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    This page is a personal homework reflection for Kira's Ways of Knowing workshop.

    As a starting point, I define empathy as an emotional insight into the experience of others.  As an overall felt sense.  Not just a feeling, but a complex capacity of emotional intelligence.

    More than just responding, mirroring, being affected by another's similar feeling.  I may have an empathic response that is different in quality than the one that the person I'm responding to is experiencing.  It might reflect a latent possibility in the other, something that could enter their awareness.  I'm curious about the different ways that experience could be latent.  A subconscious or repressed feeling?  A feeling that could come into them from some transpersonal source?  Something that all humans can do if they are reminded of the possibility?  An emotional insight that results from a learning process, or a shift of meaning based on new knowledge?  A transformed perspective and/or new narrative? 

    How does empathy "work"?  Part of it seems to be an instinctive, unlearned, pre-linguistic awareness present in human infants and animals.  This doesn't mean it is pre-social though.  I believe we're social animals in a way that's more basic than language and conceptual thinking.  This is the energetic basis from which conceptual meaning arises and returns to as a reference.

    I like the religious figures of the baby Jesus or the Buddha's Mind as symbols of empathy.  Maybe these are metaphors for the basic  pre-cognitive, pre-reflective capacities humans have for emotional connection with others, before it is formed, structured, and conditioned by relational complexities and by learned patterns of behavior wrapped around often-painful formatory experiences.

    Can I "have" empathy?  If so, how about the possibility of having too much, or too little of it?  If empathy is something that exists in an I/Thou relationship, then it's a matter of remembrance -- only too much if I am forgotten; only too little if Thou art forgotten. Maybe empathy exists only through the presence and interplay of I and Thou.

    Some philosophies regard feeling and emotion as "subjective" and therefore locked up within each individual.  That logic would say one cannot ever know the feeling of another person.  I think this is far from true, that on the contrary, our commonalities are greater (if less conscious than) our differences.

    Some schools of philosophy also define "reason" and "emotion" as conflicting and opposing tendencies, and favor reason.  Certainly strong emotional activation can block cognitive thinking, and the reverse is also true, that strong mental activity can block emotion.  However, newer psychological paradigms of multiple intelligences say these different capacities work together and in synergy as a part of a dynamic unity.  The emerging knowledge of brain structure and function also supports this perspective.

    Can empathy be "objective" in different degrees?  I think so.  Sometimes I feel more balanced, free, and open, and then I seem to have a wider and deeper range of responsiveness to others.  I'd call that more objective, since it is determined more by the other.  The sometimes I have my own emotional processes going on and can respond mainly through how these resonate with and interact with other people.  I'd call that less objective, or more subjective, in that it is determined more by me and less by the other.  But always there is a blend.

    Empathy can be a doorway to knowledge of the full range of human emotional experience, including love, joy, exultation, and awe.  But discussions of empathy frequently focus on suffering.   Does empathy necessarily involve suffering?  If I'm empathic toward someone else's suffering, then do I also suffer?   I want to say, not necessarily;  I may feel another's pain -- or our common pain -- but not their suffering.  This hinges on a basic distinction between pain and suffering.  In fact at this point I want to say that suffering -- at least in one sense -- is a block to empathy.  But perhaps it is worth it, and perhaps one can learn to feel more and suffer less, as a path to greater empathic intelligence.

    Can empathy be developed or schooled?  I think so.  Mind can be used to sort through ideas -- to learn to make choices and perform acts of attention that lead to (rather than block) emotional insight into the experiences of others.  I think it is even more essential to do two other things to cultivate empathy.  The first way is to resolve or heal emotional "knots" -- rigid patterns of feeling and behavior that originated through adaptation to painful social circumstances.  It may be that empathy without suffering is an ideal, but that some suffering is inevitable in a process of increasing empathy.  If so, than a deepened capacity for suffering consciously enables the growth of empathy.  The second way is to regain awareness of the primal feelings of connection with people and with the world.   This way of knowing goes by names such as Buddha's Mind, Original Face, Holy Spirit, Christ Consciousness.  Religious traditions have served to remember and to preserve access to these capacities, but I also believe they are scientific phenomena.

    When I'm more empathic or empathetic, my experience is that I'm also more intelligent and more aware of all aspects of my world -- both the natural and social environment  -- including myself as part of it.  I call this world "reality" and this embodied awareness "presence".  So in this sense, when I'm more empathic, I'm also more "real".

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