Knowing by Feeling

Our feelings too contain a power of knowledge and a power of effectuation, which we do not properly develop.

- Sri Aurobindo

Much has been said and written about the concept of emotional intelligence, a brain-child of the eminent psychologist, Daniel Goleman. However Goleman’s conception is only one way of looking at emotional intelligence. This article presents an alternative perspective on the concept and development of emotional intelligence based on yogic psychology, and examines its implications for the knowledge-worker.

The Feeling Intelligence

In the conception of yogic psychology, a human being is in its essence made of Consciousness, which expresses itself as the four fundamental principles which constitute the human organism: Body, Life, Mind and Soul. Since all these four principles of our self are expressions of consciousness, each of them has its own “intelligence”, which means they are capable of “knowing”. So in this conception, knowledge is not confined to “Mind”. Though in a general sense, we may say Mind is the source of knowledge, the other parts of our being like the emotions of our heart, dynamic parts of our life force or even the body can also “know” in their own way and can be an important and creative source of knowledge. In this yogic perspective, emotional intelligence is the intelligence inherent in our emotion or in other words the heart that knows, “Knowing by Doing” is a well-known principle in modern education. The emotional intelligence is knowing by feeling.

Can feelings know? Is there such intelligence in our feelings? For example, when we love a person deeply and truly without attachment, we are able to understand the inner condition and the needs of that person with a feeling “in-sight”, which is an expression of emotional intelligence. The other example of emotional intelligence is a well-known phenomenon in the world of spiritual seekers. There are seekers who are simple, uneducated with very little mental development, but with a pure love and devotion to God or their Masters. Such seekers have sometimes a much deeper insight and understanding of scriptures or the teachings of their Master than erudite scholars who have written voluminous book on scriptures or teachings.

In this perspective, emotional intelligence is the faculty, which gives us the ability for a sympathetic identification with the object of knowledge and joy in the act of knowledge. Without this empathy and joy, knowledge-work becomes a dry, arid and joyless exercise, which is harmful for the inner development of the individual. Interestingly, the great scientist and inventor of the concept of evolution, Charles Darwin made the following poignant personal remark:

“Up to the age of thirty, or beyond it, poetry of many kinds… gave me great pleasure, and even as a schoolboy I took intense delight in Shakespeare, especially in the historical plays. I have also said that formerly pictures gave me considerable, and music very great, delight. But now for many years I cannot endure to read a line of poetry: I have tried lately to read Shakespeare, and found it so intolerably dull that it nauseated me. I have also lost almost any taste for pictures or music…. My mind seems to have become a kind of machine for grinding general laws out of large collections of fact; but why this should have caused the atrophy of that part of the brain alone, on which the higher tastes depend, I cannot conceive…. The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness and may possibly be injurious to the intellect, and more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature.”

The old, orthodox science viewed emotional involvement as an obstacle to scientific detachment. But the new thought in science, especially among woman-scientist, finds no such contradiction between emotion and scientific attitude. As Diane Boy Heger, field biologists and wolf-researcher, states: “I’ve concluded that it is ok to have feelings about the animals you study, without risking damage to your scientific credibility – objectivity and passion about study of animals are not mutually exclusive. I wouldn’t have devoted my life to studying wolves, if I didn’t love them.” Diane quotes further the environmentalist Stephen Jay Gould, “we cannot win this battle to save species and environments without forging an emotional bond between ourselves and nature as well – for we will not fight to save what we do not love.” We may modify the last sentence and say we cannot know truly an object of knowledge without loving it and emotional intelligence is the faculty in us, which can lead to this “knowing love.”

This brings us to the practical question, “how to develop the emotional intelligence?” The first step is to learn to observe carefully without identification and with the attitude of a witness, the inner movements of our consciousness especially our emotional being. The second step is to understand the kind of thoughts and feelings which obscures, darkens or distorts our emotions and conversely which of them has a positive impact, bringing light and harmony. When we make this experiment we will understand the practical validity of some of the moral and psychological disciplines of Indian yoga. We will find negative feelings like anxiety, restlessness, fear, anger, obscures and darkens our emotions and conversely positive feelings like peace, benevolence, kindness, compassion clarifies and purifies our feeling and brings forward the intelligence inherent in our emotions.

The Aesthetic Intelligence

The other faculty, which can enrich emotional intelligence, is the aesthetic sense. The perception of beauty and harmony has a purifying and refining influence on our mind and heart. The discipline, which we have discussed earlier, creates a favourable inner condition for the flowering of aesthetic intelligence. However for a fuller development of the aesthetic faculty, there must be a special focus on the refinement and purification of the senses by art, poetry, music, literature and rejection of all attachment, craving and grossness of taste from the senses. In general, cultivating beautiful, harmonious, gentle and refined sensations and creating an environment which evokes such sensations is the path to aesthetic intelligence. Nature, art, music and poetry of right kind are a great help in cultivating the aesthetic intelligence. However, for a deeper assimilation of beauty, we must learn to feel the beauty of Nature, or a work of art, or a piece of music in a complete receptive inner silence, without externalizing the feeling or sensation with loud exclamations like “how beautiful”.

But we must not too rigidly associate aesthetics with Art or Music. In a broader perspective aesthetics means creating beauty and harmony in our inner being and outer life and the highest aim of art is to make the whole life beautiful and harmonious. So art, music and poetry are not the only ways of developing aesthetic sensibility nor is it necessary to be an artist or poet to have aesthetic intelligence. We can develop our aesthetic sense by making a conscious effort to bring more beauty and harmony to our daily life and into our surrounding environment. For example cleanliness and order in organizing our life and work, beautiful and harmonious equipment and ordering of the material environment, resolving conflicts, contradictions and dualities in thought and life into a harmonious synthesis or mutual understanding – all these factors help in the flowering of the aesthetic sensibility.

This brings us to the question, what is the pragmatic utility of aesthetic intelligence for the professional or the knowledge-worker? The aesthetic sense, when it is understood in the broader perspective which we have outlined, leads to an intuition of the harmonious rhythms, mutualities and interdependences of life and the complementing links which connects the various parts of life. This intuition will help the knowledge-worker to arrive at the most mutually beneficial deal or relationship, what is called in modern management-speak as the “win-win” situation, in all transactions. For example a manager will know how to strike at a win-win deal with a competitor, or how to create a team of people with complementing capacities, temperament and skills. This aesthetic intelligence can also be of great help in all tasks, which involves balancing, scheduling and synchronizing activities. For instance, Just-in Time method of inventory management, which requires perfect synchronization of the supply-chain, logistics and inventory, is infact an aesthetic insight of the Japanese mind, which has a natural instinct for beauty and harmony.

M.S. Srinivasan

The author is a Research Associate at Sri Aurobindo Society and on the editorial board of Fourth Dimension Inc. His major areas of interest are Management and Indian Culture.

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