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Video (3min) – On Knowing What to Do

Here’s a short clip from a lecture I gave at OMX 2013 with Yia Vang, titled “Relationship by Design.”
Here, I’m responding to an audience member seeking advice with his girlfriend. (3 min.)

 

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The Evolutionary Purpose of Emotions is Communication (an essay in YouTube Videos)

A set of brain structures commonly referred to as the limbic system gives rise to our emotions.

The limbic system is associated with mammals. Reptiles, on the other hand, don’t have much emotional range. Sure, they experience sensations such as heat, cold, hunger, pain, and an urge to reproduce; and they respond accordingly. But they don’t feel joy, grief, anger, or terror. They don’t mourn the loss of a loved one (or celebrate their return, an experience every dog owner is familiar with).

Emotions are the domain of social animals—those that have come to rely on the advantages of living in groups. The more intelligent, and the more advanced their social structure, the more emotional. (So for example, dogs have more social structure than cats… and are also more emotional than cats. Elephants — social animals — are emotional. Etc.)

The limbic system is also exquisitely adept at recognizing the emotional states of others. This provides a clue to the evolutionary origin of emotions. The purpose of emotions is communication. If a group member is threatened, that’s important for the others to know as well. Fear is the expression of perceived threat, and is contagious. It instantly agitates others and puts them on alert. Happiness puts others at ease. If you see someone get nauseous and feel disgust and nausea yourself, that’s good, evolutionarily speaking—out on the savanna, you might have eaten the same thing that’s making them sick.

So we’ll say it again: The purpose of emotions is communication.

I see this a lot with my clients. It’s been said that conflicts tend to be 10% difference of opinion and 90% tone of voice. All of the real transformation in relationships takes place at the emotional level. Everything else is just a MacGuffin, a plot device to move the action along. Most of the time disagreements brought to the table are trivially easy to resolve. They’re not the real issue. Sometimes you don’t even have to know what they are (take this video for example):

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Chocolate Cake and Climax

When I was a kid, my mother would get our favorite cake for our birthday, whatever kind the birthday kid wanted. She’d either make it herself or order one special from the local bakery. My older brother’s favorite was always this one mocha cake. I still remember the flavor. It was a chocolate cake with a mocha frosting, which was a slightly lighter brown than the cake itself and added a twinge of bitter roasted-coffee flavor to the rich sweet chocolate. Most of my “favorites” at the time defaulted to whatever Danny’s favorites happened to be, and this was no exception.

One day, on nobody’s birthday in particular, my mom made a chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting. It had a sour-cream tartness like really good cheesecake, but this frosting was buttery-smooth. (A top-notch carrot cake or velvet cake will sometimes have a decent cream cheese frosting.) It was the perfect complement to the chocolate cake—even better than the mocha, which suddenly seemed too obvious and monochrome.

This combination became my new favorite. To this day I occasionally seek it out in the local bakeries. It’s hard to get right but when they really nail it, man, there’s nothing quite like it. If someone asks me what my all-time favorite food in the entire universe is I’m likely to say chocolate cake with a good cream cheese frosting.

But I don’t have it very often, in spite of its status as one of my all-time favorite foods.

If I ate too much of it, it would quickly fall off my list of favorites. It’s striking how the amount I want it and the amount of it I want don’t necessarily correspond. It’s a huge desire that gets full quickly.

These days, if my “favorite” food corresponds to what I eat the most, it’s probably a green drink I have every morning. It just makes me feel good, every single day, day after day. I enjoy drinking it and feel good for hours afterwards. (Unlike chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting.) There was a time when pastries and other rich, sweet foods were my primary diet. I was voraciously hungry all the time and ate a huge amount. I had a theory that if I just injected highly nutritious food into my diet, that alone would shift how I feel and how I eat. And that’s what happened. I eat way less cake and get way more pleasure from it since I stopped relying on it for sustenance.

I think climax is the same. There’s nothing wrong with it, but our sense of how much of it we need gets exaggerated by the absence of other kinds of nourishing orgasmic connection.

So let’s distinguish between “not having climax” and “not having climax as a goal.” The value of not having climax as a goal is that you end up having as much or as little climax as your body actually wants and you’re not using it as the measuring stick for how good or successful your experience is. You get to find out what your body’s actual appetite for climax is. And it’s a first step for moving into territory that isn’t even on your radar where you might find your new favorite—maybe even something beyond climax.