Recently, a friend sent me news of a unique collaboration. The Dalai Lama had asked an American scientist to help him form an Atlas of Emotions.
Dr. Paul Ekman surveyed scientists in related fields the world over to find some consensus on the nature of emotions and the moods and states they produce. The Dalai Lama said the concept of mood is missing from the Tibetan worldview so he was delighted by it.
The research led to 5 categories of emotions: anger, fear, disgust, sadness and enjoyment.
You may recognize the 5 characters in the Disney film Inside Out. Ekman was a consultant on the film.
The research then led to a collaboration to map the Atlas, described here.
You can see the resulting Atlas of Emotions here.
Each emotion has an elaborate subset of states, triggers, actions and moods.
They express into more specific emotions called states that have characteristic “shapes”, though you may individually organize them a bit differently. Notice the “envelope” shape of the states – they vary by the style of emotion. Also the height indicates intensity.
Those states can be triggered by specific circumstances and can drive specific kinds of actions. The further down the process we get, the more individual this will be. Each person develops their own triggers from past experiences, for example.
Triggers would inherently be associated with what I call a charge, an unresolved energetic dynamic. We can also call this an undigested experience. When something reminds us of that, we get emotionally triggered and that causes a response. (Action)
Notice that this is quite distinct from a physical response, such as to intense heat. That may also trigger an emotional response but if there is no old charge, the emotional reaction will be brief or neutral.
If the current emotion or state doesn’t resolve, it leads to Moods – “a longer lasting cousin” of the emotion.
The Atlas is not designed as peer-reviewed research but rather to summarize current understanding and to visualize the dynamics.
The point here is NOT to intellectualize how we feel. Concepts about emotions are simply concepts. They do not help us come to any resolution nor to experience them. What the Dalai Lama seeks is to help you be more conscious of your emotional states and through that, reach a calm state. Inner peace.
From the perspective of this blog, it is very useful to be conscious of our emotional states. Not so much intellectually but with emotional awareness. That can help us acknowledge how we are and digest recent experiences. But it doesn’t tend to resolve old charges very effectively.
In my experience, a deep effortless meditation supplemented with skilled energy healing is more effective. The deep meditation brings the calm state being sought, and that helps resolve emotions and reduce moods. We can then use healing techniques for the harder nuts.
What also struck me about the Atlas (and the Inside Out movie) is the colours associated with the emotions. When seen, the gunas or core qualities of energy have specific colours. Their interplay leads to the qualities of our inner world and the world around us.
Golden is Sattva (clarity) is joy
Red is Rajas (fire) is anger
Blue is Tamas (inertia) is sadness
Fear is purple, a blend of blue and red. There is some validity to that guna combination.
Disgust is correctly green, but green would be a blend of sattva and tamas, which doesn’t align to me. It’s also not that useful to see emotions as a spectrum. The core emotions are distinct flavours, not degrees.
For example, the old saying that ‘in anger is fear’. Fear can be seen as a more fundamental emotion than anger, a survival instinct. Disgust is also is like fear, but in a different way.
If we look at them in terms of attraction and aversion, 4 of them are aversion emotions – responses to things we’d rather avoid. Only Joy is attractive, something we try to hold on to. This gives you a sense of why happiness is so important for people. And why some problematic behavior results from grasping at it. We can also perhaps see how easy it is to fall into a personal hell, immersed in aversion to life experiences.
Also notice that Love and Compassion are not listed. I would consider this accurate. Love is another attractor but I would consider it a feeling, not an emotion in the same way the others are.
To understand what I mean here, we can consider the koshas or “energy bodies”. The emotions are expressions of the energy or prana body. The fine feelings are associated with the intuitive or intellect body, more subtle than the mind.
We can also associate the 4 aversive emotions with the lower 3 chakras but love and real joy are associated with the heart and throat chakras. Bliss itself is not driven by an emotional state. We can certainly categorize some forms of happiness as the high end of the emotion. But sustained happiness and bliss are deeper than that and not driven by triggers. Similarly, emotional attachment in a relationship is not the same as the flow of unconditional love.
The point of this exploration is to discover your true nature. All of it.