Running their Course
This piece is going ask you to imagine your emotions as if they were a stream running through a series of waterwheels. The result of the force of the water turning various wheels would be differing expressions of emotion.
So to begin, let’s start by saying that the emotional circuitry in the brain has many levels and many connections between levels. Let’s say that there are base levels of this system that are in the older part of the brain, which generally correlates to the physically lower placed areas, particularly the brainstem.
An event occurs , and the brain responds, depending on what we witness and on what our associations are , “streams of emotional response” move through various parts of the emotional networks, old and deep, newer and towards the top.
Now what if we were to say that the older networks convert almost all of their energy into direct emotion, whereas the newer networks, farthest removed from the brainstem, convert a much smaller percentage of their energy into direct emotion. That is because the newer would have much more interchange with non emotional circuitry. This means there would be more thinking about what happened, looking at alternative views, weighing memories of what happened in the past against this event, thinking about the potential consequences of reacting, thinking of alternative responses, among the many other routes to channel the energy.
Now I am going to ask you to imagine one more thing. Imagine that all the emotional circuitry has been mapped out (it hasn’t). Imagine that we knew the exact percentage of energy passing though each level of the emotional circuitry that is converted directly into emotion. For example let’s say 85% of the energy passing through the waterwheels of the brainstem emotional systems goe directly into emotion without any consideration for meaning, consequence, options, etc. Let’s say too that at that level, most of the emotion is going to go into unreflective action. Let’s say that at the midbrain level it’s somewhere in the 50% level, at the cortical level it is somewhere at the 20% level, and at the prefrontal cortex, it might be 10%. If you could imagine all that and the differences between processing at the older, more baseline levels and the newer more articulated ones, a picture emerges.
As the water courses through the waterwheels, different people have different percentages of their flow at different levels of the system. So depending for each person on where they predominate their energy as they process emotion, from top to bottom of this complex circuitry, that’s how much their emotions is balanced by perspective.
Going to percentages again, if a person had 33% in the cortex, 33% in the midbrain and 33% in the brainstem , it would be relatively balanced between reactions that go straight into emotion, and those that hae other consideration/stream though higher parts of the waterwheel system.
With 60% in the brainstem and 40% everywhere else, we’d be imagining a person who has a much higher percentage of their energy streaming though reaction and emotion.
I would suppose that each of us has a certain percentage, though there is of course no way of calculating that at this time. But I think it is a useful image, something to weigh our responses by and to imagine where you would like your own %’s to be. In the end we are saying that the amount of emotional energy a person has is distributed through a complex system of circuitry and the degree to which you can distribute it up will determine the degree to which you are consciously managing your emotions or just reacting to the world around you. And in my idea of well balanced, we also don’t want 10% in the lower areas and 90% in the higher, no emotion, not moved – not good either.
So when you read this, think about the images of waters flowing through different parts of the system. Think about where yours feel like they are distributed. Notice when the balance shifts from high to low or vice versa. Balance is always what we are seeking, now you have a way to visualize it.