Emotions, Mindfulness, Low Expectations and Music

In today’s post along with a painting I’ve been working on this August I’m sharing a few points that Ι intended to include in the previous post, but in the end omitted because the piece was getting too long. In relation to emotions and change I had prepared some notes on Antonio Damasio’s Somatic Marker Hypothesis and a bit on mindfulness.  I had also prepared a short paragraph on how schemata and beliefs around low expectations can hinder children and adolescents’ (and adults’) learning and future achievements. Going to a jazz festival here on the island over the weekend also brought about my sharing two music related videos.  Finally, the passing away of the Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis urged me to end this post with one of his song.

Emotions and Somatic Marker Hypothesis

As I mentioned last time emotions are important in our decision making. We need our emotions, both the so called “negative” emotions and the more pleasurable ones in order to function and make decisions. They are our guidance system and they are central to decision making. Our total inability to feel pain and fear, for instance, would lead to disastrous living and it would further compromise our life span. From an evolutionary perspective emotions support our chances of survival, passing on our genes, and also, remaining safe. However, because we don’t live in savannahs anymore some of our emotional responses may not be helpful in our contemporary environments, where corporation and connectedness are more important than aggression and over vigilance, for instance. Antonio Damasio claims that emotions are not only mental activities, but are primarily somatic and that the brain uses emotions and bodily sensations to make decisions. The term somatic in this case refers to body and brain related signals, which we experience as emotions and sensations. We recall memories, often unconsciously, of previous similar situations and remember the feelings related to the outcome, and these experiences guide us towards or away from something, for better or for worse. Damasio formulated the somatic marker hypothesis (SMH), which provides a neuro-anatomical and cognitive framework to understand decision making, and basically, suggests that our decision making is biased by emotional markers generated by both cortical and subcortical circuits of the brain. These somatic states attach value to given options, and mark them as having potential positive or negative consequences in the future.

According to Damasio’s findings and theory when we want to make more complex decisions and when the outcomes are uncertain, then our emotions, sensations and the brain’s ability to maintain an internal equilibrium are essential to making the decision. Whenever there is uncertainty conflicting responses may be triggered, and we may, for instance, feel both excited and anxious over a choice. So, it becomes obvious that emotions are critical for our decision making, and therefore, people, who for any reason are deprived of generating the appropriate emotional signals may not be able to perceive long term consequences. Practically, lack of emotion because of injury or disease, or psychological numbness can hinder decision making as much as being overwhelmed with emotions. Lack of emotional awareness can also sway people towards immediate gratification, addictive behaviours or reward and failure to recognise long term negative consequences.


“Mindfulness is paying attention on purpose in the present moment, non judgmentally, to the unfolding of experience moment by moment.” Jon Kabit Zinn (professor of medicine and the creator of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), offered by medical centers and hospitals)

A lot of what is described above happens almost automatically, and this is where mindfulness can help us. Mindfulness is a type of meditation that can help us shift our experience through feeling and acceptance of what is arising, increasing insight into why we feel what we feel and how this can lead to particular behaviours. It’s a technology that can help us discern and feel the whole spectrum of our emotions and acquire insight into the thoughts and sensations related to our emotions, freeing up space and allowing us to interact with the world from a place less burdened by our past experiences. It can increase our capacity to pause and choose how to respond. It has been proven that mindfulness can improve concentration and creativity; can decrease stress and alleviate pain; can bring about more clarity concerning our emotions, which can lead to more emotional intelligence, and increase our capacity to cope with painful emotions. Being more mindful of our emotions and the related baggage helps us gain a little space to think before we act upon addictive urges or make important decisions. Through mindfulness our brain gets better at detecting sensory experiences and we gain more sensory clarity, and our brain itself undergoes changes or grows in certain areas. Research has shown that through meditating on emotions and sensations we increase not only our knowing of how we feel, but also, how others feel, and thus, it can enhance our capacity for empathy.

Low expectations

In the previous post I mentioned that high expectations and perfectionist schemas can cause stress and negatively impact our decision making, our fulfilling our potential and general wellbeing, but low expectations can also have a negative impact on people, especially, children and students. Children and students (and everyone) need to be encouraged, challenged and engaged with meaningful work, if they are to achieve some of their potential. There is a lot of research that suggests that a pervasive pattern of low expectations in schools harms the more vulnerable children or children from lower income groups. In the USA it has, for instance, been found that majority white and high-income classrooms were more likely to have qualities like the encouragement of students’ critical capacities, higher levels of student engagement, higher expectations, etc, which tend to positively impact student learning and confidence. These classrooms also spent twice as much time on grade-appropriate work than those with lower-income students. A quick search on the net also reveals that there is quite a bit of research that has been taking place for decades that suggests that the expectations a teacher sets for an individual student can significantly affect the student’s performance and future success, and some research has shown that teachers’ expectations were perceived as having pervasive effects on student outcomes.

And finally some music

“I always think of music as an interior decoration. So, if you have all kinds of music, you are fully decorated….”   Wayne Shorter (American worldwide recognised jazz saxophonist, improviser and composer)

I listen to all sorts of things and I’ve never devoted time to really delve into any one kind, so Wayne Shorter’s quote above kind of makes sense to me….  Where I live a lot of cultural events take place during the summer and over the last weekend there was a jazz festival, co-organised and hosted by the South Aegean Region and the Municipality of the island. My visit there triggered my revisiting old jazz CDs and music on the net from which I picked these two videos to share of Wayne Shorter at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OfSEwffeK80 and the Natassa Mare Quintet that brings together Greek traditional music, the Mediterranean sounds and Rebetiko, using references to the ancient Greek way of writing through the vocalist fragments and free, avant-garde improvisation of Natassa Mare, as well as, jazz elements, free improvisation and the influences and sounds of the international musicians (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dVWTeMs7Vkg&list=RDxXo1mXzSbWo&index=2)

Sadly, Mikis Theodorakis, the Greek composer who is renowned around the world, and whose music is more or less part of the interior decoration of most people in Greece…has  passed away. I’m posting two video links of a song composed by him from The Ballad of Mauthausen, a cycle of four arias with lyrics based on poems written by Greek writer and poet Iakovos Kambanellis, a Mauthausen concentration camp survivor (1943 – 1945). It reflects his own experiences, which he also narrates in his book with the title Mauthausen. Mikis Theodorakis, who has been credited for writing the most beautiful music on the Holocaust, set music to this material to create extraordinarily moving and haunting songs.

Two ladies with amazing voices sing:  Άσμα Ασμάτων / Song of Songs – Music: Mikis Theodorakis Lyrics: Iakovos Kampanellis. Enjoy:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eNgVdj4M4KM   (2014 – Maria Farantouri)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SeSVp65fI1M (1983 – Joan Baez)

“…… ..How beautiful is my love, pampered by her mother and her brother’s kisses. No one knew she was so beautiful. Mauthausen girls, Belsen girls, have you seen my love? We saw her in the icy square with a number on her white hand, with a yellow star on her heart… ”

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