“In a way, a change of emotion or mood is a change of brain and body.  Through different emotions human and non-human animals become different beings, beings that see differently, hear differently, move and act differently.  In particular, we human beings become different rational beings, and we think, reason, and reflect differently as our emotions change. ”

Maturana and Verden Zöller, The Origin of Humanness, p. 38

releasing a dynamic from “thingness”

The word “emotioning” is a neulogism, it is not (yet) found in the dictionary.  However, it follows a perfectly standard grammatical rule that enables what is usually a verb (e.g. run) to be used as a noun (e.g. running).  Thus it implicates that “emotion” should have been a verb, and we now have a noun form “emotioning” so we can refer to the general case of that happening. 

The point is, we want to have some way of bringing attention to the flow of relational behaviours, some way of releasing what is properly a dynamic process from the cage imposed on our understanding by treating it as if it were a thing, a phenomenon.  When people stumble on the new word “emotioning” it gives us a chance to explain.  And for ourselves, it reminds us to think in terms of action, and of a flow of actions. 

A. Durer, Melancholia (public domain)

we are different beings

Implicit in the understanding that emotions are domains of relational behaviours is that each domain has its own set of potential behaviours.  We know this from our own lives.  Who has not come home to a loved one who would like our tender attention - but we have just had a terribly frustrating or difficult day.  It is hard to switch.  In the emotion that pertains to the happenings we come from, tenderness and kissing and play are not potential behaviours.  We have to change our emotions to participate as our loved ones desire and deserve.

Most of us have also been in the situation of trying to engage with a deeply depressed friend.   We may be worried that he or she is not eating well.  Eating is not a behaviour that happens in deep depression.  And switching is not easy.  We cannot just tell our friend to “stop being so despondent” ... they cannot just stop. Changing to cheerfulness is not a potential behaviour in the emotion of depression.

What you may notice is that some emotions are stickier than others - they do not include the same potential for transitions to alternative emotions.  This is seen also in how fear sometimes shifts to anger rather than relief - for example when the “lost” child comes home.

“We move in the drift of our living following a path guided by our emotions.  As we interact our emotions may change; as we talk our emotions may change; as we reflect our emotions may change; as we act our emotions may change; as we think our emotions may change; as we emotion ... our emotions may change.  Moreover, as our emotions constitute the grounding of all our doings, they guide our living.  Indeed, as our emotions change, we become different beings in our emotioning and in our reasoning, and we live the flow of our emotioning most of the time without being aware of our changes.”

Maturana and Verden Zöller, The Origin of Humanness, p. 38

the character of the action is in the emotion

One of the ways I find people can make sense of Maturana’s statement that “the character of the action is in the emotion” is that it is the emotioning that show us what manner of flow we are in within a particular relationship.  Detecting the emotion of others alerts living beings to what is likely to happen next, so that they can adjust their responses accordingly.  This does not require conscious thought, it is just something that has enabled living beings to conserve adaptation.

I like to use the analogy that the emotioning of an interaction is like the vector that points in the direction that this particular flow is going.  As we become consciously aware of this, we may choose to act in such a way that it is likely to shift.  We see the frightened child and pick him up.

“sticks and stones may break my bones”

Are you familiar with this old saying... “and words will never hurt me!”.  It was offered to children as a mantra of defense to chant against those who teased them, and in the proper context it was somewhat effective. However, it has also served as a source of blindness; words to hurt.  Words soothe us, words frighten us, words make us happy or sad.  Words change our lives as they shift us in our emotioning.  As we will be covering in another unit, conversations are by their nature a braiding or “intertwingling” of languaging and emotioning.

lunch on a sunny day

An old married couple sat down for lunch together on a sunny spring day.  They had a simple spread of bread, cheese, tomatoes and a few asparagus stalks left over from dinner.  The woman, lost in her own thoughts, made herself a sandwich, and realized she wanted some salt so she said “Pass the salt, please.”  Her husband passed the salt and she said “Thank you.”

“We claim that it is the emotion or mood, that is, the domain of relational behavior in which a particular doing takes place, that gives that doing its character as a particular action.  Furthermore, we also claim here that the different emotions or moods that we live can be fully characterized in terms of the kinds of relational behaviors that they entail as domains of actions.”

Maturana and Verden Zöller, The Origin of Humanness, p. 39

“The emotion we find ourselves in at any instant creates the relational conditions which conserve that emotion through penetrating all our doings at that instant.  However, the emotion we are in may change when some inter-current circumstance, which may be a reflection, triggers a shift in the flow of our relational dynamics.”

Maturana and Verden Zöller, The Origin of Humanness, p. 40

how do we shift our emotioning?

Sometimes we do not like how we are in our own emotioning, or do not like how those around us are in their emotioning.  In the latter case, of course we can adjust our own behaviour so that a space is generated for them to also shift, which usually happens easily in a trusting loving relationship; they naturally follow along a pleasant option in conserving an intimacy of relationship.  

However, we are all structurally determined systems, and cannot determine changes in either ourselves or others.  We can only trigger change. 

One of the most effective, and most easily evoked shifts is through an invitation to reflect.  As soon as we step back enough to reflect, we have already changed; changed into a new relational dynamic in which the alternatives are different. Reflection is a change in emotioning that expands our vision and our alternatives.