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The personal blog of Frank Lesko. Award-winning writer. Non-profit entrepreneur. Activist. Religious professional. Foodie. Musician. All around curious soul and Renaissance man.

See also my professional blog: The Traveling Ecumenist.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Newton's Laws of Emotions

Newton's Laws of Physics offer us a great way to understand emotions in our lives. 'Energy cannot be created or destroyed, only transferred from one form to another.' This is how emotions work in us, as well.

When someone hurts you, for example, you are a changed person. Energy has been directed toward you. It has an 'equal and opposite reaction' in you. You can't wish it away or pretend it is not there. Their action has led to a reaction in you. Let's say that reaction is anger. If you try to ignore it, that anger will nevertheless still be there. It will probably eat away at you. Your need to squash it down in order to conduct your daily business will impact your ability to share emotions in other spheres of your life, because it takes energy to hold it back. The only option for your health is to find a way to release it.

One of my favorite songs is Van Morrison's "You Don't Pull No Punches, But You Don't Push The River." The wisdom in the title of the song follows much of what I'm saying about Newton's Laws: Energy can't be pushed or forced completely contrary to its nature. The energy we are talking about can be a particular emotion (like anger) or the overall flow of your spirit. That doesn't mean you give up and quit working hard in your life. i.e. you don't pull any punches. We are more than creatures of impulse. Just know what you can and cannot do.

You can't push a river. Imagine jumping in the Cuyahoga and trying to push against the flowing current with your hands. It is asurd. What you can do is channel the river.

The best way to handle anger is not to unleash it on whoever happens to be in your vicinity. The anger is a river, and it must flow. You can direct that anger toward a punching bag or maybe write about it in your journal. You can scream at the top of your lungs or go for a run. You can participate in healthy conflict resolution with other people, which will effectively resolve the anger while at the same time not passing it on to someone else. That often involves going directly to the person who has hurt you and talking out your feelings in a calm manner. One way or another, that energy has a force of its own and must be dealt with--or it will deal with you.

Like Newton says, you can't create it or destroy it. If you make someone else angry, you are most likely transferring your own anger to them, or triggering some of their own hidden anger. You are turning their love into fear, which begets anger. This is why violence and all evil is a chain reaction. One person's hurt compels them them hurt another, which in turn causes that person to lash out at someone else. This continues until someone breaks the chain by turning that anger back into love. Christian tradition has had an intuitive understanding of this in seeing Abel as the source of violence in the world. Its as if people knew that violence was an unbroken chain, and someone had to have been the first to set it in motion.

In a likewise manner, we can't simply will ourselves to change our very nature. I have seen this countless times when people have tried to impose a rigid system of morality on themselves only to "relapse" and fall completely to the opposite. You are who you are. You can't--and shouldn't--try to change yourself to your core. What you can do is cut yourself some slack. You are God's creation and remember God said that you are "good." This doesn't mean that we go through life abdicating responsibility for the consequences of our actions just because they are "in our nature." Like I said earlier, we are more than creatures of impulse. The point I am making is that whenever we are able to "do the right thing" in this life, I think it is wrapped up somehow in working with our nature rather than completely against it.

The good news is that love is an energy, just like anger. I have found that the energy of love is much more subtle, but more more powerful. Its like slow cooking rather than flash and burn.

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