Full Presence (Intellectual Understanding and Empathy)

Full Presence is perhaps the hardest part of empathy. It requires to be without any preconceived notions whatsoever – especially without any degree of intellectual understanding of a person – their past or history, any kind of knowing about the person. We are full of these “intellectual understandings” – often unaware, but sometimes also aware and not seeing the impact this has on our ability to be fully present.

And this is not to say that intellectual understanding could not also be helpful for many purposes, it is just not helpful to connect to the deep life energy current that is in us and in all of life. So developing my capacity of being present means to find ways to first notice my “knowings” and then also to find ways to let go of those “knowings”.

Let the divine child in you arise and be there.

In the following 3-minute audio excerpt Marshall Rosenberg talks about the gift of presence and how the Israeli philosopher Martin Buber (best known for his “Philosophy of Dialogue”) pointed out the essential requirement for deep encounter from human to human – meeting each moment like a newborn infant.

He also points out the value of being aware of the distinction between intellectual understanding and empathy.

Here is a transcript of the above audio recording:

Full Presence and Intellectual Understanding

So let me outline some of the components of empathy, things that we need to learn to do, to stay connected to people, so we can really connect with that flow of energy that’s coming through them.

The most important part of empathy is the hardest.

It involves our presence, our full presence to what is alive in this person at this moment.

Martin Buber, the Israeli philosopher and psychotherapist, says that presence is the most powerful gift one person can give to another.

A powerful gift and a precious gift.
For when we give this gift to others, this gift of our presence, it is a major component of healing.
It is a major component of the connection that’s necessary for people to enjoy contributing to each other’s well-being.

But it’s not an easy thing to do to give this presence to others, because, as Buber also says, it requires bringing nothing from the past into the present. It requires seeing the present moment as a newborn infant, that’s never been before, will never be again.

So if we start to think about what the person is saying, we lose this presence. And so all of the theories that we might bring into the present moment about this person, because we might know them – that will get in the way of our staying empathically connected. Or if you have studied psychology as I did for many years at the university and were trained how to analyze people, what leads them to behave as they do – that kind of intellectual training and analysis of what goes on historically that creates present problems – that can get in the way of empathy.

(PDF Version of this transcript)