Q: Which comes first: thoughts or emotions?

A few of the leading authors  I’m following state that the feelings are primary, and the thoughts are secondary, i.e., the emotions and feelings come first and thereby create the thoughts. Most neurosciences teach, however, that it’s the other way around: that feelings and emotions are the byproduct of thoughts.

One might be tempted to settle the matter with the conclusion that it doesn’t really matter. But why does my mind want to argue that it does? Does his perspective “rattle” my paradigm of having some “control” over thought and thereby emotions ?

What’s your take on this ?

A: My take is that thoughts, feelings and desires are all part of a spectrum, and it is hard to separate them into definitive categories. They all are activity of the body/mind and so they all can generate more of each other. A thought can trigger feelings and desires. A feeling can trigger thoughts and desires, and desires are especially powerful at triggering lots of thoughts and feelings.

To me the important question is how true is my current thought, feeling or desire. And I have an experiential definition of truth: truth is what opens your heart and quiets the mind. Something that is less true (or real, relevant, and meaningful in the moment)  has the opposite effect: it contracts your heart (or your sense of self) and makes your mind busier.

Any thought, feeling or desire that contracts your sense of self and makes your body/mind busier with more thoughts, feelings and desires is not bad or wrong, it simply is not very true. And that means it is not a good guide for action. In contrast, if a particular thought, feeling or desire relaxes and expands your awareness and quiets the mind, then it is an important and relevant thought in that moment and can be trusted.

Thoughts, feelings and desires are neither good nor bad, and they all contain at least some truth and some relevance (although sometimes very little). My favorite example of a small truth is a lottery ticket: it is undeniably true that you can win, but unfortunately, it is not very true. In fact it is a ridiculously small truth! However, focusing on the idea of winning the lottery can contract your awareness and make your mind very busy….without actually accomplishing anything meaningful.

There is no need to control, deny or repress any thought, feeling or desire. Instead you can measure them with your heart centered wisdom and see how true and important they really are. This puts them into perspective, which is what frees you from being unduly influenced by something that is not very true for you, and also what allows you to know when something is important and true for you in the moment.

What you likely will discover is that most thoughts, feelings and desires are not very true. That is just the nature of mind generated reality. It does not need to have relevance or much truth for your mind to be involved with it.

I often say the mind is good at thinking of things, it just is not any good at discriminating how true something is. To the mind, every thought, feeling and desire seems completely true. It is the heart or our deeper awareness that is capable of distinguishing a small truth from a big truth. It is possible to learn to trust your inner guidance by noticing and trusting your awareness when it contracts and also when it opens.