POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE EMOTIONS
by Stuart Goodnick
The notion of "Avoiding the Expression of Negative Emotions" has been misconstrued in many expositions of the work and in many people's practice. The problem comes about with the semantics of the term "Negative Emotion." What is a "Negative Emotion?" Most people who read about this Work idea assume that a negative emotion is a "bad" emotion such as anger or hurt or sadness. They assume that a negative emotion is any emotion that seems to make one lose control, one that might make a person appear weak and reactionary.
When someone interprets negative emotions in this way, they very quickly set up a conceptual hierarchy of "good" feelings versus "bad" feelings. They tend to suppress the "bad" feelings and associate right conduct with the expression of "good" feelings. Their idea of proper work with the emotional center is only to express "approved" emotions. "Approved" emotions are only the ones that express a so-called proper relationship between oneself and the Work. When groups engage in the practice of this particular interpretation of "negative emotions," the results are the often comical if sad manifestations of 4th Way groupies: self-seriousness, the fierce need to set people straight about the correct interpretation of the words of Gurdjieff or Ouspensky, the tendency to see Types rather than people, a work-ethic verging on self-flagellation, etc. These manifestations are all examples of wrong work on the emotional center. They are best understood as "Emotional Constipation."
A clearer understanding of the idea of not expressing negative emotions begins with the distinction between negative emotions and positive emotions. A positive emotion is a feeling or emotion that arises spontaneously in response to the immediate moment. The emotional center responds to the Universe with feelings. Whatever the particular feeling, if it arises genuinely in response to the immediate state of the Universe, it is positive. A negative emotion is a feeling or emotion that arises in response to a thought, a memory, an analysis of past events. It is a feeling that arises in response to the activity of False Personality, (or as referred to in our own school, the Android). It has no genuine connection with what is happening in the moment; it is a reflected emotion, generated by automatic or mechanical, as opposed to natural, organic processes; it is an artificial emotion. Hence the term, "negative." Gurdjieff has described the mis-wiring of centers, how the energy of one center can interfere with the activity of another center, etc. Negative emotions are the means by which the Android, or False Personality, is able to use the intellectual center to manipulate the energy of the emotional center.
Now this can understandably be confusing to an inexperienced student encountering this idea. For example, suppose you are engaged in a business deal. You might be satisfied with the negotiations at the moment and even pleased with the deal. Later on, as you begin to think about what happened, you may decide that you "left money on the table." You may start to feel manipulated and angry at the situation. In this case, the sense of satisfaction could well have been a positive emotion, while the anger later on is definitely negative. In another example, you may be in an emotional argument with your significant other. Your significant other might say something hurtful. Rather than show this hurt, you start telling yourself that the other person didn't really mean it. Eventually you calm yourself down to the point that you think the comment was even a little amusing. In this case, the feeling of hurt is the positive emotion and the feeling of calm amusement is the negative emotion.
Positive emotions are the domain of Essence and negative emotions are the domain of the Android. It takes a great deal of practice and a heightened sense of discernment to recognize in one's self the distinction between positive and negative emotions. So many of our buffers exist to shield our awareness from our own positive emotions. Most of us begin this work awash in negative emotions. We do not know how we really feel. Our feelings are entirely mediated by the Android. In a school setting, the practice of not expressing negative emotions is intended to break this cycle and permit us to begin to gather data on our positive emotions through Self-Observation. As generally formulated, however, this practice is incomplete. A better formulation would be: "make efforts to express positive emotions and not to express negative emotions."
Let us first examine the notion of not expressing negative emotions. Emotions and feelings are sources of energy in our organism. The expression of emotion represents the channeling of this energy throughout our organism. The part of ourselves that is responsible for channeling this energy gets turned on or brought to the fore. Any broadcasting of emotions from our organism engenders a reciprocal response from the Universe in the form of feedback. This feedback, whether from another person or from life situations themselves, is received by that part of ourselves that has been brought to the fore in our manifestation. This feedback then forms an impression that feeds the part of ourselves that was responsible for the manifestation. When we express a negative emotion, the energy we broadcast to the Universe is directed by the Android. The reciprocal impression that we receive back from the Universe becomes food for the Android and allows it to grow. Growth of the Android means the creation of more I's and the deepening of mechanical behavior.
When we express a positive emotion, we bring Essence to the fore, and the energy we broadcast to the Universe is directed by our Essence. The reciprocal impression that we receive back from the Universe in this instance becomes food for the Essence and allows it to grow. Growth of Essence means the maturing of our true Selves and the deepening of Being. The challenge we face in a school environment with the expression of positive emotions is that this process will always seem to the Android as if we are losing control. It was to deal with this very danger of emotional vulnerability that we originally created the Android. The Android can be very crafty in coming up with ways to prevent us from expressing positive emotions. The misunderstanding of the practice of non-expression of negative emotions described in the beginning of this article is perhaps one of the craftiest. In a school situation, real results come only when one is willing to "stick one's neck out." Sticking one's neck out means expressing positive emotions. As Gurdjieff said, "essence learns by demonstration." Even in a school, we can only learn by being willing to expose our young, immature Essence, through the expression of positive emotions, to the demonstrations of mature Essence that a only a genuine teacher can provide.
The practice of non-expression of negative emotions is very different from simply repressing negative emotions. To the best of one's ability, one attempts to observe fully the flow of such mechanical emotion in relation to the inner dialog of the Android. One attempts to observe and acknowledge the proceeding internal manifestation without giving any outward indication of this process. The benefit of this practice is that the emotional energy that would ordinarily have served only to feed the Android can now be used to feed one's efforts at Self-Observation. In this transformation, one's Observer is strengthened and one's capacity for discernment deepened. When one merely supresses negative emotions, not only do they not go away, the energy required to maintain this suppression strengthens and makes more persistent these aspects of the Android. The negative emotion also then generally leaks out in other ways of which one may be completely unaware. Similarly, when one represses positive emotions, one also does so through the agency of the Android. The energy of these emotions becomes "stuck" and as mentioned above, one becomes emotionally constipated. The emotional center becomes distorted and dull.
To summarize, proper work with emotions involves the effort not only to practice the non-expression of negative emotions but also to express genuine positive emotions. Both are necessary for proper Essence transformation. These are extremely powerful methods that are best conducted in the context of a school with a guide(s) who can help one cultivate one's ability to discern the difference between positive versus negative emotion. The superficial treatment that the "non-expression of negative emotions" gets in most public material on the Work is the worst form of wiseacring. It can easily lead to a severe distortion of the emotional center. If by some miracle one manages to still retain some wherewithal to continue in the Work after having practiced this pseudo-technique, then one will require a correspondingly larger kick in the pants to move forward than will someone lucky enough to be starting their Work uncluttered by such a history.