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Empathy

Glossary of Spiritual Wisdom

Excerpts about Empathy

Deeper Possibilities that Spring from the Ocean of Consciousness

Empathy is generally seen as the ability to know another’s point of view, the ability to relate to what your friend is saying, feeling, or thinking because you have had the experience and can call it up in your memory. It stimulates the sense of knowing from your own experience, which you can then apply to how another person might be feeling. But empathy can go very, very deep, much deeper than this psychological way of knowing the other’s experience. We can actually feel where someone is without having had their experience, because our consciousness is ultimately one ocean. A wave in the ocean is not separate from the other waves. We can feel the waves of others and the particular states of those around us as our sensitivity develops. It has been confirmed through neuroscientific experiments that with empathy we can actually experience another person’s pain through the activity of mirroring neurons. Here, we are discussing empathy in a larger sphere, as including all states and feelings of the other, not just their pain.

Empathy for Yourself

Empathy for yourself means that you know and are sensitive to where you are, rather than operating according to an agenda, a goal, or some ideal of what should happen. Using any method to get someplace or do something means that we are not attuned to exactly where we happen to be. This is because a method is a standardized approach to which the individual conforms. A true guidance, an intelligent guidance, a guidance that cares for you absolutely, will first have to see exactly what is going on with you right now and then respond in alignment with that. Otherwise, how will the guide know what your particular needs are? Our soul opens up most readily when inquiry addresses our experience in the moment. This is the function of the Green latifa in inquiry—the essential Compassion diamond—for it gives us the capacity to be precisely and clearly sensitive to what is actually happening in the soul. So, not only does the inquiry reveal elements of our experience clearly and precisely, but the precision itself is nothing but the exact recognition of where our consciousness happens to be.

Expression of Empathy Through Attunement

Attunement is a way we use empathic sensitivity; it is an action based on sensitivity to another such that your response matches what is happening with her. You get a sense of where she is coming from and are able to respond in a way that speaks to that. For a relationship to evolve, for the relational field to open up and evolve, we have to first really understand that there is a person, here too, with her own feelings, her own experience. The more present we are, the more real we are, and the more our heart is open and available, this sensitivity of our consciousness is able to feel where someone is. And it is possible that our individual consciousness can get so sensitive that we actually feel in ourselves what another person is experiencing, in its totality and specifics.

The Student's Need for Empathic Support Around Narcissistic Hurt

The unique quality of narcissistic hurt is that when it is allowed—that is, not resisted—the rip in the shell will spread, and the hurt becomes deeper and more extensive, until the whole shell dissolves, which brings about the loss of the sense of identity. The student doesn’t just feel pain; she feels that if she experiences this hurt more deeply, she will disappear. This threat of destruction is what makes it so hard to tolerate, especially when it is first encountered. Because this narcissistic hurt is a very difficult and sensitive place for most people, at this juncture the student needs great empathy from the teacher. This is when the student most needs the “emerald mountain,” the aspect of Loving Kindness in the dimension of the Diamond Will. She needs then the greatest empathic support, the greatest empathy, the greatest attunement, and the greatest sensitivity from the teacher. The slightest thing could close down the student’s experience of this wound, or could bring in a reaction that closes it. The slightest lack of understanding, lack of attunement, or lack of consideration, and she will close down with some kind of reaction. This is the main reason for the necessity of empathy, and not the reestablishment of the mirror transference, as Kohut believes. Empathic mirroring touches the student with the Loving Kindness of the teacher, which will help her to tolerate her own hurt and not close it down.

The Time to Hold Ourselves Tenderly

We learn from this brief overview of the superego that the attitude we need to have toward ourselves in our inquiry is not one of harshness. We perceive the harshness of self-directed aggression the more we recognize the superego at work. In time, we come to understand that what’s needed is a gentleness and an empathy toward the way we are. If we’re feeling weak, we don’t tell ourselves things that make us feel bad about that, and we don’t judge ourselves. We’re understanding, we’re kind, we’re empathic. If we’re feeling deficient, that’s not a time to criticize ourselves or compare ourselves with somebody else. It’s a time to hold ourselves tenderly. In time, instead of the superego’s harsh criticism, we experience more compassion and warmth, the attunement and empathy of a kind heart. Our inquiry begins to assume more gentleness in the way we perceive and recognize ourselves. We don’t just recognize where we are; we recognize where we are with kind, empathic attunement. And our responses become more and more suited to what we need.

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