a certain manner, despite the fact that you are actually happy, you will BECOME sad.  The connection between mind and body runs both ways, and the mind will respond to the actions of the body with an alteration in mood.

In the days that have passed since I listened to that program (and for the life of me, I can’t remember which show it was), I have read a number of blog posts, from various writers, which all seem to touch, in one way or another, upon the subject of Orthopraxy versus Orthodoxy.

That is, Right Action versus Right Belief.

Certain religions of a monotheistic persuasion, hold that correct belief (i.e. the one true way) is the foundation upon which personal salvation rests.  From this perspective if you believe in the proper things in the proper way, your actions will follow suit and a glorious afterlife awaits.

On the other hand, if you are found to have committed incorrect actions (sins), the likely cause was your own failure to believe properly, or fully enough, to override your sinful nature.

Polytheists, on the other hand, reject the concept of ‘personal salvation’ and tend to be more Orthopraxic in nature.  When you believe in more than one god, and when the wants and desires of those gods vary, sometimes to the point of being contradictory, believing in anything like ‘One True Way’ is problematic at best.

What’s more, as pointed out in this excellent post over at the Shrine of Antinous, Polytheism is, “Not About Belief. Belief may flow from experience, and may impact practice (in fact, it should!); but, belief does not delimit experience nor determine practice.”

Experience and practice should be the root of belief.

Without action, belief is of little value.

We are what we do, and if we stop doing anything, what are we then?

***

When we act like we are sad, we become sad.

And when, to please others, or to mollify certain hurts among our loved ones, we set aside the things that we do and say, the things that inform our beliefs and make us who and what we are…,

…we sleep, and our beliefs become mere dreams, unfulfilled.

I have allowed myself to fall into this restless slumber.

The connection I once felt with the natural world, and with the otherworld beyond, has faded through lack of use.

I was worried, for a time, that it had vanished completely.

Until a few nights ago, when a pair of screech owls decided to play a game of leapfrog in the trees above me, turning circles around me in the night.  They were only there for a few seconds, and then they were gone, my laughter following them into the darkness.  But they left me awake to something I had almost forgotten.

It is time to start doing things again.

It is time to start being again.

It’s after midnight, and I’m wide awake!

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Filed under Culture, Modern Life, Nature, Philosophy, Religion, Spiritual Journey

A Matter of Temperament

A Polytheist, a Monotheist and an Atheist walk into a bar…,

Okay, there wasn’t a bar involved; it just sounded more amusing that way.

Sometimes at work, when time and energy allow, we find ourselves debating the big (and even medium sized) questions which have long plagued mens souls.  During one such recent late shift, a trio of us were knocking around that old standby: “What is the Meaning of Life?”.

The time spent on the actual topic was fairly short as both the Polytheist (yours truly) and the Atheist agreed that there really wasn’t a single (capital ‘M’) meaning to life.  Along the way, however, we touched on a number of other topics and I began to notice a funny inconsistency in the beliefs of my fellows which, in retrospect, I should have seen long before.

This is the Wheel of Emotions developed by Dr. Robert Plutchick in the early 1980’s and used to illustrate the relationships between the various emotions and how they all appear to interconnect.

People have some very contradictory beliefs about so called “Human Emotion”.

On the one hand, we like to see emotions, particularly the complex ones, as a handy line that separates us from what we choose to consider lesser creatures.  Love, hate, compassion and grief are seen as the particular provence of human kind.  These things show that we have big complicated brains capable of reasoning beyond our simple hungers for food, sex and shelter.

A swarm of bees may appear to be angered when a bear damages it’s hive in search of honey, but we assume that they do not HATE the bear.  Likewise, the bear, while certainly drawn to the honey by it’s sweet taste, could not be experiencing anything like JOY while lapping it up from within a cloud of FRUSTRATED stinging insects.

We have been warned time and again, against anthropomorphizing the lesser beasts.  Your cat does not LOVE you.  Your dog is not FAITHFUL.  They just want you to give them food and attention and shelter.

Animals, we have been told, are not like us.  They do not experience complex emotions, they do not have language and they don’t make tools.  These are things that only humans do.

Except…,

In recent years the behavioral scientists have had to do a bit of backtracking in the areas of animal language and tool making.  Silly old reality, getting in the way of academic hubris.

Ah well, at least they got one out of the three correct, right?  You can, at the very least, rest assured that your dog does not love you and your cat did not piss on the bed because he was angry that you were gone all day.  Humanity is still safely and securely above the station of the lesser beasts.

But what about deity?

During our debate my co-workers (the Monotheist and the Atheist) both expressed serious doubt when I suggested that the gods were capable of emotion.  Both of them made the suggestion that crude human emotion was beneath the station of such advanced beings (should such beings “hypothetically” exist).

It was even suggested that God, as some all-encompassing force or intelligence, would be emotionless.  Imagine an all powerful being of pure rationality but somehow incapable of either wrath or compassion.  In all honesty, the idea made me shudder.

You want a dispassionate god who runs us through his little mazes until he is done with us? I give you Ridley Scott’s “Engineers” from Prometheus.

I realize now that I’ve heard this theme (in a few variations) repeated many times before.

Sometimes, like in this instance, the divine is said to be above lowly human emotions.  I find it odd that the very thing that is said to show our superiority to the rest of the animal world should be, for some reason, lacking in that which is seen to be above our station?

Often, it’s just the so called “negative” emotions to which God is said to be superior.  Typically, the catchphrase for these believers is: “God is Love”.  I usually hear this argument from New Agers and from those Christians who choose to ignore the first 39 books in their Bible.  I find the deity that these folks imagine far too saccharine for my tastes and an unlikely candidate for ultimate authority in our rather “rough and tumble” universe.

Most often, I hear human emotion trotted out as the reason the gods of myth are either unworthy of worship or were simply made up by men long ago.  “In the stories,” I have been told, “the gods act just like people.  They get angry or jealous or lustful with each other.  They make war with each other and with mankind.  The gods, if they were truly superior, would act better than we do.  They wouldn’t be subject to love or sorrow or fear.  They would be above those things.”

It’s an interesting theory.  We mortals can hate and love because we are above the animals but the gods cannot hate and love because they are above us.

If it is the degree to which we are capable of feeling emotion that indicates our superiority, wouldn’t beings that were superior to us experience emotion to an even greater degree?  Might not some of them exist as living personifications of those emotions – just like the mythology suggests?

I am forced to wonder if the gods are exempt from language skills and tool making as well.  Questions for another day, I suppose.

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Filed under Mythology, Philosophy, Religion, The Gods