I'm in full frontal fury busy writing my next book. At the end of each chapter I'm going to record conversations with a hand-picked monk and neuroscientist. (I met the monk at a conference called Wisdom 202 and immediately asked him to move in with Ed and I. The children had just left home and I was thinking of replacing them with a monk anyway so it was perfect.)
I'm completely riveted on what makes a human, human; how do we have thoughts? How do we feel emotions, what are they and how do they happen? I love this stuff and would study it even if I wasn't writing a book. I'm writing about emotions today and am knee deep in the research. Here's some of my findings: we've had emotions for around 100 million years, while language in the timeline of our evolution is maybe a half an hour (again I may not be exact). I'm always so intrigued with those timelines, which are an attempt by some crazy fanatic to give an easy to understand history of how long everyone's been around and what we've been doing based on a 24-hour clock. Usually it begins with, "if the big bang happened at midnight then at about 11:40 pm dinosaurs appeared. At 11:41pm they were gone. At 11:56pm apes showed up. At 11:58 two humans made their entrance and for the next few minutes there was a profusion of fashion wars as styles came and went and came again; buffalo skins, codpieces, fans, pointy wimple hats, wigs for men, the mini, Marks and Spencer's underpants and, at a nanosecond to midnight, Donald Trump became President of the United States and that about finished off existence as we know it. Now, we're just waiting for the black hole to suck us back in and start again but with no mistakes this time.
Ok, so back to emotions. When we feel a pang in our chest, it might be a signal we're in love, either that or we have acid reflux (to me they feel the same). I wasn't sure when I met Ed if he was the 'one' or I had eaten a bad pickle. A stab in the abdomen can also be confusing - worry or wind? Call the police or find a toilet?
We need language to be able to label feelings; to make sense of them. Without words, we'd be like an emotional washing machine on ultra-high with no 'off' switch. If you try to repress them, they will eventually erupt like Vesuvius when you least expect. Suddenly out of nowhere, one Christmas morning, you'll try to beat your mother-in-law over the head with a plunger and you'll never know why.
If feelings do become overwhelming, you can deal with them because luckily some biologist in the second half of the 20th century was looking for a cure for tuberculosis and accidentally tripped upon the recipe for antidepressants. Around the same time, some guy in Australia found that the lithium he was giving guinea pigs made them docile (why he was giving them lithium I do not know) and founded bipolar medication. And to this day there are very few manic-depressive guinea pigs, which is a good thing. They were getting too crazy, zipping around on their running wheels all night for months, buying thousands of pounds' worth of food pellets and selling them the next day.
Soon afterwards, scientists found that tiny molecules transported to the brain could banish anxiety. Hello Valium, welcome Xanax. This is still a very popular emotion squasher - no matter what language we use to describe our feelings.
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Want to learn more about mindfulness, and being conscious of your feelings? You can buy Ruby's no. 1 best selling book A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled online and from all good bookshops.