The Path of Scales

Veronika Bond The Horizon

‘The Horizon’, Part 3, Chapter 20: about Disturbance as a healing impulse, what biosophy can learn from philosophers and poets, and an overview of the Path of Scales

 

“Feelings come over us and sweep us along like the winds.”Hermann Schmitz

Feelings are a universal language. Anthropologists have taught us that the basic language of emotions is spoken and understood in all cultures. This means we are able to communicate — albeit rudimentarily — with people from all over the world without words  through feelings and emotions.

Yet this language also causes great misunderstandings between people living under the same roof and in an identical native tongue. It can produce miscommunications even within ourselves.

Emotions are messengers from the inner world. They carry important information, private notices. These are highly significant for the experiencer — if we only knew how to read them.

Here we are faced with one of the great paradoxes of human Consciousness: On one hand we are fluent in the language of emotions; it is the first form of communication of every human infant. On the other hand we have a tendency to misunderstand our own feelings. We end up living under the shadows of fear, guilt, anger, despair, envy, greed or grief. What are they trying to tell us?

In the infant phase we are free to be ruled by our emotions. We simply act on their impulses. But soon enough we have to learn that this is not the way to communicate as humans growing up in a manmade world.

That’s where the confusion starts. Our own feelings, the first language we were born with, turns into gibberish.

The philosopher Hermann Schmitz (born 1928) attempts to clear the confusion by defining feelings as ‘half-things’. One moment they are there, the next they disappear. When they reappear we instantly recognise them. We give them names. They can even look and feel very similar in different people.

Hermann Schmitz describes feelings as atmospheres. He says, “there are no feelings that I have, but only feelings that have me; they are not subjective acts but superior subjective forces which pervade the vastness in which we live, as if atmospherically, come over us and sweep us along like the winds.”

Despite this impersonal definition, which makes a lot of sense, our emotions feel very personal to us. They feel as if they were our own private affair.

 

“‘Despair is pure experience.”Søren Kierkegaard

When emotional suffering is intense and persistent, it can make us think about the meaning of life. Not surprisingly the phenomenon of human emotion has inspired the life’s work of many philosophers. Here are three examples:

Arthur Schopenhauer (1788 — 1860) believed that our ability to think about our suffering produces a particular form of suffering, known as world-weariness, “or suffering as a basic condition of human existence.”
This is a desperation about the human existence, and it can take away all sense of meaning. The experience not only increases our suffering, it also becomes a fertile soil for all expressions of evil, which lie dormant within human nature.

Søren Kierkegaard  (1813 — 1855) suggested that truth reveals itself through subjective experience. He searched for the existential inner meaning behind external events — usually events belonging to the darker spectrum of the emotional human life.

“What drives to despair must come from the outside,” Kierkegaard wrote, “and despair is pure experience.”

The greatest despair, he says, comes from an inner unattainable wish to be a different person, or an even more desperate yearning to be oneself.

Max Scheler (1874 — 1928) developed a philosophy of emotionality. He differentiated between degrees of depth of feelings, perceiving deeper emotions as closer to the ‘I’.

Scheler describes the emotional complexity of the human personality. He makes a clear distinction between emotional states and functions of feelings. The phenomenon of suffering is not only an emotional condition, he says, it also involves feeling as an activity.

The quality and intensity of suffering depends on our attitude towards our own feelings — i.e. how we experience and approach our emotional state.
Max Scheler also describes suffering as a form of ‘purification’. He suggests the development of an accepting attitude towards your own suffering — embracing it as a kind of ‘growing pain’, also mentioned before him by Friedrich Nietzsche.

He recognises that deep suffering cannot be relieved by fighting against it. However, it is possible to relieve the pain, even eliminate it, by choosing the path of non-resistance.

 

“It is not quite certain that the man who eats cakes rather greedily is acting from passion.”Galenos of Pergamum

Over 2000 years before Hermann Schmitz, Arthur Schopenhauer, Søren Kierkegaard and Max Scheler a group of philosophers in ancient Greece were thinking and writing about the phenomenon of human emotions. They were known as the Stoics.

In stoicism, emotions were called pathos (in Greece), or passions (in Rome). This explains why the word passion carries two different meanings: passion in the sense of suffering refers to painful feelings; and passion in the sense of fervour relates to pleasant emotions.

The stoic philosophers differentiated between avoidable pathos and unavoidable propatheia (or antepassio in Latin). The propatheia are ‘preliminary passions’, defined as involuntary feelings. They come up unexpectedly and cannot be controlled.

A preliminary passion can be a sudden fright, panic, anger, grief, envy or any other felt experience. The movement from the preliminary passion to the actual emotion is — in Stoic philosophy — dependent on the judgement of the experiencer.

The Stoics identified eight preliminary passions: thoughts of gluttony, fornication, avarice, distress, anger, listlessness, vanity, and pride. The highest ideal of the Stoics was to reach a state of apatheia, translated as a freedom from emotions.

The basic idea was later adopted by the Christian doctrine, while being considerably distorted. The ‘8 preliminary passions’, which occur involuntarily, became the ‘7 deadly sins’, which should be avoided at all cost: Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Wrath, Envy and Pride.

However, not everybody agreed with the Stoics. Galenos of Pergamum, a famous Greek physician and philosopher, wrote in his book On the Passions and Errors of the Soul:

“When the soul is moderately upset over a great financial loss or a disgrace, it is no longer equally obvious whether this condition belongs to the genus of passions, just as it is not quite certain that the man who eats cakes rather greedily is acting from passion.”

In his book Emotion and Peace of Mind the philosopher Richard Sorabji (born 1934) mentions that the Stoics “seem to think emotion involves lack of control, in the sense of conflict with one’s better judgement.”

With this assumption they set up a fundamental conflict between the emotional Instinct and the rational Intellect. The Stoics tried to interpret the language of emotions by applying the rules and vocabulary of reason. No wonder they were confused and scared of their own feelings.

 

“Why do you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness, after all you don’t know what work these conditions are doing inside you?”Rainer Maria Rilke

Feelings and emotions remain the main ingredients of human experience. They can sweep us along like a strong wind, hang over us like a heavy storm cloud, break into us like a tidal wave.

Emotions are both private and public, individual and collective. Human life is shaped by our emotional experience and our attitude towards this experience.

The Stoic philosophy of ‘avoidable passions’ and the Christian concept of ‘deadly sins’ continue to hold us in their grip. They keep us stuck between the exposure to the vagaries of our inner emotional climate and the impossible challenge to control this inner climate with ‘pure reason’.

Over 2000  years of discrimination against our emotions should be enough to make us realise that any attempt to keep the emotional floods at bay with rational constructs doesn’t solve the problem.

There is, however, a relatively simple solution: When we meet our emotions on their own terms and speak to them in their own language — when we are able to face them free from any aggressive or defensive attitude — then we can receive the personal messages they carry, and the inner storms abate instantly.

This is what Rainer Maria Rilke recommended in his Letters to a Young Poet:

“So you mustn’t be frightened, dear Mr. Kappus, if a sadness rises in front of you, larger than any you have
ever seen; if an anxiety, like light and cloud-shadows, moves over your hands and over everything you do. You
must realise that something is happening to you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand
and will not let you fall. Why do you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness, any misery, any depression,
since after all you don’t know what work these conditions are doing inside you?
Why do you want to persecute yourself with the question of where all this is coming from and where it is going? Since you know, after all, that you are in the midst of transitions, and you wished for nothing so much as to change.”

It is not easy to stand in the presence of one’s own emotional forces as an attentive observer because they move us so deeply. The observer has to remain relatively detached, while being ‘attacked’ by an emotional onslaught. This can be tough. It seems like a contradiction.

Yet it is precisely the tension affectedness and detachment which enables us to use the natural emotional forces to our advantage.

Detachment here doesn’t mean to be distant and unaffected by the emotional experience. Quite the contrary. You have to be involved in the experience without being swamped by it. You have to feel the emotional storm, even identify with it, yet remain standing strong with the intention to fully grasp the event.

Whenever we receive a piece of emotional information and understand it fully, the energy of the emotion is released and becomes available for inner growth.

Compassion is the key to dissolving the inner tension. We need to practice compassion with our own emotional aspects. They are immature parts of ourselves and need some loving attention.

 

“When we communicate with our Instinct in its own vernacular, we can use emotional messages as reliable sources of information.”VB

In the Solo System emotions are defined as feelings charged with information. They belong to the expressions of the Instinct – one of the autonomous Faculties of human Consciousness.

We can distinguish between primary emotions — which arise spontaneously like the ‘preliminary passions’ of the Stoics — and secondary emotions — these are our emotional reactions to the primary spontaneous emotions.

Secondary emotions arise from our attitude towards our emotional states. They represent the 1st of the 4 challenges to our biosophical practice, mentioned in chapter 17: Meeting with resistance against personal negative experience.

Our resistance to facing negative emotions is understandable, given the fact that we are all more or less affected by the Stoic and Christian legacies of emotional suppression. The ‘passions’, which the Stoics hoped to eliminate, remain deeply entrenched in human Consciousness.

In her article I feel therefore I am Margaret Wertheim mentions that in the Middle Ages pain and suffering were very present aspects of the European mental landscape. They “were graphically depicted in representations of Hell, thereby reminding would-be sinners of the torments awaiting them in the afterlife if they didn’t make the right moral choices here on Earth.”

Negative emotions continue to be regarded with suspicion, either as a ‘moral fault’, or a ‘mental weakness’. Not that long ago high emotional sensitivity could lead to a diagnosis of insanity and lifelong confinement in a madhouse.

We have developed a strong resistance against facing our negative emotions based on a well documented ‘conflict between rational and irrational parts of the human mind’. But this apparent conflict is based on a false assumption, and it is upheld by the same error.

Margaret Wertheim reminds us that, “the baby of personal experience and conscious moral accountability was thrown out with the bathwater of the soul,” because of a dominant world view, which turned out to be untenable: the meanwhile outdated scientific model of the world as a machine. Now the baby of personal experience needs to be rescued and revived.

When we view our emotions as a form of language, with its own rules and vocabulary, when we learn to communicate with our Instinct in its own vernacular so to speak — free from rational interpretation — then we can use our emotional messages as reliable sources of information.

Every emotional disturbance signals a sensitive phase in individual human Consciousness. It points directly towards an immature aspect of ourselves which is ready to grow.

The Path of Scales is designed to help us decipher our emotional messages. Whenever we experience an emotional disturbance it feels as if the inner world is out of balance.

This process helps to restore the emotional balance while promoting inner growth. It is one of the most important and powerful processes of the Solo System.

The Path of Scales is ruled by the Faculty of the Instinct, and it stimulates Self-Compassion. When we meet an emotional disturbance with compassion we can immediately soften the resistance mentioned above.

The Path of Scales is suitable for the experience of any emotional disturbance. It is particularly helpful when an emotional reaction doesn’t make sense to the Intellect, when it seems ‘irrational’ and exaggerated.

The Path of Scales helps to develop emotional balance by learning to understand the language of your own emotions.

 

Overview of the Path of Scales

The Path of Scales is suitable for emotional DISTURBANCE, in particular when there is no ‘good reason’ for the inner turmoil.

1st Scales — Instinct — Turbulence

Something has thrown me off my inner emotional balance.

How do I feel?

Turn towards your emotions with compassion and listen to them. Spend time with them, hear what they are saying, and write it down.

2nd Scales — Imagination — Memory

All emotions are connected within our Consciousness. Metaphorically speaking, there is an ‘ocean of emotions’ in the inner world from where all emotional waves arise.

An emotional turbulence often triggers memories of previous painful and overwhelming experiences. They are all connected with the ‘original trauma’. Therefore emotional turmoil can often wash a ‘déjà vu’ experience ashore.

The memory can be either a personal experience or a story that stuck in your mind.

What does this emotional experience remind me of?

3rd Scales — Intuition — Theme

The emotional turbulence and the related memory have a common central theme.

What is the central theme of this emotional situation?

4th Scales — Inspiration — Vocation

Every negative emotional experience is immature. This means it has the potential to mature and grow up. Find out what this ‘immature entity’ in your Consciousness wants to be when it grows up. You can ask it directly:

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Remember to meet your immature emotional experience with compassion. Give it time and listen attentively.

5th Scales — Soul — Enthusiasm

The discovery of the potential of the immature entity arouses emotional excitement. The realisation of what we are capable of growing into feels exciting. This is what we call enthusiasm here.

Feel and describe the enthusiasm arising spontaneously from the revelation of the ‘vocation’ of the immature experience.

What does it feel like when I think of this as my life’s mission, or part of it?

6th Scales — Will — Empathy

An emotional experience always has two currents. The primary emotion moves from within outwards; it is followed by a counter current moving in the opposite direction. This is your emotional reaction to your own emotion.

At this step on the Path of Scales enthusiasm is the primary current, and it arises spontaneously. The counter current is empathy. This is the emotional response towards your own emotions which you can practice on this path.

Empathy means tuning into ‘feelings outside of yourself’. Empathy responds to our voluntary control at least partially. Nevertheless it is impossible to meet a negative emotion with empathy wholeheartedly, since it involves the Instinct, and the Instinct is autonomous.

At the previous step on the Path of Scales your horizon expanded. Now you see the life of your immature emotional entity in a larger context, and wholehearted empathy comes easy.

Give yourself some time and space to develop empathy with your emotional turbulence. Include all the steps: the memory, theme, vocation (related to its potential maturity) and the enthusiasm it triggered. Tune into this emotional state, feel it, and describe it to yourself.

What does it feel like to receive this level of empathy?

7th Scales — Body — Ritual

Now you have provided an internal ambience in which your immature emotional experience feels safe and can develop into a healthy mature expertise.

At this step on the Path of Scales you have an opportunity to anchor a healthy emotional atmosphere in your material reality.

A ‘personal Ritual’ is a simple activity you can perform by yourself in your current circumstances. It might only last 5 minutes. It can be a very mundane activity, such as taking a shower, going for a walk, or drinking a cup of tea. The most important aspect of the Ritual is that you engage in it wholeheartedly.

A personal Ritual can be performed once, or it may be repeated, as long as you are able to hold the ‘wholehearted empathy’ during the performance. Without this conscious emotional state the Ritual becomes empty, and empty Rituals are worthless.

What can I do today bring the experience of empathy with myself into my everyday life?

Identify a personal Ritual and perform it.

8th Scales — Intellect — Insight

In order to further stimulate this emotional growth process, the new comprehension needs to sink in at the level of the Intellect too.

At the final step on the Path of Scales give yourself a few more moments to let your newly found understanding ‘settle’ properly in your rational reality

What have I learned about myself on this Path? What new insights have I gained? 

 

“Love is what moves us.”Harry Frankfurt

The Path of Scales is designed to stimulate the development of compassion, starting with compassion for one’s own feelings. Although the ‘4-letter-word’ has not explicitly been used here, it should be obvious that compassion is closely related to love.

In an essay with the title The Dear Self, the contemporary philosopher Harry Frankfurt (born 1929) contemplates self-love. He uses the term interchangeably with wholeheartedness. This is a mental state marked by commitment and devotion. The heart is undivided by ambiguity, inner conflict, and self-doubt.

Harry Frankfurt believes self-love or “wholeheartedness is not easy to come by. It is very difficult for us to be satisfied with ourselves.”
Spinoza aspired to ‘self-love as the highest thing anyone can hope to attain’, and St. Augustine believed ‘the impediments to self-love can only be overcome by a miracle’.

If we want to grow beyond our emotional inner conflicts, developing a kind and compassionate attitude towards our own feelings moves us in the right direction. “Love is what moves us,” says Harry Frankfurt.

In the Solo System the practice of self-compassion offers a viable route towards self-love. It enables us to break the spell of self-condemnation and loosen the fetters of the ‘split-heartedness’ of our stoic heritage. This is not easy, but possible.

Here is a thought from Rainer Maria Rilke about love: “It is also good to love: because love is difficult.

For one human being to love another human being: that is perhaps the most difficult task that has been entrusted to us, the ultimate task, the final test and proof, the work for which all other work is merely preparation.

That is why young humans, who are beginners in everything, are not yet capable of love: it is something they must learn. With their whole being, with all their forces, gathered around their solitary, anxious, upward beating heart, they must learn to love.”

Loving oneself wholeheartedly nurtures the roots from which loving one’s own life, and other human beings, can grow. Wholeheartedness means entering a commited relationship without holding back. It includes sincerity, authenticity, generosity, and trust.

This attitude can heal the painful split in the human heart; that is what we practice on the Path of Scales.

 

References:

Harry Frankfurt, The Dear Self, 2001

Galen, On the Passions and Errors of the Soul, translation Paul W. Harkins, 1963

Tobias Hölterhof, Anthropologie des Leidens,  Leidensphilosophie von Schopenhauer bis Scheler, 2012

Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet, 1904

Hermann Schmitz, Atmosphären, 2014

Jens Soentgen, Die verdeckte Wirklichkeit, Einführung in die Neue Phänomenologie von Hermann Schmitz 1997

Richard Sorabji, Emotion and Peace of Mind, From Stoic Agitation to Christian Temptation, 2000

Margaret Wertheim, I feel therefore I am, how exactly did consciousness become a problem…, 2015

 

© Veronika Bond, 2017

This article is a draft of chapter 20 of The Horizon, volume 2 of The Solo System.

It is complemented by an e-letter, containing additional background information about the progress of the book and the creative process.

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Supplies for inner growth - the Friday Letter