A Theory of Bliss

Introduction

Bliss and serenity are emotional states that are not down-regulated. You don't have to work to have them, and if you have them you are not pushing your feelings down into a box. If you wish you had bliss or serenity, you don't; if you think you should have them, you don't. When you feel blissful or serene, you are not regulating your emotions, you are in a non-down-regulated flow state. Most emotion is (down-)regulated by the psyche having an idea what the situation is and therefore how to feel about it, but when that mechanism is not operating, emotion is not under such strict control, and bliss and serenity become possible.

This theory of bliss (and serenity) seeks to insightfully describe how emotion is regulated, or not, in the human psyche. Given certain essential machinery of our semi-rational psychology, inner surrender is here defined and elaborated, the high virtues are understood and explored as inner surrender applied to various domains, and the core doctrines of known religions are seen as means of accessing inner surrender. The anti-spiritual effect of moralistic thinking is clarified. Further work may: delineate the spiritual significance (and insignificance) of a variety of religious doctrines and self-help instructions; interview a variety of religious leaders to clarify their views on the claims of this theory, and re-present a variety of effective means of attaining bliss and serenity, providing an encompassing and ecumenical spirituality, and destroying the significant barriers between religions (not excluding the anti-religious).

Veatch's Razor

Veatch's Razor clarifies the difference between the bliss-enhancing, serenity-inducing, components of religious doctrine and practice, versus the bliss-destroying components. Certain mental activities take us straight out of bliss and serenity by regulating our emotion. The actions are: telling a story about what is happening to us, which tells us how to feel about it, by identifying yourself in the situation or story with any limited role or characteristics. Not doing that, lets you experience non-downregulated emotion. That's it. Stop the bad stuff, the good stuff is already there.

Decomposing the high virtues

  • Inner surrender applied to a person's victim story defines forgiveness.
  • Inner surrender applied to social status defines humility.
  • Inner surrender applied to goal-directed action action defines service.
  • Inner surrender applied to interpersonal relationships defines trust.
  • Inner surrender occurs in the runner's high, in high-intensity sports, in the experience of massage, of a hot tub, of sexuality, of positive social connection.
  • Inner surrender is sought by the self-medicating alcoholic or drug user, and unattainable for the insomniac and anorexic/bulimic.
  • Inner surrender applied to meditation is peak spiritual experience.

Inner Surrender

Veatch's 1998 Theory of Humor, as recently elaborated, suggests the presence of an inner emotional regulation system which one might call the Inner Judge, which has a front end which may be more conscious and a back end which seems less so, on the front end it evaluates the situation in focus all the time and figures out how to feel about it, and on the back end, it implements the emotions by pumping the adrenalin, the hormones, etc., that carry out the physiological and other activities that amount to having that particular feeling. Now, I will propose that this judge system has as its primary task the downregulation of emotion. So if you match your desires to the world, and there is a mismatch, then it downregulates you, pushes you down down down: unsatisfied, unhappy, ugh. On the other hand if it compares your desires to the world, and they match, then it doesn't downregulate you quite as much. That is, you're definitely still not drooling on the floor, horselaughing, losing comportment, you just have a small smile and more or less calmly say, "I'm happy now". That is what I'll called Judged Happiness, and it's basically a slightly less downregulated emotional state. Not an unregulated, and not an upregulated emotional state.

Now the Inner Judge generally seems to have its eye on the ball of figuring out the moral of the current story: What is going on here, and How shall I feel about it? It pretty much won't let its eye off that ball. And in my argument it is a quite rational entity. So just allow me to propose and then assume all that. Oh, one more thing, also that, as the Hindus say, bliss is underlying and constantly present. Now the consequence for Humor Theory is great, it provides an Explanation. The Inner Judge makes the judgement that the situation is a Violation, then it also makes the judgement that the situation is Not a Violation, by viewing it in a different way, from a different angle, or perhaps with new developments in it. Being as how the two judgements are in mutual contradiction, the Inner Judge finds it has no analysis, cannot come to a conclusion, indeed cannot (down)regulate the emotions consistent with the moral it has extracted from the story, The contradiction forces the Inner Judge into non operation. When it stops operating, it stops having an analysis, it stops constructing memory and the sense of time, it stops downregulating the emotions. Suddenly out comes unregulated emotional flow, the bliss that is underlyingly present already. Bam, mad emotional activation, horselaughter, lunatic mirth, non-downregulated emotion. Comportment may be lost. Bliss.

So that's a lot of extra machinery just to handle what some might call the flaws, they might call them the self-contradictions of Veatch's Theory of Humor. But I don't accept that an organism is unable to have mutually contradictory views of a situation at the same instant. Put an ice cube on one end of a worm, light a match at the other, is it hot or is it cold? The worm lives in a complicated world, and it has to do its best to deal with the apparent contradictions of its complex situation. Its no failure of logic or of science to assert than an organism may have complex internal representations, some of which may contradict others.

And just consider whether this extra machinery is useful for a moment, by exploring how it might work in other aspects of human life. Is there another part of human life in which something like the non-operation of the inner judge may lead to a non-downregulated emotional flow state, that you might call, for example, bliss (if activated) or serenity (if not activated)?

I would say Yes. Many, in fact. First, though, doesn't it seem that the inner judge is so attached to doing its own self-conceived duty that it will not intentionally stop doing so? Although forced into non-operation by humor perception, it may have a hard time stopping. Sleep disorders, it can't stop running on. Alcoholism, the poor fellow has to anesthetize it to get it to quit telling the negative and painful stories about one's life, or play the self-deceptive trick of denial, reversing the sense or the roles of each painful thought, so as not to feel that excruciatingly painful responsibility for one's actions and life. And the eating disorders, the judge judges I'm pathetic and weak when I eat, there you go again, giving in to your hunger, telling this miserable story until 20% of its victims die from it. The inner judge doesn't want to stop doing its duty.

The only way for it to stop doing its duty seems to be to be forced to stop by humor perception, or to somehow otherwise voluntarily give up or surrender doing this duty.

Let's establish a technical term, "inner surrender", to refer to this operation of the inner judge letting go and shutting the **** up. You know it doesn't want to. Most people most of the time won't let it let go. It has to hold on tight, grab on with white knuckles, no matter what, to continually have a story about what's going on, and impose its view of how to feel about it.

But if it can do inner surrender, then it can stop. Yes.

How does it do inner surrender?

Humility, is there a component of inner surrender in humility? Let it not be about you and your ego and how you want everything to be? Yes.

Trust, is there inner surrender in trust? Love, doesn't that falling in love moment involve inner surrender? How about service? You know Consumer Reports reports that volunteers are happier than non-volunteers. Service is surrendering your agenda to that of another.

Forgiveness, is there inner surrender in forgiveness? I thought so.

So here we have the high virtues, and they have a common element of inner surrender in them.

What about sex? Yes, throughout for the girls, at the end for the boys, would be my guess, does that apply for you?

What about exercise? Would you agree with my sister that that is the whole point?

What about religion? I have a story about every religion other than Wicca and Jainism, and that's because I don't know anything about Wicca and Jainism. Islam, for example, is a word which means "submission". Boom, done, need I say more? I didn't think so.

So there seems to be a powerful commonality here about getting free from our downregulating inner judge.

 

Copyright © 2012-2017, Thomas C. Veatch. All rights reserved.
Modified: August 8, 13, 23 2013; July 26, 2017