In my first blog on this subject I said the ideas about mood came from the philosophy of Martin Heidegger and I’d like to say a bit more about what he wrote to widen and deepen the subject. He wanted to overcome the western split between subject and object, internal and external, so from his perspective what we all usually take to be internal, personal, subjective, like our thoughts, moods and emotions are not just private events but a resonance with a wider cultural field. The word he created when writing about mood was befindlichkeit, which is notoriously difficult to translated but means, literally, something like ‘how do you find yourself’. More colloquially in English we’d say “how are you doing?” This question invites us to check with ourselves and our reply is likely to gather up all of significance that is happening – the situation I am in and how I’m feeling in it, with a sense that it is all of a piece. I might say, with a bit of a sigh, well I’ve had a great holiday and just getting ready to get back into work”. I’m sure you’ll get the picture! My response, verbally and non-verbally speaks to what is happening and how I am before I separate it into what is happening to me on the ‘inside and outside’. Phenomenologically (i.e. in my pure awareness) they are all of a piece, about my ‘being-in-the-world’; it takes an extra step, which we in the west take without even noticing it, to attribute the feeling aspect to something inside, something purely private.
Heidegger’s analysis teased out a number of different aspects of mood. Firstly, moods ‘have us’. They come upon of not through our choosing and cannot be shifted by an act of will. He writes about us being delivered over to a mood. Secondly, and I wrote about this in the 2nd blog, mood has its own understanding of the situation which goes deeper than is possible to everyday thinking. This is an extraordinary claim and if he is right make sit essential that coaches develop the capability to work effectively with mood. I’d love to know your views here, because it is so counter to our everyday evaluation of the merits of thinking and mood.
Thirdly, he said that mood is a form of resonance with the world. Befindlichkeit can be translated as ‘attunement’ as well as mood, so he wants to say mood is a form of attunement to the world – it is what configures our perception and engagement with the world. It’s just like ‘figure and ground’ in gestalt. With gestalt, the figure/ground formation is a purely internal process driven by our needs. With Heidegger it is our mood that configures the world, an attunement that gathers together my whole being-in-the-world. Attunement is different to ‘projection’, whereby our feelings ‘colour’ our experiencing of the world but say nothing about the world itself. Attunement involves a resonance between an aspect of myself AND the world. There is a resonance with something real. And in attuning to one aspect of the world I am ‘tuning out’ other aspects, so my mood reveals and hides the world in the same moment, as there are always a myriad of aspects that I could tune into. But to stress the point again, because this is again the difference to the usual point of view, our moods resonate with some REAL in the world. I guess this is what lies behind the oft asked question ‘but what is the grain of truth in that projection?’ What does this mean for practice? It means validating the significance of someone’s mood in a situation, and how they ‘see’ the situation (which can be a difficult and inconvenient thing to do if I what they say is difficult to hear) but realising that attunement conceals as it reveals, and invite exploration of what is hidden.
Heidegger’s philosophy is described as existential (though like any good existentialist he denies it) so his analysis of mood also captures how we bring ourselves ‘into the world’, into any situation. I may bring myself in in an excited way, or reluctantly, or anxiously. How I do configures, quite literally, what I ‘make’ of the situation – how I choose to act and impact on the situation. Crucially, the existential issue of what ‘matters’ to me, what is important and makes life meaningful, will also be present in the mood, but perhaps not in a recognisable or strong way. I’ve found that ‘calling forth’ that aspect by asking clients “well what really matters to you in all this” can be one of the most powerful things I can do as the client reconnects, usually in a very feelingful way, with what matters to them, and in doing so reconfigures their perception and engagement with the world. Heidegger says one further thing about mood which really made me smile because I so recognise it. He asks about how we usually engage with mood. His answer, by evading it: “... in the manner of an evasive turning away”.
In this blog I’ve very quickly reviewed some of the different aspects of mood that Heidegger analysed. If nothing else his analysis gives good grounds for paying good attention to mood, feelings and emotions, which in itself can counter the tendency to focus on thinking rather than feeling, or align the feelings aspect more with the ‘therapeutic end’ of coaching. In the next blog I’m going to go back to the question of what is the significance of all of this in practice, and offer a methodology for working with it.
As always, I’d love to hear your views on all this
Coach, Psychotherapist and Supervisior