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)